( An article prepared exclusively for 'India Abroad", the weekly published from the US, and its sister online publication Rediff.com. Not to be used by others before July 14,2008)
Forty-one persons, four of them Indian nationals, were killed in a suicide car bomb explosion outside the Indian Embassy in Kabul on July 7,2008, as the staff of the Embassy were arriving to start the day's work.
2. The Indian nationals killed were Brigadier R.D.Mehta, the Defence Attache, V.Venkateswara Rao, an officer of the Indian Foreign Service working as Counsellor, Ajai Pathania, a security guard of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), and Roop Singh, also a security guard of the ITBP. The two security guards of the ITBP were manning the security barrier outside the entrance gate of the Embassy. Brig. Mehta and Rao were coming to the Embassy in a chauffeur-driven car. The Brigadier was sitting in the front seat by the side of the chauffeur and Rao in the rear seat just behind the chauffeur, who was possibly an Afghan national, since his name did not figure among Indian fatalities.
3.The remaining 37 fatalities consisted of six Afghan police officers posted outside the Embassy, a large number of Afghan visa seekers plus some bystanders on the road. Though the blast took place just outside the gate, it was reported to have badly damaged the building of the Indian Embassy and caused some damage to an adjoining building, in which the Indonesian Embassy was located. There were no fatalities among the staff of the Indian Embassy inside the building. Among the over 100 injured persons were two Indonesian diplomats and five Afghan police officers posted outside the Indonesian Embassy.
4.Initial reports suggested that the suicide car bomber came from the opposite direction and rammed his explosive-laden car into two Embassy cars as they were waiting for the gate to open. This gave rise to the possibility that his primary targets were the two Indian officers. Subsequent reports indicated, however, that the suicide bomber was driving behind the car carrying the Indian officers. As the ITBP guards were trying to verify the identity of the car following the Embassy car, the terrorist activated the vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED). From this, it is suspected that his aim was to enter the Embassy premises by taking advantage of the opening of the gate for the Embassy car and then activate the IED, but when the suspicions of the ITBP guards were roused, he activated the IED outside the Embassy itself. If he had succeeded in entering the premises and then activating the IED, the Indian fatalities and the damage to the building might have been more.
5.The Kabul blast outside the Indian Embassy brings to mind a similar suicide car bomb blast near the US Consulate in Karachi on the eve of the arrival in Islamabad from New Delhi of President George Bush in the first week of March,2006. The blast killed a US diplomat, his Pakistani driver and a Pakistani security officer. Briefing the media after the incident, Niaz Siddiqi, an officer of the Karachi Police , was quoted as saying by the "News" of March 3,2006: "Due to strict security arrangements, the suicide bomber could not reach his target [the U.S. Consulate] and blew the car up on the way, when a motorcade of U.S. diplomats was passing through". Pakistani investigators blamed the blast on a little known organisation called the Jundullah (Soldiers of Allah) reported to have been trained in North Waziristan.
6. Terrorists have been using suicide vehicular bombs ( two-wheelers, cars, trucks and boats) since 1983, when a suicide vehicular bomb was first used against the US Marines in Beirut. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have been using this modus operandi (MO) since 1987. This MO is being used by Al Qaeda with devastating effect in Iraq since the US-led troops occupied the country in 2003. It has also been used by Al Qaeda in Algeria. A suicide car bomb causes many more fatalities and much more damage than an IED carried by a suicide bomber on his person.
7. There have been many car bomb explosions in India and Pakistan carried out by jihadi terrorists in the past, but these were activated through a remote control device or a mechanical timer and not by a suicide bomber driving the vehicle. As an example, one could cite the Mumbai blasts of March,1993. However, there have been no suicide car bomb explosions in India so far.
8. The increasing use of the MO involving suicide car bombs came into vogue in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region after 9/11. There were no acts of suicide terrorism in Afghanistan before September 9,2001. The assassination of Ahmed Shah Masood, the legendary Tajik leader, by two Arab terrorists on September 9,2001, was the first act of suicide terrorism reported from Afghan territory. Since the Afghan Taliban, headed by Mulla Mohammad Omar, staged a come-back in Afghanistan from sanctuaries in Pakistan in 2004, it has been increasingly using suicide terrorism. The virus of suicide terrorism, which was initially introduced into Pakistan in the 1990s by the anti-Shia Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ), spread dramatically after the raid by the Pakistan Army commandos into the Lal Masjid of Islamabad in July last year.
