Friday’s terrorist attack on the Indian consulate in the western Afghanistan city of Heart is threatening to turn into Prime Minister-designate Narendra Modi’s first major foreign policy test, with concerns over possible Pakistani involvement in the strike threatening to derail his invitation to its Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, to attend his swearing-in on Monday.
Heavily-armed terrorists attacked the Indian consulate using rocket-propelled grenades and assault weapons, at 3.35 a.m. on Friday. Indo-Tibetan Border Police guards stationed at the consulate repulsed the attack, shooting dead a terrorist who tried to scale the wall.
Afghan military and police personnel shot dead the three remaining attackers, Herat police chief Fahimullah Qatra said, after a six hour siege of an adjoining building. Four Afghan police officers suffered injuries in the operation, but no Indian was hurt or killed.
However, the attackers did not use a car-bomb to overwhelm the mission’s defences, as in past strikes — a sign one Indian intelligence official told The Hindu, that the mission may have been hastily planned.
The attack came even as Mr. Sharif began meetings with key aides to decide on whether to accept Mr. Modi’s invitation, or send a representative instead. Pakistani journalists had said late on Friday night that Mr. Sharif had made up his mind to travel to New Delhi — appearing to buck military hardliners who have slowed down his promise to speed up the peace process with India.
“In my view, this was the Pakistani military establishment’s response to the RSVP request on the card Mr. Modi sent Mr. Sharif,” said Sushant Sareen, a senior fellow at the Vivekanand International Foundation, a think tank whose members have played a key role in formulating Mr. Modi’s strategic policies.
Fredric Grare, a Afghanistan and Pakistan expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington DC, also said the attack “looks like one more signal sent by the Pakistani security establishment to Nawaz Sharif not to go too fast in improving relations with India. It also constitutes a warning to the incoming Indian administration.”
Indian and Afghan diplomats also alluded to the possible involvement of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or ISI, which has been blamed for past attacks on Indian diplomatic facilities in Afghanistan.
External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said India “cannot rule out the attack may have been planned outside Afghanistan’s borders”. President Hamid Karzai’s office said the two countries’ “enemies should know that such terrorist attacks will only strengthen good and friendly relations between India and Afghanistan.”
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also issued a statement warning that the “attack will neither succeed in undermining the close relations between India and Afghanistan, nor deter India from fulfilling its commitment to help the Afghan people”.
Vice-President Hamid Ansari also issued a statement condemning the attack.
Mr. Modi, meanwhile, spoke to India’s ambassador in Kabul, and assured him of future support.