India-Pakistan Tensions Find Deadly Echo in Afghanistan

A suicide bombing at the Indian consulate in Jalalabad is the latest episode in the simmering geopolitical struggle between the nuclear rivals

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Parwiz / Reuters

Afghan policemen walk near a crater at the site of a suicide bomb attack at the Indian consulate in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, on Aug. 3, 2013

On Aug. 3 three men drove up to a checkpoint outside the Indian consulate in the eastern trading hub of Jalalabad, Afghanistan, not far from the Pakistan border. Two of the men leaped out of the car and opened fire. The third man, the driver, blew himself up, leaving a deep crater in the road and nine other Afghans, mostly children, dead. The intended targets — namely, Indians — were unharmed, and several days later, no group had claimed responsibility for the thwarted attack.

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It’s not the first time that India’s official presence has been targeted in Afghanistan. In 2008, over 50 people, including a senior Indian diplomat, were killed when a suicide bomber attacked the Indian embassy in Kabul. The following year, another suicide bomber attacked the site again, killing 17. Officials in Afghanistan, India and the U.S. have blamed both attacks on the Haqqani network, a clan the U.S. has accused Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of using for terrorism in Afghanistan. While New Delhi has yet to finger any group in the Jalalabad strike, the government released a statement that the main threat to Afghanistan’s stability still comes from “the terror machine that continues to operate from beyond its borders” — a thinly veiled barb at its longtime rival, Pakistan.

That tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbors are playing out on Afghan soil is not new. During Afghanistan’s civil war in the 1990s, India supported the Northern Alliance in its fight against the Taliban. Pakistan, for its part, supported the Taliban as part of its long struggle to maintain influence in Afghanistan and expand its geographic safety zone in the event of a conflict with India. After the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, however, the newly installed Afghan government, headed by President Hamid Karzai, allied itself with India, an unpopular development, to say the least, among those in Islamabad who chafed at being sandwiched between India and an India-friendly Afghanistan. Since 2001, India has contributed some $2 billion in aid to Afghanistan, helped supply the Afghan military and trained an undisclosed number of Afghan forces in India. In 2011 Kabul granted an Indian consortium mining rights to one of the region’s largest iron-ore mines.

As India’s stake in Afghanistan has deepened, Indian personnel working there have faced regular targeting. Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi, says Indian interests, from missions to NGOs to contract workers, have been repeatedly attacked, and, according to his organization, all of the attacks with confirmed perpetrators have been linked to terrorist cells either in Pakistan or backed by the ISI. In February 2010, two Kabul guesthouses popular with Indian expats were bombed, killing at least 17 people. Afghan officials again blamed Pakistan-backed terrorists with links to the ISI. But Pakistan today has its own internal struggles with homegrown militants, and some doubt the ISI has enough sway over groups like the Pakistani Taliban to order up hits like Jalalabad. “If [the ISI] had that much influence, then the situation here in Pakistan would be better,” says Hasan Askari Rizvi, a political analyst and defense expert in the Pakistani city of Lahore. More likely, he says, is that Indian interests have been stalked by Afghan-based insurgents — which may or may not have Pakistan links — because of New Delhi’s cozy ties with Karzai and the West.

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One thing everyone agrees on is this: what happens after 2014 is a cause for concern. Today, a peace deal is still a possibility. But if the Afghan government and its security forces lose control of more of the country after most foreign troops leave next year, both India and Pakistan stand to lose in the ensuing chaos, with insurgents crossing over the porous border and emboldening the Pakistani Taliban, and regional terrorist groups making further inroads into India. In a worst-case scenario, a power vacuum could give way to a full-blown proxy war between India and Pakistan, with the two nations providing material backing for opposing sides in a new civil war. Sahni, however, thinks that’s unlikely. “India has never been able to project itself overtly or covertly as an aggressive force,” he says. “We’re a bunch of wimps in that respect.” But things could certainly get ugly enough to scuttle widely held hopes for more regional economic cooperation, including the development of a regional gas pipeline and the U.S. vision of linking up the infrastructure of Central and South Asia as part of a “new Silk Road.”