9. In both Pakistan and Afghanistan, the suicide bombers carried the IEDs on their person, but since 2006 there has been an increasing number of instances of vehicle-borne suicide terrorism in both countries.Training in the use of this MO is reported to have been imparted to the volunteers of the Neo Taliban of Afghanistan and the various pro-Taliban and pro-Al Qaeda organisations of Pakistan in the training camps of Al Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and the Islamic Jihad Group (IJG), another Uzbek organisation, in North Waziristan in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan.
10.There has been a sharp increase in acts of terrorism in Afghanistan since the new Government headed by Yousef Raza Gilani assumedoffice in Islamabad in the last week of March,2008. NATO officers in Afghanistan have spoken of a 40 per cent increase in the infiltration ofjihadi terrorists from the tribal belt of Pakistan into Afghanistan since the new Pakistani Government suspended military operations againstthe Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) 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 thenew Government has made a deal with the Taliban allowing it to operate freely in Afghanistan in return for its stepping down its operationsin Pakistani territory.
11.In a despatch on July 7,2008, Luis Martinez of the ABC News of the US said: "As the number of U.S. fatalities has dropped in Iraq, those in Afghanistan have been steadily rising. In June, U.S. military fatalities in Afghanistan nearly equaled those in Iraq and were the highest since the start of the war in 2001. It's a reflection of a resurgent Taliban that has refocused the attention of Pentagon planners, but drawn little attention in a presidential campaign in which politicians have been more focused on Iraq. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen told reporters last week that he has been "deeply troubled" by the rising violence in Afghanistan, where the Taliban have "without question, grown more effective and more aggressive in recent weeks, and as the casualty figures clearly demonstrate." The 28 American deaths in Afghanistan in June were one short of the 29 in Iraq, where the U.S. has more than four times as many troops. There are currently 32,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and 145,000 in Iraq. But the casualty rates of NATO allies are also rising. For the second month in a row, the total number of coalition combat deaths exceeded those in Iraq -- 46 in Afghanistan, compared with 31 in Iraq."
12.The ABC report added: "Military officials cite several reasons for the increase in violence, namely the Taliban's "safe haven" in the western tribal areas of Pakistan, where they can launch operations across the border into Afghanistan. Also, unable to defeat U.S. and NATO troops in conventional fighting, the various groups that make up the Taliban insurgency have resorted to tactics like those seen in Iraq, primarily the use of roadside bombs. A third factor cited by American commanders is that with more American troops on the ground than ever there is more combat as they move into areas controlled by insurgents. The commander of U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan, Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser, was more precise last week when he said that the number of violent incidents in his sector had jumped by 40 per cent in the first five months of this year over last year. This is in a region praised as a success story of American counterinsurgency efforts. Schloesser and other military officials describe the "safe haven" in Pakistan as a major factor for the increase in violence in eastern Afghanistan as insurgents are able to easily slip back and forth along the border into Afghanistan. The safe haven was created by ceasefire agreements negotiated by the Pakistani government with tribal leaders."
13.In an article contributed to the "Washington Post" on July 7,2008, Greg Bruno of the Council on Foreign Relations, said: ' A June 2008 report on Afghan security by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, finds that despite $10 billion in U.S. aid, only two of 105 Afghan National Army (ANA) units are judged "fully capable" . None of the 433 units of Afghanistan's National Police (ANP) are capable of conducting independent patrols, and only twelve -- 3 per cent -- are capable of leading operations with coalition support, the GAO says. Weakness of Afghan security services was exposed in a July 7 blast that leveled the Indian mission in Kabul , killing dozens. "
14. There are only three terrorist organisations in Afghanistan, which are capable of a vehicle-borne suicide terrorist strike like the one of July 7----the Neo Taliban of Afghanistan, the Hizb-e-Islami of Gulbuddin Heckmatyar and Al Qaeda. Of these, only the Neo Taliban has repeatedly demonstrated a capability for suicide terrorist strikes in Kabul----even in supposedly well-protected areas. It has repeatedly struck at soft as well as hard targets. Al Qaeda, based in the FATA, has a similar capability, but it prefers to train the Neo Taliban and guide it in its operations instead of itself operating. One reason for this is that it has a dwindling cadre of fresh Arab recruits and does not want to lose them in acts of suicide terrorism. It has kept them reserved for training volunteers from all over the world and for more important operations outside Afghanistan. The two Uzbeck organisations have a larger cadre and are in a position to operate in Kabul either on their own or as members of the Neo Taliban. The capability of the Hizb-e-Islami for operations in Kabul is unknown.
