Nirupama Subrmanian

Indian High Commissioner’s house damaged; Satyabrata Pal, wife safe

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan had to scramble to reassure the international community that it would do everything to protect diplomats here after a car bomb blast outside the Danish embassy on Monday killed at least six people and left 30 wounded.

The embassy is located in a classy residential neighbourhood that houses several other diplomatic missions and diplomats. Next door, at the residence of the Indian High Commissioner, glass doors and windows shattered due to the blast’s impact.

High Commissioner Satyabrata Pal and his wife were at home at the time, but were unharmed. The Dutch Amabssador’s home — located behind the embassy — was also damaged, said an embassy spokeswoman.

The embassy relocated to a five-star hotel a few weeks ago after receiving threats following the controversial film by a Dutch parliamentarian which Muslims regard as offensive. When the cartoons depicting Prophet Muhammad were reprinted in Danish newspapers in February this year, the embassy, which has faced threats from Islamist groups since the cartoons were published in 2005, pulled out most of its expatriate staff. Only three staffers were in the embassy at the time of the blast, and they were unhurt.

Interior Secretary Kamal Shah, who visited the blast site, said those killed were Pakistanis — two security guards, a gardener and a cleaner at the embassy. Two bodies have not been identified. Mr. Shah said protection for all embassies located outside the high-security Diplomatic Enclave would be “further reinforced.”

The blast “certainly damages the image of the country,” said Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir, who also visited the site. “All diplomatic missions are here as bridges of friendship between their countries and Pakistan. I want to assure everybody that the government is determined to protect everybody and fulfil its responsibility. Pakistan assures that it will do everything to protect the diplomatic missions,” he added.

The last bomb explosion in Islamabad was on March 15 at an Italian restaurant frequented by westerners. But since then, the number of bombings has come down, particularly after the Pakistan People’s Party-led government began talks with militant groups in the North West Frontier Province and tribal areas.

Destruction all around

Rehman Malik, who functions as the Interior Minister, appearing on Geo TV, denied the government had lowered its guard on account of its negotiations with the Taliban in South Waziristan. He even denied the talks were with the Taliban, asserting that parleys were on only with the “majority” tribe in the area and tribal elders. The latest incident is likely to focus international attention on the merits of these peace talks.

The blast left a huge crater on the road, bringing down the front wall of the embassy and damaging parts of the building. The car’s engine was later found outside a house some 30 feet away, and occupants of many properties in the neighbourhood found other burnt out parts of the vehicle in their premises.

Security at the embassy was reinforced only recently. But it was not as secure as missions located in the high-security Diplomatic Enclave. The car was unchallenged as it drove to explode just outside the embassy’s gates.

The brunt of the explosion was taken by the office of a UNDP-backed NGO, located opposite the embassy. The front portion of the building caved in completely, with papers and files strewn around. Pakistan’s President, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister all condemned the attack. Munawwar Hussain, spokesman of the Jamat-i-Islami, which has spearheaded the protests against Denmark, also condemned the attack, but said Denmark and other European countries had “not yet realised how much they have hurt the religious sensitivities of Muslims.”