Afghanistan has told India at the highest level that the most fitting response to last week’s terrorist attack on its embassy compound in Kabul would be for the Indian government to step up its ongoing efforts to strengthen the development and security capabilities of the Afghan authorities through infrastructure projects, police and human resource training.

The Obama administration told Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last month that it did not see India’s assistance in Afghanistan as a source of “regional tension” — a charge laid recently by the senior most U.S. military officer there in a confidential report. Nevertheless, Indian and Afghan officials recognise the need for both countries to tell the American side that Pakistan cannot have a veto over the kind of relationship Kabul wishes to build with New Delhi.

U.S. Under Secretary of State William Burns will be in Delhi for routine foreign office consultations on October 16 and India’s views on the matter will be conveyed to him.

Though the Indian side has been careful not to accuse any group or country of being behind Wednesday’s suicide attack, Afghan officials have pointed the finger at Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate.

Asked for their view of the Afghan assessment, senior Indian officials told The Hindu that New Delhi was waiting to see what Afghan investigators and the intelligence agencies of other friendly countries are able to turn up.

The bomb itself, involving 150 kilos of plastic explosives, was highly sophisticated and more powerful than the device which was used in the July 2008 attack on the embassy.

Closed-circuit television had captured clear images of the Toyota vehicle used by the terrorist.

Although the Taliban officially claimed responsibility for the attack on October 8 by posting a statement in Pashto on its website (shahamat.org), the statement was subsequently deleted from the site.

Why the Taliban or their advisers would have second thoughts about this claim is a question Afghan and Indian investigators are likely to be asking themselves.

Of some concern to Indian and Afghan officials was the ease with which the vehicle was able to enter the high security street where the Indian chancery is located. Other important offices, like the Afghan interior ministry, are also located there.

Afghan agencies are now likely to examine the possibility of the Taliban or Gulbuddin Hikmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami infiltrating a section of the Kabul security establishment.

Although India has no intention whatsoever of getting involved in Afghanistan militarily, officials here say India and like-minded countries in the region need to prepare themselves for the day that the U.S. withdraws from the country. In practical terms, this means working to strengthen the capabilities of the Afghan security forces — something U.S. President Barack Obama’s AfPak policy neglects — as well as greater consultation and cooperation with Afghanistan’s neighbours like Iran, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, and Russia and China.

The officials said India’s participation in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meeting on Afghanistan in March and Dr. Singh’s decision to attend the SCO summit in Yekaterinburg in June had to be seen in this wider context.