15. It is, therefore, assessed that there is a strong possibility of the Neo Taliban having carried out the blast outside the Indian Embassy.One Zabihullah Mujahid, who claimed to be a spokesman of the Neo Taliban, is reported to have denied the involvement of his group.This denial means nothing. If the Neo Taliban admits its involvement, it will provide a connecting link to Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which has provided sanctuaries to its leaders, including Mulla Mohammad Omar, and cadres in Pakistani territory. Since the survivors of Al Qaeda and the Taliban withdrew into the tribal belt of Pakistan after the US strikes destroyed their sanctuaries in Afghan territory after 9/11, Pakistan has been following a dual policy in its co-operation with the US in the war against terrorism. It has been co-operating in the operations against Al Qaeda to the extent necessary and unavoidable, but avoiding action against the Neo Taliban. It wants to preserve the Neo Taliban as a fighting unit to regain its pre-9/11 influence in Afghanistan if and when the US and other NATO forces leave Afghanistan and to counter the Indian presence in Afghanistan.
16. The fact that the ISI has been playing a double game in respect of the Taliban-----pretending to co-operate, but not actually co-operating--- has been admitted even by many US analysts. 'The Times" of London wrote on July 8,2008: "A US Department of Defence funded study undertaken by the RAND Corporation and published last month also stated that elements of the ISI were aiding the Taliban.“Right now, the Taliban and other groups are getting help from individuals within Pakistan’s Government, and until that ends, the region’s long-term security is in jeopardy,” concluded the report’s author Seth Jones.He said the support included medical care for wounded fighters, logistical and financial support. He also said ISI trainers were instructing insurgents in camps at Quetta, Mansehra, Shamshattu and Parachinar and other areas of Pakistan. “NATO officials uncovered several instances in which ISI operatives provided intelligence to Taliban insurgents at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels,” the report says."
17. "The Times" added: " Privately there is acknowledgement that a level of complicity is a reality. “There is an acceptance that elements of the ISI are engaged with the insurgents,” said one source serving in the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) for Afghanistan yesterday. “The issue that remains unresolved is the degree of higher level acceptance of this, and how much they (the ISI) can actually be controlled.”British officers confirmed to The Times an incident last summer in which a Taliban corpse found on the battlefield in Helmand turned out to be carrying papers identifying the body as that of a serving ISI Colonel. When British officials challenged the Islamabad Government on the issue, they received an explanation that the man was ’on leave’ at the time of his death."
18. Was the ISI involved in the Kabul blast? The Afghan Government seems convinced it was.Talking to the media after the blast, Humayun Hamidzada, a spokesperson of President Hamid Karzai, was quoted as saying: “Everything has the hallmark of a particular intelligence agency that has conducted similar terrorist acts inside Afghanistan in the past.We believe firmly that there is a particular intelligence agency behind it.I’m not going to name it anymore, I think it’s pretty obvious.”
19. Indian investigators must still be collecting the evidence. Even if they find the smoking gun connecting the ISI with the blast, it is doubtful whether the Government of Dr.Manmohan Singh would go public with its charge against Pakistan. Since his meeting with President Pervez Musharraf at Havana in September,2006, our Prime Minister has been following a policy of not implicating the ISI in public in acts of terrorism----even if there be strong evidence---- lest such public airing affect the confidence-building process which he has undertaken in our relations with Pakistan. But we should have no illusions that the Pakistani leadership----military or political---- genuinely wishes well of India---either in Afghanistan, within India or elsewhere. There has been no change in Pakistan's mindset of wanting to keep us bleeding wherever possible and whenever possible.
20.The increasing Indian presence in Afghanistan for assisting in the economic development of Afghanistan and for strengthening thecapability of the Afghan Government in various fields has been a constant source of criticism by Pakistan, which has taken up the issuerepeatedly with the US and other NATO countries. Sections of the media and the religious parties in Pakistan have also been critical of theclose relations of the Karzai Government with India.Urdu newspapers in Pakistan had even accused India of fomenting trouble inBalochistan from covert bases in Afghan territory.
21.Instead of condemning without any reservation the Pakistani use of the Taliban against the Afghan Government of Karzai and against the Indian nationals and interests in Afghanistan, many American scholars and experts----governmental as well as non-governmental--- try to project it as deplorable, but understandable in view of the Pakistani concerns over the Indian presence. This further encourages the ISI's use of the Taliban and gives Pakistan the confidence that so far as the use of terrorists against India is concerned, it can get away with its misdeeds.
