KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - A bomb exploded Saturday outside the provincial governor's office in the city of Kandahar, killing a police officer and wounding at least 14 civilians, officials said.

The attack reflects deteriorating security in the largest city in Afghanistan's volatile south - also the Taliban's spiritual home - where NATO is preparing for a major operation considered key to combating the insurgency. Gov. Tooryalai Wesa was not in his office at the time.

The bombing also comes a day after a national peace conference in Kabul boosted President Hamid Karzai's plans to seek negotiations with the Taliban in a bid to end the nearly nine-year-old war.

Kandahar Police Chief Sardar Mohammad Zazai said the explosives were strapped to a bicycle outside the compound where the governor lives and works.

The governor's spokesman, Zulmai Ayubi, said the 14 wounded included five children. Among the wounded, four were in critical condition, he said.

"The explosion happened in front of us," said witness Suliman Shah. "I heard it and also saw one person get blown backward, out of the back of his vehicle."

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing, but Taliban insurgents are the most likely suspects.

The hard-line Islamist movement, ousted from power in 2001 but now a formidable militant force, says it will keep fighting. Its leaders say no talks are possible until foreign troops withdraw from Afghanistan - a step Karzai cannot afford with the insurgency raging. U.S. officials contend that the Taliban leadership feels it has little reason to negotiate because it believes it is winning the war.

Karzai, who organized the conference, or jirga, that ended Friday, got what he wanted from it: a mandate for his peace efforts and his government months after winning a fraud-tainted election. It also marked the first major public debate here on how to end the war amid widespread belief that the insurgency cannot be defeated militarily.

The U.S. State Department spokesman, P.J. Crowley, praised the jirga as providing "a national consensus to pursue a political strategy to reduce the danger posed by the insurgency."

While active insurgent leaders were not invited to the jirga, some former Taliban fighters and their sympathizers came. Many stay in contact with Taliban foot soldiers - who till their farms by day and lay roadside bombs by night.

Nader Nadery, deputy chairman of Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission, said it's these rank-and-file Taliban members who could be pressed by their communities to embrace the peace process, particularly if backed by government incentives.

The jirga's resolution calls for insurgents who join the peace process to be removed from a U.N. blacklist, and it supports the release of Taliban prisoners in U.S. and Afghan custody.