NEW DELHI – India strongly condemned a deadly suicide bomb assault on its consulate in the Afghan city of Jalalabad on Saturday, vowing the raid will not stop it from helping rebuild the war-torn nation.
Suicide bombers detonated an explosives-packed car, killing nine civilians, including seven children, in a nearby mosque.
The suicide attacks “must be condemned in the strongest possible terms,” the Foreign Ministry in New Delhi said in a statement, adding they are a reminder of the threat posed to Afghanistan by “terrorism.”
“This attack has 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,” the ministry said, in a thinly veiled reference to neighboring Pakistan.
Zabihullah Mujahed, a Taliban spokesman, said the group was not responsible for the bombing in the city, the capital of Nangarhar province.
India has already expressed concern about tensions in the region that threaten to keep the conflict in Afghanistan on the boil after the United States and its allies exit.
India has been a key supporter of Kabul’s post-Taliban government, and analysts have often warned of the possibility of a “proxy war” in Afghanistan between India and its archrival, Pakistan.
While India has drawn closer to Afghanistan with $2 billion in pledged aid, plans to invest in mining projects and programs to train Afghan security forces, its bid for strategic influence has been opposed by the Taliban and created disquiet in Pakistan, which lies sandwiched between the two.
The tussle comes as Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the U.S. are seeking assistance from civilian and military leaders in Islamabad to pursue peace talks with senior Taliban leaders as the international community withdraws combat troops.
In particular, “India’s offer to train Afghan troops is a nightmare for Pakistan,” said Uday Bhaskar, a former commodore in the Indian Navy and now vice president of the Society for Policy Studies, a New Delhi-based research group. “There’s a very deep conviction in Pakistan that they don’t want well-trained, well-equipped armies in Afghanistan and India. That would be the beginning of a pincer for Pakistan.”
Syed Akbaruddin, a spokesman at India’s Foreign Ministry, said all Indian officials were safe after the attack.
“This was clearly an attack not just against India but an attack against the efforts to help the Afghan people overcome the tragic hardships they have endured due to several decades of war,” he said.
Indian facilities in Afghanistan have been targeted several times.
The embassy in Kabul was attacked in suicide bombings in 2008 and again in 2009.
India accused Pakistan’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, of assisting the first strike. Pakistan denied the allegation.
In 2010, two guest houses in Kabul used by Indians were attacked.