A fuel tanker collided head-on with two buses on an Afghanistan roadway early Sunday, setting all three vehicles on fire and killing at least 50 people.
Several news outlets reported a significantly higher death toll. The BBC, Agence France Presse and Al Jazeera said that at least 73 people were killed, citing government officials. They say dozens were also injured.
It happened in eastern Afghanistan’s Ghazni province, on a highway linking the capital Kabul with the country’s second-largest city, Kandahar.
Photos released by news agencies show stunned-looking survivors of the attack staggering out of minibuses to receive treatment at a local medical center. Some were wrapped in bandages and show signs of severe burns.
Jawid Salangi, a spokesman for the governor of Ghazni, told Reuters that 125 passengers were on board the two buses.
At the scene of the crash, “the vehicles were completely gutted and clouds of acrid smoke shrouded the scene,” AFP reported.
Afghanistan’s ongoing unrest may have contributed to the deadly crash: According to AFP, this particular road “passes through militancy prone areas and many bus drivers are known to drive recklessly at top speeds so as not to get caught in insurgent activity.”
Likewise, Al Jazeera’s Qais Azimy said, “It looks like the bus driver was trying to avoid any Taliban check points, and the tanker driver was trying not to be ambushed by the Taliban.”
“Our [bus] driver was at fault — he was driving too rashly,” a crash survivor identified as Esmatullah said, according to AFP.
Also in Afghanistan on Sunday, six Taliban fighters were hanged in the first executions approved by President Ashraf Ghani “since he took office in 2014 promising to end the war” with the militants, AP reported.
The wire service said the men were accused of perpetrating “grave crimes against civilians and security personnel.”
As NPR’s Philip Reeves has reported, tensions are once again rising in Afghanistan. The country faces myriad problems, as Ghani’s “national unity government” appears “at risk of collapse”:
“The crises facing the Afghan government are multiple. The Afghan economy is tanking. The national currency, the afghani, has lost 20 percent against the dollar in a year. Several hundred thousand Afghans, many of whom are young and middle-class, have left for Europe in search of jobs, education and security.
“The war with the Taliban is widening. Civilian casualties are on the rise. Large parts of the landscape are outside the government’s control. Peace negotiations remain a distant dream. Corruption is rampant.
“As you drive around Kabul, evidence of how this general instability is affecting the lives of Afghans is everywhere.”