Siddharth Varadarajan

AfPak envoy says India was not the target

New Delhi: Indian officials have described as “absolutely incorrect” the statement by Washington's AfPak envoy, Richard Holbrooke, that India was not the target of last week's terrorist attack in Kabul.

The officials expressed surprise and even consternation at this assertion, which, they said, ignored the fact that the terrorists' primary target was a building used by the Indian medical mission. The U.S. assessment, they said, also ran counter to what Afghanistan's intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security, has established so far.

On Tuesday, NSD spokesman Saeed Ansari told AP in Kabul that there was evidence Urdu-speaking Pakistanis from the Lashkar-e-Taiba had been involved in the attack and not the Afghan Taliban.

According to Indian officials, the NSD has established that the terrorists were indeed looking for Indians and had specific information about who was present, including NGO women from SEWA and a senior diplomat on secondment to the Afghan Interior Ministry.

For now, officials here are guarded about which Pakistan-based terrorist outfit might be involved. “Groups like the Haqqani network, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and LeT are all mixed up with one another,” an Indian official said on condition of anonymity. “What we know at present is only circumstantial but [things] should be clearer in a while,” said another official, adding, such are “the glorious uncertainties of barbarism.”

Speaking to reporters in Washington on Wednesday, Mr. Holbrooke said: “I don't accept the fact that this was an attack on an Indian facility… There were foreigners, non-Indian foreigners hurt. It was a soft target. Let's not jump to conclusions.” He added: “I understand why everyone in Pakistan and everyone in India always focuses on the other. But please, let's not draw a conclusion for which there's no proof.”

New Delhi, however, believes there is no room for doubt. “A huge bomb is detonated just outside the Indian medical mission. A terrorist walks in lobbying grenades and firing from room to room. He had prior knowledge about the occupants… If this is not an attack targeted on Indians, what can it be?” said a senior official.

Indian officials also said the Afghans would not make an allegation of Pakistani involvement loosely. “From their point of view, this is a risky statement to make since their government is making overtures to Pakistan,” said an official. “So for their intel people to say the LeT was involved and that it has close ties with the ISI — obviously they are taking a huge risk and must have very good information.”

Afghan investigators have noted that last week's terrorist attack was very different from the January 18 Taliban strike at the Faroshga mall in central Kabul. The gunmen had allowed Afghan shoppers to leave before training their fire on the security forces and destroying the building. In contrast, the Afghans guarding the Indian medical mission were the first to be shot dead by the terrorist who entered the compound following the huge explosion triggered outside. “The guards shouted ‘Don't kill us, we're Afghans' but they were shot all the same,” an Indian official said.

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