22.Testifying before the US House of Representatives Armed Services Committee on October 10,2007, Lisa Curtis, Senior Research Fellow in the Heritage Foundation of Washington DC, which is close to the Republican Party, said : "One reason for continued Pakistani ambivalence toward the Taliban stems from the concern that India is trying to encircle it by gaining influence in Afghanistan. In this context, the Taliban offers the best chance for countering India’s regional influence. Pakistan believes ethnic Tajiks in the Afghan Government receive support from New Delhi. India, in cooperation with Russia and Iran, supported the Afghan Northern Alliance against the Taliban in the late 1990s and almost certainly retains links to Northern Alliance elements now in the Afghan Government. Pakistan also complains that the Indian consulates in the border cities of Jalalabad and Kandahar are involved in fomenting insurgency in its Baluchistan area. Because of the regional rivalry between Pakistan and India, Islamabad has been reluctant to allow Indian trans-shipment of goods across its territory into Afghanistan. The U.S. should encourage India and Pakistan to work toward greater economic cooperation in Afghanistan as a way to defuse their tensions. Participants in unoffiial talks on improving Indo-Pakistani ties have suggested that the two countries add Afghanistan as an agenda item in their formal dialogue".
23.Lisa Curtis is a former diplomat from the State Department. After serving in Pakistan for some years, she worked as a Congressional aide and then moved over to the Heritage Foundation. She was testifying before the Committee on “Security Challenges Involving Pakistan and Policy Implications for the Department of Defense."
24. However, there are some experts who are a little more forthright in exposing the duplicity of Pakistan in Afghanistan. Claudio Franco, a senior investigator of the NEFA Foundation, a US counter-terrorism think-tank, has come out with an analysis on "the Evolution of the Taliban in Pakistan during the February-May,2008, period: The Peace Accord Era"----that is, since the elections which brought the present Government to power. He says in his study: " The Government is not negotiating the dismantling of the TTP, but the retargeting of the organisation towards Afghanistan. In other words, from Islamabad's point of view, if the tribal context cannot be stabilised once and for all, at least they want to have a say concerning when and where to strike across the border. Tribal frontier armies have often been used as a foreign policy tool and that is probably one of the reasons why they managed to keep their historical autonomy."
25. He adds: " Realistically wih India becoming closer and closer to the Afghan regime financially and politically, why should Islamabad forsake one of its best assets in the Afghan scenario without trying to turn the situation to its strategic advantage? The TTP could be a proxy army engaged in support for the Afghan Taliban when necessary, an arrangement which would entail exceptional leverage on the Taliban leadership, with a third party doing the dirty work---plausible deniability at its very best.This role "in defence" of Pakistan is certainly clear to Faqir Mohammad ( a leader of the TTP) : "We will continue our activities until we achieve the purpose for which Pakistan was created. In Afghanistan and other Islamic countries, a war is going on against the cruelty of America and its allies. Unless and until America and its allies are expelled, Mujahideen activities will continue."
26. In 1989, the ISI started its proxy war against India in Kashmir. It directly funded, trained and armed Kashmiri jihadi oranisations such as the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), the Hizbul Mujahideen etc. After coming to office in January 1993, President Bill Clinton placed Pakistan on a so-called watch list of suspected state-sponsors of international terrorism and warned Nawaz Sharif, the then Prime Minister, that he would declare Pakistan a state-sponsor of international terrorism if its policies did not change. Thereafter, the ISI adopted a new policy which came to be known as privatisation of assistance to jihadi groups operating against India. Instead of assisting them directly, it started assisting them through selected Pakistani organisations such as the Jamaat-e-Islami,the Jamaat-ul-Ulema Islam, the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, the Lashkar-e-Toiba etc. The money was given to them and they were asked to distribute it to the Kashmiri organisations and to take over from the ISI the responsibility for running training camps. Retired officers of the Army were placed at the disposal of these organisations for running the training camps.
27. A similar policy is now sought to be followed by the Gilani Government. Cut off direct links of the ISI with the Taliban of Afghanistan and funnel future assistance to the Neo Taliban through the TTP. All the instructions to the Neo Taliban on whom to attack and where and when to attack will be conveyed through the TTP, which will also arrange for the training of the suicide bombers in the camps in North Waziristan.
28. India has done well not to lose its cool as a result of the Kabul blast and to express its determination to stay put in Afghanistan and implement its on-going and future projects. At the same time, it would be necessary to examine the physical security of all our missions and offices in Afghanistan and undertake the necessary enhancements. The attack of July 7 should not be treated as an isolated incident, but as the beginnig of more to come.
29. Additional protective measures are the immediate priority, but they alone would not be sufficient. They have to be supplemented by meaures to make it clear to Pakistan that it will pay a heavy price for its use of the jihadi terrorist organisations against India----either in Afghan or Indian territory. (9-7-08)
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com )