Praveen Swami

NEW DELHI: Afghanistan’s secret service, the Riyast-e-Amniyat-i-Milli, provided precision intelligence on the jihadist cell which executed last week’s bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul, highly placed government sources have told The Hindu.

RAM notified its Indian counterparts that an attack on the embassy in Kabul was imminent as early as June 23. Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence Directorate, it said, had instructed Afghanistan-based jihadists to execute an attack on the Indian mission. Based on the available intelligence, RAM said that it expected the terrorist cell to execute a fidayeen (suicide squad) attack, which would use explosives to breach defences at the front gate of the Indian embassy.

RAM’s head of diplomatic security, the sources said, spent three nights camped at the Embassy, working with his Indian counterparts to make sure effective counter-measures were put in place.

As a result of the RAM warning, a new machine-gun post was set up above a shopping complex next to the Embassy to engage terrorists who managed to breach the gates. Police patrols around the perimeter were beefed up. Hesco barriers — sandbag-like blocks made up of collapsible wire mesh and heavy duty fabric liner which are widely used in North Atlantic Treaty Organisation military bases — were fitted to make perimeter walls blast-resistant.

India’s Research and Analysis Wing corroborated the Afghan warning three days after RAM’s report. Based on communications intelligence and informants’ reports, RAW said the attack would most likely be carried out using a Toyota suburban utility vehicle.

Less than a week before the bombing, United States military intelligence personnel monitoring terrorist communications in Afghanistan obtained new information on the attack. Plans to execute a fidayeen strike, they learned, had been dropped. Instead, a car-bomb was being prepared. Government sources said this last warning was accurate down to the last detail, even asserting that the vehicle would have Kabul licence plates.

Investigators now believe an estimated 100 kg of military-grade plastic explosive was welded into the underside of the SUV, bearing licence plate number KBL 11827 SH — enough to gouge a 2.5 metre diameter, 1 metre crater on the concrete-asphalt road and fling the vehicle’s engine block, number 2L3240928, almost a 100 metres away.

Had Hesco barriers not been installed around the Embassy, Indian security experts, who spoke to The Hindu,said the blast would have claimed the lives of at least two dozen personnel who were then working inside the building.

ISI role

Last week’s bombing forms part of a pattern of heightened violence in recent months, which both Afghanistan and India have blamed on Pakistan’s ISI.

While some commentators have cast the ISI as a rogue entity, acting at odds with a government seeking peace, others argue that the feared covert service’s activities reflect the strategic consensus within Pakistan’s armed forces.

Ever since the regime of General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq, the ISI has played a central role in the affairs of the Pakistani armed forces, casting itself as the defender of the country’s ideological values and interests.

Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff General Pervez Ashfaq Kayani is a former Director-General of the ISI — and has drawn on officers with ISI backgrounds to staff several key positions.

Advisers from ISI

President Pervez Musharraf, too, drew several of his advisers from within the ranks of the ISI.

Lieutenant-General Ghulam Ahmad, who served as his chief of staff, headed the political wing of the ISI in 1993. Lieutenant General Javed Ashraf Qazi, who was appointed Education Minister and charged with reforming Pakistani seminaries, was a former ISI chief. So, too, was General Musharraf’s hand-picked ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Lieutenant-General Asad Durrani.

It seems improbable that the ISI-backed revival of major jihadist groups does not have the institutional support of the Pakistan armed forces, who see them as allies in the larger cause of projecting Islamabad’s power.

Even organisations which Pakistan banned in the wake of the December 2001 attack on India’s Parliament have now begun operating openly.

In an article published in the Lahore-based News last month, commentator Ahmad Bilal described a large public convention held by Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar — who was released from an Indian jail in 2000, in return for the lives of passengers on board an hijacked Indian Airlines flight hijacked to Kandahar.

Mr. Bilal recorded that the city walls were “filled with anti-West hate slogans, with ‘al-Jihad, al-Qital’ (holy war, bloody battle) written everywhere around the central mosque.”

One Jaish billboard in the city, he added, “showed a passenger plane on fire with a slogan on it: Another victory for Muslims.”

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