Afghanistan’s intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security, has prevented a suicide-bomb assault on India’s consulate in the eastern city of Jalalabad, along the border with Pakistan, government sources told The Indian Express.
The strike was to have taken place as Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits the Afghan capital for the first time on December 25, sources said.
Indian intelligence sources said NDS had identified the attacker as Qari Nasir, a religious studies student from Tagab district in the north-eastern province of Kapisa. In statements given to Afghan authorities, Nasir is alleged to have said he was trained in a camp across the border in Pakistan, and received final instructions at a Taliban facility in Peshawar.
Afghan authorities have reported that the Taliban operative was equipped with a micro-camera, concealed inside his spectacles, to film security deployments around the mission as well as a watch fitted with a Global Positioning System unit.
Indian officials said the attack appeared to have been planned by networks linked to Taliban chief Akhtar Muhammad Mansoor who had played a key role in aiding the hijackers of an Indian Airlines jet when it landed at Kandahar.
Linked closely to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, Mansoor is known to work closely with two organisations, which have been involved in past strikes on Indian diplomatic missions in Afghanistan — the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Taliban deputy chief Sirajuddin Haqqani’s network.
An Indian intelligence officer said New Delhi was awaiting further details from Afghan authorities, but said the information shared so far “gave cause for grave concern”.
“India is a supporter of development and democracy in Afghanistan,” said Amrullah Saleh, Afghanistan’s former spy chief. “It is entirely predictable that enemies of Afghanistan should be seeking to target the upcoming visit in any way they can.”
India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval had met earlier this month with his Pakistani counterpart Lieutenant-General Nasir Khan Janjua in Bangkok to hammer out terrorism-related issues between the two countries. Doval is believed to have confronted Janjua with detail on past Pakistani involvement in strikes on India.
Prime Minister Modi is scheduled to inaugurate the new Indian-constructed Parliament building in Afghanistan. The building, which has missed three deadlines for completion since its original target of 2011, was to have cost India $45 million, but estimates of the expense now run at over $900 million.
Indian diplomats in Kabul said last-minute preparations were underway to make sure that work on the building’s facade were completed before the Prime Minister’s arrival.
Modi is also expected to finalise arrangements for the hand-over of four second-hand Mi25 ground-attack helicopters to Afghanistan’s armed forces, concluding negotiations which have been underway since 2014.
The country’s 100,000-strong armed forces have been hard hit by mobility constraints, which have prevented them from responding to an unprecedented Taliban campaign that has seen the jihadist groups seize territory across the country.
Hanif Atmar, Afghanistan’s National Security Advisor, has pressed New Delhi to act on long-standing requests to pay for the refurbishment of six Ukranian Antonov An-32 transport aircraft, currently grounded at Kabul airport, and provide second-hand armoured personnel carriers, tanks and 120-millimeter howitzers.
Pointing out that Afghanistan’s ability to carry out surveillance on cross-border infiltration from Pakistan had been hard-hit because of the drawdown of United States air assets in the country, Atmar also pressed for India to provide technical intelligence equipment, highly-placed government sources said.
Indian diplomatic facilities have been repeatedly targetted in Afghanistan the last, a strike on the consulate in Herat, was timed on the eve of the Prime Minister’s swearing-in, in a bid to take officials hostage.
The attack, a subsequent Indian security review concluded, may have succeeded but for an alert Indo-Tibetan Border Police commando who detected movement on the periphery of the mission building late at night.
United States intelligence officials had blamed the attack on the Lashkar-e-Taiba, based on phone numbers inside Pakistan the attackers called prior to initiating the assault.
The consulate in Jalalabad was last targetted in 2013, by a three-man Taliban-linked squad, which was stopped by an Afghan policeman who opened fire at the car carrying the suicide attackers, forcing them to prematurely detonate. Twelve people, all Afghans, were killed in the attack, and 20 injured.
In 2008, a suicide attack targetting the Indian embassy in Kabul killed 58 people, and injured 141, including diplomatic personnel. The United States later confronted Pakistan with evidence that the attackers had been in contact with serving ISI officers.
Earlier this week, the NDS had arrested two Islamic State operatives, Ata-ur-Rahman, code-named Hanzallah, and Abdullah, code-named Qari Ismail, who were arrested with a 30-kg improvised explosive device, which they intended to plant on the side of a road used by diplomatic personnel travelling to the Indian consulate.
However, Indian intelligence sources said there was nothing to suggest this second plot was linked to the Prime Minister’s visit, or to the Taliban’s abortive suicide operation.