By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, October 9, 2009
KABUL, Oct. 8 -- A car bomb exploded outside the Indian Embassy in Afghanistan's capital Thursday, killing at least 17 people and destroying offices and cars along a heavily fortified street that is also home to the country's Interior Ministry, officials said.
The 8:30 a.m. blast -- for which the Taliban quickly asserted responsibility -- occurred when a sport-utility vehicle drove up next to a concrete barrier protecting the embassy. The explosion killed at least two Afghan police officers and 15 civilians and injured more than 60 people, according to the Interior Ministry. It damaged several buildings and concrete walls along the quiet street of embassies, shops and government buildings.
The bombing marked the second time in a little more than a year that the Indian Embassy in Afghanistan has come under attack. In July 2008, a suicide bomber killed 58 people there, including the Indian defense attache. U.S. officials have accused the Taliban-linked network of Afghan militant Jalaluddin Haqqani, which is based in the tribal areas of western Pakistan, of collaborating with Pakistani intelligence officials to carry out that bombing.
The Haqqani network, which some Pakistani officials consider a strategic asset in their country's longtime rivalry with India, regularly mounts attacks on U.S. troops in eastern Afghanistan. If evidence emerges that Pakistani government officials or fighters based in their country helped stage the latest attack, it could further weaken an already volatile relationship between India and Pakistan. The siege in the Indian port city of Mumbai in November has been blamed on Pakistani militants and was a major setback for that relationship.
Pakistan's Foreign Ministry condemned the bombing and terrorism of all kinds, and the U.S. Embassy said in a statement, "There is no justification for this kind of senseless violence." The attack came as President Obama reevaluates the U.S. strategy against the growing Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.
In India, debate raged throughout the day on whether Afghanistan has become the new frontier in India's own fight against terrorism. The foreign secretary, Nirupama Rao, told reporters in New Delhi that the Kabul embassy had been deliberately targeted Thursday. "The suicide bomber came up to the outside perimeter wall of the embassy in a car loaded with explosives," she said.
Rao said three guards who were posted near the fortified wall around the embassy were slightly injured by shrapnel but added, "All the members who were inside the embassy are safe."
Jayant Prasad, India's ambassador to Afghanistan, said by telephone, "We are really heartbroken." But he avoided drawing any immediate conclusions about whether militants or intelligence agents in Pakistan had helped orchestrate the blast.
"What do you think of the fact that the international community is regularly targeted?" Prasad said. "It's the same answer."
The explosion occurred as election officials are examining potentially fraudulent ballots from Afghanistan's disputed presidential election -- a process that will determine whether President Hamid Karzai wins or whether the contest proceeds to a second round of voting. The main challenger, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, seized on the bombing to point out the failings of Karzai's leadership.
"If the government cannot provide security 50 meters away from its own offices, how can we expect it to provide security in the provinces?" Abdullah said in a speech in Kabul.
As the blast reverberated across Kabul and dark smoke rose into the air, Afghan authorities sealed off the site and rescue workers ferried the wounded to hospitals.
"My house is totally broken, but thank God I am okay," said Sayid Ishaq Gilani, a lawmaker who lives nearby and was visibly rattled.
The Swedish and Indonesian embassies are also near the blast site. An employee at the Indonesian Embassy said he was playing tennis at the time of the explosion. During last year's bombing outside the Indian Embassy, he said, his office window was shattered and glass cut his left arm.
"We are really not safe here next to the Indian Embassy," he said.
At least 18 of the injured people went to the Ali Abad Hospital nearby, according to doctors. Golam Sakhih, 46, a gardener at a hotel near the bomb site, had shards of glass in his leg.
"Every year, year by year, security is getting worse in Kabul," he said.
Correspondents Karin Brulliard in Kabul and Rama Lakshmi in New Delhi and special correspondent Javed Hamdard in Kabul contributed to this report.