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Why India is the new target

Why India is the new target

Author: Saurabh Shukla with Danish Karokhel
Publication: India Today
Date: July 10, 2008
URL: http://indiatoday.digitaltoday.in/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&issueid=61&id=11166&Itemid=1&sectionid=36

Introduction: The suicide attack by ISI-backed Taliban militants on the embassy in Kabul is aimed ay derailing india's reconstruction efforts in Afganistan which has earned it considerable goodwill

When India launched its woo Afghanistan campaign seven years ago after the fall of the Taliban in 2001, it knew that the road to Kabul would be perilous.

As Delhi successfully made deep inroads into Afghanistan and established a firm rapport with the Hamid Karzai Government, there were two powerful foes-the remnants of Taliban and Pakistan, both of whom were upset by the turn of events.

The Taliban was never friendly towards India and even had backed the hijacking of IC 814 to Kandahar in December 2001. Pakistan was still smarting over the loss of control over what it considered its strategic backyard and objected to India's growing influence inside its neighbour.

With the revival of the Taliban in Afghanistan, these two virulent anti-forces were out to undermine India's hold.

Last week, if Indian and Afghanistan intelligence are to be believed, the deadly suicide bomb attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul killing four Indians including two senior diplomats and 54 Afghans while injuring over 140, was masterminded by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and outsourced to the Taliban cadres being armed and funded by Islamabad.

The timing of the attack is a clear indicator of the fact that security situation in Afghanistan runs the risk of getting back to a reign of chaos and anarchy, and the regime of Karzai and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force along with the US forces have been unable to check it.

The attack seemed to be part of the well-calibrated exercise to prevent India from undertaking reconstruction projects which are aimed at bringing peace and stability to war-ravaged Afghanistan.

Pakistan had repeatedly asked the Afghan Government and even the United States to force India to shut its consulates in Afghanistan, which have been instrumental in reaching out to Afghan people.

The attack was the deadliest in Kabul since the ouster of Taliban regime in 2001, and a stern warning that Taliban was knocking on the doors of the country's capital.

The two Indian diplomats-India's Defence Attache Brigadier R.D. Mehta and Political Counsellor Venkateswara Rao-were killed when the suicide bomber who tailed their Land Cruiser to the embassy gate detonated causing maximum damage.

An eyewitness, Saleem Khan, told India Today that the blast was so powerful that it tossed one of the diplomats over the roof and blew off the embassy's gates and the outer structure.

Buildings inside the compound, some embassy vehicles, including a mobile jammer meant to guard against IEDS, were badly damaged and the mission's entire communication network was destroyed.

In fact, the Afghan Government loaned some vehicles to the Indian mission which was not left with any. "It has really been a traumatic experience, the task is much more than rebuilding the mission. We are now gearing up to meet these kind of threats," says Jayant Prasad, India's ambassador to Afghanistan.

Diplomatic sources say Afghan Government has told New Delhi that it was convinced that the attack was carried out at the behest of the Pakistani intelligence agents.

Says Hamayun Hamidzada, a spokesperson for Karzai, "Precision of the bombing, the kind of material used and the specific target, everything has the hallmarks of a particular intelligence outfit that has conducted similar attacks inside Afghanistan in the past."

The attack came close on the heels of an internal assessment sent by the Indian mission to South Block that Taliban fighters were exploiting the poor security situation in the country and there was an urgent need to beef up security for Indian installations.

A recent security assessment carried out by Delhi suggests that even though the security personnel were alert, many of them have been sent to Afghanistan without specialised training.

The officials knew the mission was a sitting duck but delayed installing a bomb shield around it because it is a rented building. The confidential report on the Indian mission accessed by India Today points to gaping holes in the security of the embassy.
While the strength of the security personnel at the mission and the ambassador's residence was required to be beefed up, only a dozen odd personnel were deployed.

The Indian envoy was provided with a jammer only after persistent pleas. Besides, the sophisticated security equipment for the chancery and the residence was denied on the grounds that the building is located on hired premises.

What has made matters worse is that the construction work of a permanent embassy building is moving at a snail's pace. Only the construction of the boundary wall could be completed in the last two years.

The report also says that the security personnel deployed in extreme cold conditions are functioning without adequate clothing for such situations.

This is the first major attack on an Indian diplomatic mission and only since the killing of diplomat Ravindra Mhatre in London in the 1980s. This is the first time that two senior diplomats have been killed.

If some armoured vehicles were deployed in time, their lives, perhaps, could have been saved. But, it is a pointer to the callous attitude of the babus in Delhi who did not wake up from their slumber when warning bells were ringing.

Though more security personnel and armoured vehicles are being sent to Kabul now to step up security, it is a little too late. Also missing is a tough resolve to fight terror.

Recently, when a proposal for covert action against some Pakistan-supported militant groups was made, the top echelons in Delhi sat over it.

The Kabul attack is yet another grim reminder that Indian interests at home and abroad will be on the terror radar. Some tough action and not mere lip service can only ward off such threats.

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