The attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul

It’s not going to move India

It is said to be the worst terrorist attack in Kabul since 2001—terrorists killed over 41 people and left more than 139 injured in a suicide bombing outside the Indian embassy in Kabul today. Four of those killed were Indians. The rest, most likely, were all Afghans.

According to early reports, the bomber set off the bombs when two embassy vehicles were entering the compound. Brigadier R D Mehta, the defence attache, and V Venkateswara Rao, the political and information counsellor were in those cars. Ajai Pathania (Rathore?) and Roop Singh, security personnel guarding the embassy, were also killed in the blasts. It does not appear to be a random attack on the embassy—the timing suggests that the attackers deliberately targeted at the Indian diplomats.

It is reasonable to speculate that the attackers want to browbeat India into stepping out of Afghanistan. India has played a quiet but determined role in the Afghan reconstruction, and the attack could well suggest that this is threatening the Taliban and those opposed to the Hamid Karzai government.

Attacking construction crews in the Afghan countryside is one thing. Attacking top diplomats at the Indian embassy in Kabul is another. Why the Taliban sought to escalate their violence against India remains the question. Not least when they are engaged in a two-front war—against the US & NATO forces in Afghanistan, and, to some extent, against Pakistani forces in Pakistan’s tribal areas and NWFP. The embassy might have offered a target of opportunity and the attack might have been a tactical success, but its strategic utility is suspect.

That’s because India is quite unlikely to be deterred by this attack. It is unlikely to scale down its reconstruction initiatives. If the attacks were intended to provoke and suck India deeper into Afghanistan, then that too is unlikely to happen. In all likelihood, the Indian response would be to harden the targets and move on.

That opens up the other possibility: is this the handiwork of Pakistani interests? The political turmoil in Pakistan has certainly created a window of opportunity for the tradition “strategic depth” seekers to try and play their old games again. Knowing that the “noise” makes a retaliatory Indian tit-for-tat response unlikely, it is possible that one of the factions in Pakistan’s security establishment ordered the strike. Tactical success, but again, the strategic value remains uncertain.

One thing is clear though—as far as the United States is concerned, the war in Afghanistan needs its own General Petraeus.

Update: On what India should do now.

12 thoughts on “The attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul”

  1. On NPR this morning, they reported that the Taliban did not take credit for this attack. Considering that such an attack would burnish the Taliban’s reputation for being a fighting force, that they choose not to take credit for it is interesting. It does lead me to believe that Pakistani elements (not necessarily the central gov’t) are none too pleased with India’s involvement in Afghanistan. And since the odds of some sort of retaliation by India are zero, there was little downside for such an attack.

  2. KXB,

    There’s the small matter of who is “Taliban”? I don’t think Mullah Omar & Co’s outfit exists in that form anymore. You do have a bunch of people, affiliated to various warlords, loosely affiliated to each other. The Western media is doing everyone a disservice by talking only of Taliban and not of Sirajuddin Haqqani’s chaps or XYZ’s chaps etc.

  3. Nitin: That opens up the other possibility: is this the handiwork of Pakistani interests?

    Almost certainly. The Taliban – quick to claim success – disassociated themselves from it. The scale points to the ISI.

    Tactical success, but again, the strategic value remains uncertain.

    Agreed. But when has the military in Pakistan ever thought beyond the current skirmish. Fantasies about lunch in Srinagar and dinner in Delhi aside, these guys have never won any war they initiated, except the ones against their own people.

    The political turmoil in Pakistan has certainly created a window of opportunity for the tradition “strategic depth” seekers to try and play their old games again.

    These excuses for military officers evidently don’t know what “strategic” means. That little “doctrine” (ha!) is about as well thought out as the much-touted “ideology of Pakistan”.

  4. Nitin: One thing is clear though—as far as the United States is concerned, the war in Afghanistan needs its own General Petraeus.

    The war in Afghanistan is unwinnable without boots on the ground in FATA – drones have suspect utility and disastrous PR. Even General Petraeus cannot clap with one hand. There’s that pesky objection from Rawalpindi/Islamabad to invading “sovereign territory” – which does not square with facts on the ground. Guess Obama/McCain will need to respect the facts and authorize that action.

  5. Its pakistan thats really pissed off abt indian involvement in afghanistan as pakis believe afghanistan to be ‘their’ backyard. visit any paki site talking abt afghanistan and the anger is evident.

    what india shud do is follow its own course. india needs to be responsible and we can’t keep flip flopping like the banana republics surrounding us. thats our strenght, and of course its a pleasure seeing all the idiots surrounding india eating their hearts out.

  6. Nitin: regarding the blasts in Karachi, does it look like retaliation to you? Is the Indian establishment even capable of plotting this kind of revenge? Or is it MQM backing Musharraf up just like they did last year? Or the Children of Lal Masjid? The choices are bewildering. Interested in your thoughts.

  7. The scary scenario is that maybe nobody’s in effective control of Papistan – much like ’twas in Afghanistan post 1988 and pre-Taliban.

    Just replace the AF warlords with factions like the GHQ, the crore-commanders, ISI, US embassy, PMO, Lalmasjid, FMradio stations and the like as rival power centers.

    The ship is steering itself into the maelstorm on autopilot.

    And no, I won’t mourn Papistan’s passing.

  8. Sud: And no, I won’t mourn Papistan’s passing.

    Neither will I. Problem is they won’t go away quietly. They’ve already wrecked the neighborhood. The dissolution of this federation will need combined Indian and American strong-arming to ensure a relatively bloodless transition. Unfortunately, neither has the stomach for it. Also, there’s that hopeful possibility that Pakistan continues as this zombie-state – alternating between almost dead and sleep-walking with slow-motion balkanization – NWFP/Pakhtoonistan/Afghania, Balochistan, Sindhudesh at 5-10 year intervals.

  9. Nitin

    This note is well written but does not tell me anything.
    What is your point of view of what India should be doing (given your Indian National Interest-based viewpoint)
    I for one do not care if america gets thrashed in afghanistan and they both circle and then proceed down the drain. If india had something called leadership, what should it do?

    Do we accept this loss of life as another “tragic aberration” and “move on”, hoping for “peace in our lifetimes”?

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