An attack near an Indian consulate in eastern Afghanistan was the latest to target the nation’s interests in the country, where deepening economic and military ties risk inflaming tension with neighbor and rival Pakistan.
At least nine people, most of them children, were killed and 21 others wounded in yesterday’s strike by three suicide bombers outside the diplomatic mission in Jalalabad, according to police. India said none of its consular staff were among the casualties. Zabihullah Mujahed, a Taliban spokesman, said the group wasn’t responsible for the bombing in the city, the capital of Nangarhar province.
“This attack has once again highlighted that the main threat to Afghanistan’s security and stability stems from terrorism and the terror machine that continues to operate from beyond its borders,” Syed Akbaruddin, spokesman for India’s foreign ministry, said in a statement. India wouldn’t be deterred from its commitment to help reconstruct Afghanistan, Akbaruddin said.
The Indian Embassy in Kabul was attacked in suicide bombings in 2008 and 2009, with India accusing Pakistan’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or ISI, of assisting the first strike. Pakistan denied the allegation.
In a statement, Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul said yesterday that those responsible for the Jalalabad assault “and their financial, ideological and logistical sponsors must realize that they cannot shake the close and strong bond of friendship and partnership between Afghanistan and India through terrorism.”
While India has drawn closer to Afghanistan with $2 billion in pledged aid, plans to invest in mining projects and programs to train Afghan security forces, its bid for strategic influence has been opposed by the Taliban and created disquiet in Pakistan, which lies sandwiched between the two. The tussle comes as Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the U.S. are seeking assistance from civilian and military leaders in Islamabad to pursue peace talks with senior Taliban leaders as the international community withdraws combat troops.
In particular, “India’s offer to train Afghan troops is a nightmare for Pakistan,” said Uday Bhaskar, a former commodore in the Indian navy and now vice-president of the Society for Policy Studies, a New Delhi-based research group. “There’s a very deep conviction in Pakistan that they don’t want well-trained, well-equipped armies in Afghanistan and India. That would be the beginning of a pincer for Pakistan.”
The attack yesterday took place around 10 a.m. local time, Masum Khan Hashimi, deputy police chief of Nangarhar province, said in a telephone interview from Jalalabad. There were three bombers in the car and two of them got out as it approached the consulate, he said. The third bomber drove toward the consulate when the police fired at the vehicle, Hashimi said. The two bombers outside the car were killed by the police, he said.
Amid the gunfight, the vehicle exploded near a mosque where dozens of people were, causing the deaths and injuries, he said.
Lying along the border with Pakistan and halfway between Kabul and the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar, Nangarhar has been used as a base by militants from al-Qaeda and Pakistani militant groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba as well as the Afghan Taliban, according to a study by the online Long War Journal, which tracks the conflict.
At least 22 Afghan policemen and 76 Taliban militants were killed Aug. 2 in clashes over a besieged tribal elder in the province. A roadside bomb wounded 16 people in Nangarhar today, including the head of the regional prosecutor’s office.
Other attacks have killed Indian doctors and aid workers in Kabul and construction workers building a highway in southwestern Afghanistan. In July, three Indians working with a logistics firm that supplies NATO forces were killed in a suicide attack in Kabul, NDTV 24x7 news network reported.
Pakistani leaders have let Taliban-affiliated militants from groups like the Haqqani Network operate from Northern Waziristan in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan “due to their concerns that Pakistan will be left alone to confront an unstable, an unfriendly or an Indian-influenced Afghanistan on its borders” after U.S. troops leave Afghanistan in 2014, according to a report by the U.S. Defense Department last year.
Karzai, who is barred from standing for a third term in next year’s presidential election under Afghanistan’s constitution, is expected to visit Pakistan this month for talks.
Sartaj Aziz, adviser to Pakistan’s prime minister on security and foreign affairs, visited Kabul in July where he said the country would seek to persuade Taliban leaders to join peace negotiations with Karzai’s representatives, according to a report by state-run Radio Pakistan.