Afghan security forces on Saturday foiled an attack by suicide bombers on the Indian consulate in Jalalabad, but 12 people were killed when the attackers detonated their explosives short of the target.
All Indians in the consulate are safe, Afghan news channel Tolo News reported, quoting Indian embassy officials. No organisation has so far taken responsibility for the strike, including the prime suspect, the pro-Pakistan Afghan Taliban, whose spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid said the group “did not have any operation planned in Nangarhar for today [Saturday].”
But in a veiled reference to Pakistan, the Foreign Office spokesman said in New Delhi that that the strike—an act of terrorism—could have been backed by forces operating beyond Afghanistan’s borders. The attack “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.”
The high profile targeting of a diplomatic facility has fuelled apprehensions about an escalation of attacks on Indian personnel and assets, as a perceived security vacuum begins to develop in Afghanistan with the planned withdrawal of the U.S.-led NATO forces by the end of next year. Analysts say the big challenge that lies ahead is to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a battleground for an attritional India-Pakistan confrontation.
The strike was apparently carried out by three suicide bombers travelling in a Toyota Corolla car that had been rigged with explosives. But the vehicle was stopped at a checkpoint by Afghan security forces, well ahead of the Indian consulate, close to a mosque, occupied by children attending religious classes, provincial Police chief Gen. Sharif Amin was quoted as saying. Tolo News said eight children died and 21 other civilians were injured.
On being intercepted at the checkpoint, two of the bombers stepped out of the vehicle and opened fire indiscriminately. Moments later, the third bomber detonated the explosives-laden car, triggering a powerful blast that tore through the mosque and nearby houses. A statement by the government of Nangarhar province, of which the bustling commercial city of Jalalabad is the capital, said the three assailants and nine civilians were killed. Afghan security personnel appear to have suffered casualties — evident from the Indian Foreign Office spokesman’s remarks, praising “several valiant Afghan police personnel,” who had suffered death and injuries.
In New Delhi, the Ministry of External Affairs spokesman said: “India will not be deterred from its commitment to assist Afghanistan in its reconstruction and development effort,” underscoring the hefty transfer of India’s developmental aid to Afghanistan, which has touched the $2-billion mark.