A little neighborly bonhomie could go a long way to keep symbiotic economic projects on track. “If relations can improve, then this rivalry [in Afghanistan] won’t be so visible,” says Rizvi. The past year had some bright points, with increased trade between the neighbors and the recently elected government in Pakistan, headed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, making overtures to improve ties with India. But, as six decades of fighting have proved, for every step forward, there is always a step back. On Aug. 6, as the two governments hashed out a date for the next round of bilateral talks, India claimed that 20 men wearing the uniform of Pakistani soldiers crossed into India at the nations’ border in Kashmir and killed five Indian soldiers, fanning the flames of enmity once again.

The only cause that wins from these regular flare-ups is extremism. “If India-Pakistan relations are bad, it gives [Pakistani militants] an excuse to mobilize support for their groups as Islamist and highly nationalist,” says Rizvi. “It gives them space for survival.” And, as old tensions spill over into places like Jalalabad and Kabul, it is Afghans who lose. A recent U.N. report found that, even today, Afghan civilian casualties due to conflict were up 23% in the first half of 2013 compared with the same period last year. Deaths among women and children were up 38%. If foreign governments continue to vie for control in Afghanistan, the ground will only be stained with more Afghan blood.

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34 comments
ISI
ISI

when the saber-rattling indians are ready to provide proofs rather than accuse Pakistan (especially its security apparatus) every time a stampede or fire cracker goes off in india-- then we will listen. The shooting of these soldiers was probably carried out either by indigenous freedom fighter groups in Kashmir or by family members of the 4 kidnapped civilians which were snatched by india last week - all farmers with no ties to militia. india is in denial about its occupation of Kashmir and doesn't realize that until the issue is resolved, these soldiers will remain a mere statistic

anjan288
anjan288

Regardless of which group is behind the killings, India must hold the Pakistani army responsible. The only way to deter such provocations is to impose a cost on Pakistan ....... and India must do that ..... talk or no talk, India must get even with Pakistan .....

truthteat
truthteat

Its clear the Taliban are trying to ease pressure on them by the Pakistani military by trying to ignite tensions between Pakistan and India, its the oldest trick in the book, Pakistan gains nothing by creating tension with India at a time when it is embroiled in a raging anti militancy campaign in several different pockets of Pakistan.

The worst part is that certain Indian groups waste no time in attacking Pakistan as they cannot see beyond their nose when it comes to Pakistan, as do some Indian politicians.

What a coincidence that within days apart, the Indian consulate is bombed and then deep inside the Indian side of the LOC Indian soldiers are killed, if Pakistan had to kill Indian soldiers, they have opportunities all along the LOC as they stand eyeball to eyeball.

Lets see if Indians show maturity, my fear is the Taliban know Indians will have a knee jerk reaction and start something with Pakistan, after which the Taliban are free to do whatever they want.

shael.sharma
shael.sharma

India is already facing the full brunt of the Pakistani and Chinese asymmetrical warfare. It can only take lessons in homeland security!

powerandprivilege
powerandprivilege

Is it just a staged attack to start a war?  What purpose would it serve, and who would benefit from the war?  The upcoming election in 2014 may be on the minds of the power brokers in New Delhi!

benyaminshaker
benyaminshaker

So on the issue of india vs. Pakistan, union would be most fruitful 

benyaminshaker
benyaminshaker

I hate it when people try to resolve religious issues by sighting the quran. The quran clearly says to be a dumb idiot. Therefore, the only issue in the middle east is the restricting of islam to arabs, not afghans , not pakistanians, not indians, no turks, not iranians. ONLY ARABS. it is made for them , not us

Thewizard66
Thewizard66

@MoustafaHamdan Let us care about the terrorists we have in Lebanon it looks that we will have the same thing soon, don't you agree?

bcashish
bcashish

why doesnt india blow up isi,in turn, and send the storng message to the world ,, tht even india can do things when its required!!!! 

Leyaquette
Leyaquette

@TIME @TIMEWorld Sir, India does 0 share any contiguous border with Afghanistan so it is sponsoring across d border terrorism 2 please USA?

