By B. Raman
According to media reports from Kabul, there were at least six Indian fatalities among 17 persons killed by two terrorist attacks in Kabul on February 26, 2010. The two attacks were directed against private guest houses patronised by nationals of India, the US and the UK working in Kabul.
The Indian fatalities were sustained in a car bomb explosion outside a guest house normally used by Indians working in Kabul. There were two suicide blasts carried out by human bombers outside another guest house normally used by US and British nationals. These blasts were followed by an exchange of fire with Afghan security personnel that lasted about an hour.
According to a despatch from the local correspondent of the “New York Times”, Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said in a claim over the telephone that suicide bombers of the Afghan Taliban targeted two sites in the Shari Now district “where the foreign people are staying.” He added: “The actual targets are foreign people.”
Thus, he did not specify that the Indians were the targets. On October 8, 2009, a suicide car bomber had detonated his vehicle outside the Indian Embassy in Kabul, killing 17 people. Whereas the October 8 blast specifically targeted Indian nationals and was suspected to have had the sponsorship of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the February 26 attack seemed to have been an initiative by the Afghan Taliban meant to convey a message to the international community that the operational capabilities of the Afghan Taliban remained unimpaired despite the current offensive by US-led forces in the Helmand province and the arrests of nearly about 15 Afghan Taliban leaders by the ISI in different cities of Pakistan under US pressure.
While there is so far no evidence to show that Indians were exclusively targeted on February 26, the fact that of the two targets attacked by the Taliban one was known to have been the preferred place of stay of Indian nationals would indicate that it wanted to kill and intimidate Indian nationals in addition to other foreign nationals.
The fact that the Afghan Taliban has claimed the responsibility for the two attacks should not rule out the possibility of the involvement of anti-India Punjabi organisations such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) in the attack—– either for orchestrating it or for motivating and facilitating it.
Speculative media reports from Kabul have highlighted the fact that the Kabul attacks occurred a day after the meeting of the Foreign Secretaries of India and Pakistan at New Delhi on February 25. There are no convincing indicators of a link between the two.
A more relevant and worrisome question for the Indian intelligence will be whether the Kabul attack of February 26 could have been a follow-up to the Pune blast of February 13. The investigation into the Pune blast has not yet made much headway. It has not yet been clearly established who carried it out. The LET is among the suspects. The possibility of a linkage between the Pune and Kabul incidents has to be kept in view during the investigation. If such a linkage ultimately emerges, that would indicate a new jihadi offensive by the LET against Indian nationals and interests not only in India, but also in Afghanistan and possibly in Bangladesh and the Maldives too in the months to come.
Our counter-LET strategy has to be given a regional dimension through stepped-up monitoring, intelligence-sharing and operational co-ordination with the intelligence agencies of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and the Maldives.