At least 41 people were killed and around 150 more injured in the car bombing at the Indian Embassy. They included an Indian diplomat, defense attache and two embassy guards.
The incident, the deadliest of its kind in the Afghan capital since U.S.-led forces toppled the fundamentalist Taliban regime in late 2001, comes at a time of tensions between Kabul and Islamabad over deteriorating security in Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai threatened last month to strike back at terrorists who infiltrate from Pakistan to carry out attacks on Afghan soil.
Although Karzai did not immediately point a finger at Pakistan after Monday’s bombing, Kabul’s Interior Ministry said the attack was carried out with help from “active intelligence circles in the region” – a clear reference to the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
Suspicious of ISI involvement also featured widely in Indian media coverage of the blast, with some reports even referring to a resurgent “Taliban-ISI nexus.” India and Pakistan are longstanding rivals, and India has for years suspected the ISI of supporting Islamists fighting to end Indian rule in divided Kashmir.
The ISI originally helped to set up the Taliban, and when the group controlled most of Afghanistan in the closing years of the 20th century, Islamabad was its strongest supporter. Only after the Taliban’s al-Qaeda allies attacked the U.S. on 9/11 did President Pervez Musharraf – under pressure from Washington – agree to drop support for the Taliban and sign up to the campaign against Islamist terrorism.
Suspicions of ongoing ISI support for the Taliban have persisted over the years since, and Pakistani governments’ readiness to negotiate peace agreements with Taliban elements in the country’s restive north-western areas – near the border with Afghanistan – has caused further misgivings in the region, especially in Kabul.
Gilani on Tuesday denied the accusations of an ISI hand behind the bombing, saying it was in Pakistan’s interests to have a stable Afghanistan.
Speaking in Kuala Lumpur, where he is attending a summit of Islamic countries, he told reporters, “We want stability in the region. We ourselves are a victim of terrorism and extremism.”
Earlier, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said “Pakistan condemns terrorism in all its forms and manifestations as this menace negates the very essence of human values.”
Karzai blamed the attack on those trying to harm the good relationship between his country and India. Several thousand Indians are working on developmental projects in Afghanistan and some military officers are involved in training Afghan forces. India is also among the top bilateral donors to Afghanistan.
“Such acts of terror will not deter us from fulfilling our commitments to the government and people of Afghanistan,” India’s government said in a statement.
Indians have been specifically targeted in the past by terrorists in Afghanistan.
Kanchan Lakshman, a research fellow at the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi, said in an assessment Tuesday that both the Taliban and the Pakistan establishment have always been opposed to India’s involvement in Afghanistan.
“Despite Pakistan’s own multiple internal convulsions, its capacities for power projection into Afghanistan have not been significantly undermined, and it remains the case that it shares strategic goals with the Taliban in this theater,” he said.