KABUL, Afghanistan -- A suicide bomber with explosives strapped to his body assassinated the popular governor of eastern Paktia province Sunday, just two days after a powerful car bomb killed 16 people, including two U.S. soldiers, in downtown Kabul, the capital.
Gov. Hakim Taniwal, a scholarly and soft-voiced man of 63, was a close confidante of President Hamid Karzai's and a political figure known for skill at bringing hostile groups together in the country's volatile tribal regions near the Pakistan border.
Officials said Taniwal was killed, along with his nephew, driver and bodyguard, when the bomber threw himself under the governor's vehicle and detonated the explosives as Taniwal was approaching his office in the provincial capital, Gardez.
The killing shocked foreign diplomats and political leaders in the capital, who praised Taniwal for his service to the country.
Living in exile for 15 years, the former sociology professor returned home from Australia in 2002 after Karzai asked him to become governor of Khost province, also in the east. He shifted to Paktia several months ago.
"He was a great patriot who had fought against violence and corruption in Paktia, he brought tribes together, and he made a great contribution to the national reconciliation program," said Khaleeq Ahmad, a spokesman for Karzai.
Officials attributed the killing to unspecified "enemies of peace and stability in Afghanistan," but it came as NATO forces have been battling a fierce insurgency dominated by the revived Taliban militia across southern Afghanistan.
On Sunday, NATO officials in Kabul said their troops had killed more than 400 Taliban fighters in nine days of combat in southern Kandahar province, where the insurgents have captured a number of villages.