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Bomb At Indian Embassy In Kabul Kills 41

Survivors run past fallen bystanders at the scene of a suicide bombing outside the Indian Embassy in Kabul
KABUL -- A suicide car bomb exploded outside the Indian Embassy in central Kabul, killing at least 41 people and injuring scores of others.

Reports say the massive bomb was detonated at the embassy gate just as two diplomatic vehicles were entering the compound.

"A Toyota Corolla-type of car, packed with explosives, was detonated in front of the Indian Embassy," Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Hakim Nashir said. "The target of the attacker was the Indian Embassy."

Rizwan Murad, a correspondent for RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, reporting from the site of the blast, described a scene of horrifying carnage -- with the bloodied bodies of the injured lying in the street among the body parts of the dead.

The body of one slain Indian diplomat -- political and information counselor V. Venkateswara Rao -- was thrown onto the roof of a building within the embassy compound by the force of the explosion.

Officials in New Delhi have confirmed that the explosion also killed India's military attache in Afghanistan, Brigadier R. Mehta, as well as two Indian security guards and seven Afghans who were providing security at the gate.

Others killed by the explosion include Afghan shopkeepers on the busy street outside of the embassy compound, along with Afghan civilians who were lining up at the embassy gate to apply for visas.

Attack Condemned

Afghan President Hamid Karzai blamed the attack on what he called the "enemies" of the strong friendship between India and Afghanistan.

In Islamabad, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi issued a statement saying that Pakistan "condemns terrorism in all its forms and manifestations as this menace negates the very essence of human values."

In New Delhi, Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee described the violence as a "cowardly terrorist attack," saying such acts will not deter India from fulfilling its commitments to the government and people of Afghanistan.

Rahul Bedi, a New Delhi-based correspondent for "Jane's Defence Weekly," tells RFE/RL that he thinks the Indian government ultimately will point fingers at Pakistan's security and intelligence agencies.

"It's quite possible that [the Indian officials] were targeted by local militants -- by the Taliban," Bedi says. "But I'm sure that the Indian establishment is likely to say that it was also encouraged, to some extent, by the Pakistani establishment -- which seems to exercise a large amount of influence over the Taliban forces in Afghanistan."

Indeed, more than a half century of rivalry between India and Pakistan has played out beyond their borders in Afghanistan in recent years, with both Islamabad and New Delhi seeking to increase their influence there.

Bedi notes that Pakistan initially helped the Taliban sweep into power for five years in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, he notes, India helped to bankroll factions of the former Northern Alliance that fought against the Taliban regime until its collapse in late 2001.

Later, when commanders of the former Northern Alliance were appointed to key positions in Afghanistan's post-Taliban transitional government, many lucrative contracts to rebuild Afghanistan's highway infrastructure were awarded to Indian firms -- to the irritation of Pakistan.

India also opened up a series of consulates in Afghanistan and has deployed some 500 troops to guard Indian road-construction workers in the country.

Harassment And Sabotage

The Indian military attache who was killed in the Kabul blast was closely involved in the work of 14 Indian officers who were helping to train members of the Afghan National Army.

In the past, when Indians have been targeted by militants in Afghanistan, the government in New Delhi has complained about what it describes as a "pattern of harassment and sabotage" against India's reconstruction efforts by militants with ties to Pakistan.

That violence included a 2003 grenade attack on the Indian Consulate in Jalalabad, as well as numerous attacks on Indian road-construction crews.

New Delhi has accused Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence department of direct involvement in those earlier attacks -- saying that elements within the ISI have supported crossborder militancy in Afghanistan in order to advance Islamabad's foreign policy goals there.

Pakistan denies those allegations -- saying it is doing all it can to fight militants in the tribal regions near the border with Afghanistan.

Islamabad also has accused India in the past of supporting Balochi separatists in Pakistan, as well as members of militant factions that are fighting Pakistani government troops in the tribal regions.

Relations Have Improved

RFE/RL Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Ayaz Khan says observers shouldn't be too quick to accuse Pakistani security forces of involvement.

Khan notes that relations have improved dramatically between India and Pakistan since December 2001, when a militant attack on the parlimanet building in New Delhi brought the two countries to the brink of war. In that crisis, India eventually deployed 1 million troops on its border with Pakistan -- forcing Pakistan to pull troops away from volatile areas of militancy and redeploy them along the border with India.

Khan notes that Pakistan has been under intense pressure from the United States in recent weeks to crack down on militants in the border regions near Afghanistan.

Khan also notes that it would be in the best interests of Al-Qaeda militants now fighting Pakistani troops in the tribal regions to create friction between India and Pakistan -- as well as between Islamabad and Kabul.