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Why the Indian embassy in Kabul was attacked
B Raman
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July 07, 2008

While Afghan security sources have projected the incident as an attempt to kill Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the neo Taliban has projected it as an operation to demonstrate its capability even in Kabul, despite all the security precautions taken by the government. The incident has revealed serious deficiencies in route security and perimeter security. The deficiencies in route security enabled six heavily-armed terrorists enter the city and reach the hotel without being detected and intercepted anywhere. The deficiencies in perimeter security enabled the perpetrators to take up position in a room of the hotel without being detected and fire from there.

Apart from these physical security deficiencies, was there also a complicity by any member of the security forces? That is a question, which should be worrying the Afghan authorities. In Iraq, many successful terrorist strikes have been made possible by internal complicity. In Afghanistan, till now, there have been few instances of such complicity."

Extract from B Raman's article (external link) on the unsuccessful attempt to kill President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan during an Afghan national parade at Kabul on April 27.

Forty one people are reported to have been killed by a suicide bomber with a Vehicle-borne Improvised Explosive Device outside the gates of the Indian embassy in Kabul on July 7. Four of them are stated to be Indian nationals -- including the Indian defence attache, a counsellor-level diplomat and two security guards. The remaining were Afghan nationals, many of whom had come to the mission for visas.

Images: Attack on Indian embassy | Video

From the indications available so far, it is evident that it was a targeted attack on the Indian mission. Was it also a targeted attack on the defence attache? This question arises from the fact that the vehicle-borne suicide bomber reportedly rammed his vehicle against two cars of the mission as they were about to enter the mission. This would indicate the possibility that the primary targets were the occupants of the two cars. The rest of the fatalities were apparently collateral.

There has been a sharp increase in acts of terrorism in Afghanistan since the new Pakistan government headed by Yousef Raza Gilani assumed office in Islamabad in the last week of March. North Atlantic Treaty Organisation officers in Afghanistan have spoken of a 40 per cent increase in the infiltration of terrorists from the tribal belt of Pakistan into Afghanistan since the new Pakistani government suspended military operations against the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and entered into peace negotiations with them. Even as acts of terrorism -- including suicide terrorism -- have increased in Afghan territory, there has been a sharp decrease in acts of suicide terrorism in Pakistani territory. This indicates that the new government has made a deal with the Taliban allowing it to operate freely in Afghanistan in return for its stepping down its operations in Pakistani territory.

The increasing Indian presence in Afghanistan for assisting in the economic development of Afghanistan and for strengthening the capability of the Afghan government in various fields has been a constant source of criticism by Pakistan, which has taken up the issue repeatedly with the US and other NATO countries. Sections of the media and the religious parties in Pakistan have also been critical of the close relations of the Karzai government with India. Urdu newspapers in Pakistan had even accused India of fomenting trouble in Balochistan from covert bases in Afghan territory.

Pakistan thus has a strong motive to target Indian nationals and interests in Afghanistan through its surrogate, the Taliban. During the last three years, there has been a steep increase in acts of suicide terrorism by the neo Taliban of Afghanistan headed by Mulla Mohammad Omar.

Initially, the suicide attacks were by individual suicide bombers who carried the IEDs on their person. Subsequently, they increasingly started using VBIEDs. During the recent attack on the Kandahar prison, they used a VBIED to break open the gates.

The modus operandi using VBIED, which causes many more fatalities than individual bombers carrying the IED, was and is still being used with devastating effect in Iraq by Al Qaeda [Images]. Training in this has been imparted by Al Qaeda to neo Taliban volunteers in the training camps of Al Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Islamic Jihad Group, another Uzbek organisation, in North Waziristan in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan.

The successful attack outside the Indian mission has been made possible by poor security on the road in which the Indian mission is located. It has been reported that the Afghan interior ministry is also located on the same road. One would have, therefore, expected the level of road security and access security on this road to have been high. This was apparently not so as evident from the fact that a vehicle carrying an IED was able to come till the vicinity of the Indian mission without being stopped and checked anywhere by Afghan security barriers.

The details available so far do not speak of any specific physical security deficiency in the Indian mission itself. Despite this, the physical security set-ups in all the Indian missions and offices in Afghanistan, whether in Kabul or in other places, need to be urgently examined and the required security enhancements undertaken. A vulnerability assessment of all Indian missions and offices is urgently called for.

An operation of this type would have been undertaken by the neo Taliban -- even if instigated by Pakistan -- only with the knowledge of and in close consultation with its Al Qaeda mentors. Al Qaeda has been looking for opportunities for a major terrorist strike against the US and Israel. Even if Al Qaeda has no motive presently for targeting Indian nationals and interests, it badly needs a successful terrorist strike against the US or other Western powers in order to prove to its followers and admirers that its capability for action against the US and Israel remains strong.

In his confessional statement before the US military tribunal trying him, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, who had allegedly masterminded the 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US homeland, had stated that Al Qaeda had wanted to strike the Israeli Embassy in New Delhi, but could not. It would still be looking for opportunities to attack US and Israeli targets in India. This has to be constantly factored into in our vulnerability assessments.

B Raman
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