For quite some time now, Pakistan’s notorious external intelligence cum terror wing ISI has been active in ‘targeting India and Indian interests’ in Afghanistan aiming at compelling New Delhi to ‘call it quit’ all its ongoing humanitarian relief operations as well as infrastructure building projects in Kabul. Because Pakistan is rattled at India’s growing positive image or popularity amongst the common Afghan citizenry and want to crush it, as vindicated by its recent ‘target India’ terror operations there. But let Pak’s ISI try hard as it must, New Delhi can never be brow beaten into quitting Kabul. India is forever committed to fight to finish global terror; including the ongoing Pak sponsored ‘target India’ terrorism in Afghanistan.
On May 22, 2014, gunmen armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades attacked the Indian Consulate in Afghanistan’s Herat province. However, no one is killed in the attack. Police killed all four attackers. Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai on May 26, 2014 said, “According to information given to us by a Western intelligence agency, the perpetrators of the Herat attack belonged to the LeT. This was mentioned in writing in the report shared with us. Herat (incident) was very clearly a terrorist strike on Indian and Afghan interests. Luckily, the Indian and Afghan security forces were alert and they prevented major damage to life and property.”
This was the second attack on the India’s Heart Consulate. Earlier, on May 7, 2006 an explosion occurred near the Indian Consulate in the fourth police District of the western Herat Province. There were no casualties. India has three other Consulates in Afghanistan – at Kandahar, Heart, and Mazar-e-Sharif. LeT’s Herat attack was aimed at taking Indian consul officials as hostages to strike a bigger ‘ransom cum hostage swapping deal’ or to sabotage as well as embarrass the oath taking grand function of India’s new popular government under BJP’s strong man Narendra Modi as PM.
On June 2, 2014 an Indian aid worker was abducted by unknown gunmen in Afghanistan’s Herat Province. The Indian was working with a Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) in Afghanistan, Khaama Press cited local government officials as saying. A security official in Zenda Jan District said the incident took place while the aid worker was visiting the area to assess the work on a project. No group has so far claimed responsibility for the incident.
The Consulate attacks fall into a larger pattern. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database, a range of Indian interests in Afghanistan have been systematically targeted, including the Embassy in Kabul, other Consulates, and numerous developmental projects as well as people involved in these. Partial data indicates at least 14 such attacks, resulting in 103 fatalities since 2003. In the worst such attack, on July 7, 2008, a suicide attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul killed 66 persons. Five Indian Embassy personnel, including two senior diplomats – Political Counsellor V. Venkateswara Rao and Defence Adviser Brigadier Ravi Datt Mehta – and Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) staffers Ajai Pathaniya and Roop Singh, were killed in the attack.
Though no group has taken responsibility for the latest (May 22) attack, direct involvement of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligent (ISI) as well as ISI-backed terrorist groups, primarily the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and the Haqqani Network is suspected. Both the LeT and the Haqqani Network operate out of Pakistan and have a strong presence in the eastern region of Afghanistan, which borders Pakistan. However, past experiences as well as recent reports indicate the strongest possibility of the involvement of the Haqqani Network, the LeT, or both.
Notably, India has invested in some major infrastructure projects in Afghanistan like Salma hydroelectric dam in Herat province and the Afghan parliament building in Kabul. India’s development assistance programme for Afghanistan currently stands at $two billion, making it the leading donor nation among all regional countries.
Pakistani ISI’s direct role in attack on Indian Consulate in Herat Province is suggested in prior disclosures by the Afghanistan National Intelligence Agency spokesperson Lutfullah Mashal, on May 10, 2011, who had revealed that the ISI had hired two persons, identified as Sher Zamin and Khan Zamin, to kill the Indian Consul General of Jalalabad. The ISI’s role in the July 7, 2008, attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul had also been confirmed by former Afghan intelligence Director Amrullah Saleh, who, in a media interview published on January 17, 2011, disclosed: “We had sufficient evidence that it was ISI’s plan. We knew they were trying to do something against the Indian Embassy.” Referring to ISI’s role in the Kabul attack, Mike Waltzin, a US official, had stated, in a TV interview, released on November 2, 2011, “The question was how high in the Pakistani state this went. And the answer was pretty high.”
All these terror attacks have once again highlighted that the main threat to Afghanistan’s security and stability stems from terrorism and the terror machine that continues to operate from beyond its borders. All these Pak sponsored and ISI planned terror attacks ‘targeting India’ are not just attacks against India but an attack against all the ongoing efforts to help the Afghan people overcome the tragic hardships they have endured due to several decades of war. India would not be deterred by this attack and would continue to assist Afghanistan in its reconstruction and development efforts.
Pakistan has been significantly shaken by the rising Indian presence in Afghanistan, the country over which Islamabad seeks complete control in the aftermath of the 2014 US drawdown, and appears hell bent on forcing India out. This latest attack is one such effort in that direction.
It is significant that Islamabad has no bearing whatsoever on the orientation of the ISI and the various terrorist proxies it supports and, despite a great deal of ‘talking about talks’ between India and Pakistan, there is little reason to believe that any significant shift in strategic orientation has occurred, to justify any optimism on this account. Indeed, as the uncertainties of the impending US drawdown escalate, it is inevitable that Pakistan’s targeting of the Indian presence in Afghanistan will intensify. It remains to be seen how New Delhi responds to protect not only its own interests, but, crucially, the fragile order that has been established in Kabul.