Afghanistan blames Pakistan for embassy bombing; India holds fire

October 10, 2009

Afghanistan has wasted little time in accusing Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency of being behind a bomb attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul on Thursday.

Asked by PBS news channel whether Kabul blamed Pakistan for the bombing, Afghan ambassador to the United States Said Jawad said: ”Yes, we do. We are pointing the finger at the Pakistan intelligence agency, based on the evidence on the ground and similar attacks taking place in Afghanistan.”

But what has been more striking is how careful India has been not to assign blame too quickly.  Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, the country’s top diplomat, visited Kabul on Friday but said it was too early to say who was responsible for the bombing.

“I think the investigation should be completed,” she said when asked if India thought Pakistan was behind the attack. “Whoever is responsible for this attack is against peace, is against democracy, is against people of Afghanistan and against the people of India.”

India has in the past accused the ISI of being behind attacks on Indian interests in Afghanistan. An attack on the same Kabul embassy last year killed 58 people. And as discussed regularly on this blog, rivalry between Indian and Pakistan over Afghanistan complicates U.S. efforts to stabilise the country no matter how many extra troops it sends.

For a sense of deja vu, see this post from last August on India-Pakistan rivalry in Afghanistanthis post on the United States often conflicted approach in its dealings with the ISI, and this post from December asking whether it still made sense for President Barack Obama to send more troops to Afghanistan after last year’s attack on Mumbai torpedoed hopes of a regional settlement.

So what is to be expected as a result of this latest bombing on the Indian embassy in Kabul?  Will it automatically lead to a fresh increase in tensions between India and Pakistan, or at the very least stall tentative attempts to repair relations soured by the Mumbai attack?

The answer to that is not as obvious as it might seem.

Pakistan’s civilian government, which says its wants to hold peace talks with India, is already embroiled in an awkward stand-off with the Pakistan Army over provisions in the U.S. Kerry-Lugar aid bill which appear to curb the power of the military. So India might judge that now is not the right moment to raise the temperature.

Complicating the picture further is increasing violence within Pakistan itself – as highlighted by Saturday’s attack by suspected Taliban militants on the Pakistan Army’s headquarters in Rawalpindi, a day after 49 people were killed by a suicide car-bomber in the city of Peshawar. Do also read this chilling BBC account about the growth of militancy in south Punjab, in the heartland of Pakistan.

Add to that uncertainty about Obama’s yet-to-be-completed review of strategy in Afghanistan, along with reports that the insurgency there is both growing and becoming increasingly independent of leaders in Pakistan, and you get one of the more fluid and volatile mixes in the history of relations between India and Pakistan.

All that makes it impossible to predict with any certainty the impact of the Kabul embassy bombing on relations between the two countries. One to watch closely in the days and weeks ahead.

(Photos: Site of bomb blast in Kabul; Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao; soldiers take position in Rawalpindi)

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