Attack on Indian mission in Afghanistan raises spectre of regional struggle

JALALABAD, Afghanistan (Reuters) – Insurgents attacked the Indian consulate in Afghanistan’s eastern capital yesterday, killing nine people and reinforcing fears that a bloody regional power struggle will be played out in the country once most foreign troops leave.

Twenty-three people were wounded when checkpoint guards stopped three attackers in a car as they approached the consulate in Jalalabad city, the office of the governor of Nangarhar province, Gul Agha Sherzai, said in a statement.

Two attackers leapt from the car and a gunfight broke out, while the third detonated explosives. No Indian officials were killed, though the blast badly damaged a mosque and dozens of homes and small shops nearby.

India condemned the attack and, without naming any country or group, blamed outside forces.

“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 of External Affairs said in a statement.

Arch-rivals India and Pakistan have long vied for power and influence in Afghanistan. Many see their struggle intensifying after the departure of most international forces by the end of next year.

Afghans fear the void left by the NATO-led foreign forces could lead to yet another round of bloody external interference in the impoverished and violence-racked country.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is seen as close to India and strongly opposed to the Taliban, who some say is supported by elements of the Pakistani state, in particular its powerful intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

The Taliban, which spearheads armed opposition to Karzai’s Western-backed government, denied responsibility for yesterday’s attack on the Indian mission close to Pakistan’s border.

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