Leyaquette
Leyaquette

@TIME @TIMEWorld Sir, if ISI is controlling Haqqani Net Work, then who is controlling d Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan eg RAW / CIA or who else?

ranjha.tanveer
ranjha.tanveer

Wow he says “India has never been able to project itself overtly or covertly as an aggressive force”. Then what are you doing in Jalalabad (so close to Pakistan's border with Afghanistan). 

ISI
ISI

Cost? What cost? 1/3 of india is facing a Naxalite insurgency so first fix your internal issues before daring to challenge Pakistan, which is now a nuclear power. india can only finger point and blame despite having zero evidence of Pak army involvement.

ISI
ISI

indians and their tabloid media are too emotional. They can't be rational. If they dare to try anything against Pakistan, there will be grave consequences

anjan288
anjan288

@truthteat  

As long as your Paki army continues with its own game of proxy war, there is absolutely no reason for India to take a  restrained approach in the name of showing maturity  .........

tonyvwsvgg
tonyvwsvgg

@benyaminshaker you think your sik . The bible says lets pray to a man not a god. The smelly indians prey to idols like nobs

ISI
ISI

And who are you to decide that? Pakistan is home to the second largest Muslim population after Indonesia. Therefore your argument is just a garbage to begin with

anjan288
anjan288

@azmalhome  

In other words, according to your Quran, killing  of non-believers is just fine ........ !!?? ..........  And all non-Muslims are non-believers , right ..... ? .........  It is therefore an immediate threat for the non-Muslims, and they must unite to fight against the Muslims of the world  ........

anjan288
anjan288

@ISI  

Keep your Paki nukes to yourself ......  in the event of India's massive retaliation, there would be no Mecca, no Medina , and no Sunni surviving in the entire region ......

ISI
ISI

india already has supported proxy groups in the past to harm Pakistan. Such was in the case in Bangaldesh in 1971 and even today india provides arms and material support to terrorist groups like the BLA. Even Sri Lanka hasn't been spared. India's support for Tamil Tiger terrorists incurred loss of 75,000 civilian lives in Sri Lanka.

benyaminshaker
benyaminshaker

@ISI Yes, but how were they made that way, The savage arab hordes rode across and made them muslim, but they resisted , then the mongols came, therefore they were forced through brute force. 

ISI
ISI

Good luck! Ok come fight then, Mr Keyboard warrior. Lol.

benyaminshaker
benyaminshaker

@ISI As always typical bafoon behaviour. Pak means clean, It is very ironic seeing it be the face of many things unclean. Rightfull it should not even exist. Baluchistan should go to Iran, the rest to India. Then you can be tamed

ISI
ISI

Only an indian who is short, poor and frustrated would think Mecca and Medina are in South Asia. By the way, not all Pakistanis are Sunnis. We are also Shiia, Ismaili, Ahmedi; we are also Christians, Sikhs and atheists. But we are Pakistani first.

Got a problem with us, come do something

ISI
ISI

Cool story kid. You indians always were good day dreamers. It must be the dirt brown water of the ganges river that causes such emotional reactions. Yes we will keep our uses as long as you dot-heads behave yourselves

benyaminshaker
benyaminshaker

@ISI Wrong, in india, the moguls came and took power. They enforced a law which imposed a strict and heavy tax on all non-muslims in the area of Pakistan, therefore they converted. Suffi saints might be able to spread it to 10 maybe 20, but no more, only abrahamic barbarism caused the massive spread, and yes, that is violent, maybe not so much to you, as it is typical for adherence of abrahamic faiths to be herd animals, and btw, i am from the region.The religious and historical ignorance imposed by one when he/she blindly adheres to an unproven cause is the reason you can even have the audacity to make an argument for islam outside arabia. Thereofre, you have no historical and philisophical sense and abstain from the use of reason, making you unfit to make any argument whatsoever.

ISI
ISI

You clearly aren't even from the region and know nothin about it. So don't lecture me on "historical perspective" because your version of it is inaccurate, unfortunately

ISI
ISI

Not necessarily. Many many Sufi saints spread Islam peacefully. And besides - if people saw truth in Islam and the religion was passed down then obviously it wasn't so violent. Unlike hinduism, Islam does not condone caste system or mental/bonded slavery. Majority of Muslims, incidentally, are non Arabs - so, again - your brilliant theory doesn't hold