A car packed with explosives blew up beside the Indian Embassy on Thursday, leaving 17 people dead in what India’s foreign secretary said was a direct attack on the embassy compound, the second in two years.
The attack underscored the underscored the reach and opportunism of Afghanistan’s insurgency. The heavily guarded area only recently reopened to traffic after being closed for months after the previous bombing, which killed 54. Most of the dead in both were ordinary Afghans.
It also came as President Barack Obama and his advisers are weighing the threat of the Taliban insurgency versus the mission to destroy al-Qaida.
The Associated Press cited a Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahed, as saying that the Taliban had carried out the attack. But American commanders believe that the Taliban here are a set of related insurgencies that crisscross regions and countries, and it was unclear which specific group was responsible.
The two attacks on the embassy, both suicide car bombings, immediately raised suspicions of Pakistani involvement. India is Pakistan’s archrival, and militant groups once nurtured by Pakistan’s intelligence service have struck at Indian targets, most recently last year in the bloody attacks in Mumbai.
Abdul Basit, the spokesman for the Foreign Ministry in Pakistan, denounced the Thursday attack.
“Pakistan condemns the terrorist attack near the Indian Embassy in Kabul,” he said. “Pakistan is against terrorism in all its forms and manifestation.” The country also denied involvement in the earlier attack.
In that case, in July 2008, American intelligence officials concluded within weeks that Pakistan’s intelligence agency had helped in the planning. Pakistan denied the charges.
American officials believe that Jalaluddin Haqqani, an Afghan militia commander who battled Soviet troops during the 1980s and has had a long and complicated relationship with the CIA, was responsible for that attack. He is based in the mountains of western Pakistan and has sometimes-strained relations with the Pakistani Taliban.
Thursday’s bombing occurred around 8:30 a.m., when a man driving sport utility vehicle slowed down near a side wall of the embassy, said Sayed Abdul Ghafar, a senior police official in Kabul. Soon after, the driver detonated his explosives, partly destroying a guard tower and an outer protective wall.
Ghafar stated bluntly that militants from Pakistan were involved.
“I can announce clearly that the phenomenon that is causing us trouble is being organized from the other side of the border,” he said.
Many of the dead were merchants at a market that had been refurbished in recent months. Shop owners swept broken glass and crushed geraniums into small piles on the sidewalk.
Muhibullah, a print shop owner, said the blast was so powerful he felt it in his chest. A thick cloud of dust settled over the area, darkening his shop.