ORGUN, Afghanistan -- Thousands of civilians in a remote region of Afghanistan are mourning the killing of their loved ones in one of the worst terrorist attacks in the country’s recent history.
Residents of the rural Orgun district in the southeastern Afghan province of Paktika are in shock days after a massive truck bomb ripped through a busy market, killing and wounding more than 200 civilians on July 15.
Nearly every household in Orgun and the nearby Barmal district is grieving as relatives dig through the rubble of shops in the hope of finding the remains of their relatives.
The small bazaar, which was just a collection of mud and brick buildings, was nearly completely destroyed by the force of the blast.
A heavy stench of explosives and burning flesh hangs in the air of the market that once served as the hub of economic activity in the remote region bordering Pakistan's embattled Waziristan region. It provided livelihoods for hundreds of families residing on both sides of Afghanistan's porous eastern border with Pakistan.
"It felt like life stopped for a moment," said Sher Nawaz, a goldsmith whose shop collapsed because of the blast. "A moment later, all I could see was blood--a lot of blood and human flesh. I must have collected at least fifty bodies of children. Hands, legs, and flesh were scattered everywhere."
Nawaz said most families in the close-knit tribal community had lost a relative in the tragedy. "The government should call for a day of national mourning. We are devastated."
Local officials said the attack killed some 69 civilians, but a defense official had earlier put the number at 89.
In an unusual move, the Afghan Taliban, formally called the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, distanced itself from the attack in Orgun. It is usually quick to claim responsibility for attacks across the country.
Hours after the attack, self-proclaimed Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Taliban fighters "do not conduct such attacks, and such attacks do not bring any benefit to them."
But Paktika officials and civilians in Orgun blamed the Haqqani network. The group is considered the Taliban's most powerful military arm, and is widely thought to be closely allied with Al-Qaeda and Pakistani intelligence services. The network is reportedly based in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal district where a Pakistani antiterrorist offensive is ongoing, though critics say the operation has failed to kill any Haqqani network leaders.
Abdul Ahad, Orgun's district security chief, claims most such attacks in the past were planned by Pakistan's intelligence services and executed by the Haqqani network.
He added that the Taliban fear losing their credibility and "Islamic image," if they claim responsibility for an attack that only harmed noncombatants.
"We are half way through the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and a bloody attack that took the life of dozens of innocent people is a brazen violation of Islamic teaching."
Angered by the tragedy, many residents of Orgun staged a protest on July 16, calling on the Afghan government to increase the number of security checkpoints along the border with Pakistan to prevent the infiltration of the Taliban and allied militant groups.
Kabul has been slow in responding to the tragedy, forcing Orgun's grief-stricken residents to bear the brunt of the relief work alone.
However, volunteers from neighboring districts in Paktika are helping with the cleanup of the bombed bazaar. Ahmad Shah, one of the volunteers, said Paktika residents blamed Islamabad, which they believe supported the Taliban in carrying out this tragedy.
"Everybody believes that only Pakistan can inflict such calamities here," he said.