KABUL: Taleban supporters attend an open air rally in a field in Kabul yesterday. - AFP

KABUL: Taleban supporters and senior figures held their first mass rally near Kabul yesterday, but their show of strength was overshadowed by a bomb blast near a mosque in the Afghan capital. No foreign government has yet recognized the Islamist former rebels' rule, though their hold on power within the country is becoming stronger, seven weeks after they took the capital.

But in a sign that the Taleban victory has not brought an end to violence after Afghanistan's 20-year conflict, an explosion killed at least two civilians and wounded several more outside Kabul's Eid Gah mosque. Taleban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid had said on Saturday that a prayer ceremony would be held at the mosque for his mother following her recent death. He made no reference to this yesterday as he tweeted that the blast had killed civilians in the area.

Civilians in bloodied clothing were seen by AFP arriving at the nearby Kabul Emergency Hospital, and interior ministry spokesman Qari Sayed Khosti told AFP: "Our initial information shows two civilians were killed and three wounded in the blast." Taleban fighters arriving at the hospital handed over their weapons and stripped off their body armor to go in to donate blood, and the hospital said on Twitter that four patients were being treated.

'Leave Afghanistan to Afghanistan'

The blast, which could be heard across the centre of the capital, came shortly after the new Taleban "interim government" staged a rally just outside the capital, from which they were driven out in 2001 in a US-led operation launched after the 9/11 attacks. A ban on unauthorized demonstrations has meant protests, many led by women, against Afghanistan's new masters have dwindled. But yesterday's pro-Taleban rally in Kohdaman township in the hilly outskirts of Kabul was attended by 1,500 men and boys.

"This is the day we waited for," said Khalil Haqqani, the new minister for refugees who in 2011 was labeled a terrorist by the United States with a $5 million bounty on his head. He is a prominent leader of the Haqqani militant network founded by his brother Jalaluddin. "We have achieved our goal, but it requires protection," he told the gathering, with his rifle leaning against the lectern, boasting that the country has a "bright future" despite being shunned by international donors.

"My advice to the world is that they leave Afghanistan to Afghanistan." Flanked by armed Taleban fighters in combat gear, leading officials and commanders addressed an audience sat in rows of chairs under awnings, celebrating victory over the United States and praising suicide bombers. One speaker urged the crowd to "respect elders" because they were the "mujahids who fought against the Soviets" in the 1980s. Another, introduced as Rahmatullah from nearby Mir Bacha Kot, said the Taleban's victory was "the result of those youths who stood in queues to register for suicide attacks".

Pakistan's 'critical role'

The United States, European nations and other powers that were major donors to the former Afghan government before the Taleban takeover have warned they will not recognize the new administration - made up largely of hardliners and no women - unless it becomes more inclusive. Afghanistan's neighbor Pakistan has urged the world to engage with the Taleban, while stopping short of itself recognizing the new regime.

US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, who will be in Islamabad next week, has pressed for an inclusive government in Kabul, and said Washington looks to "Pakistan to play a critical role in enabling that outcome". But while hundreds turned out for Saturday's rally, the Taleban have been loath to allow similar gatherings by those opposed to their rule. Last Thursday, the Taleban violently cracked down on a small women's rights demonstration in eastern Kabul, firing shots into the air to disperse protesters.

Gunmen then forced back the protesters as they tried to continue with the demonstration. Isolated anti-Taleban rallies - with women at the forefront - were staged in cities around the country after the group seized power, including in the western city of Herat where two people were shot dead. But protests have dwindled since the government issued an order banning demonstrations that do not have prior authorisation, warning of "severe legal action" for violators. - AFP