The 2008 terror attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul was sanctioned and monitored by senior officials of Pakistan’s ISI, a book by senior journalist Carlotta Gall has said.
The suicide car bomb attack on the embassy on July 7, 2008, had left 58 people — including two top Indian officials — killed and over 140 injured.
“The embassy bombing was no operation by rogue ISI agents acting on their own. It was sanctioned and monitored by the most senior officials in Pakistani intelligence,” writes Gall in The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan 2001-2004, which will be out next month.
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The then Bush Administration, that received advance intelligence information, mainly through intercepts of phone calls, could not prevent the deadly attack, wrote Gall, who covered the Af-Pak conflict for 10 years.
The bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul “revealed the clearest evidence of ISI complicity in its planning and execution”, according to excerpts from the book provided to PTI.
“American and Afghan surveillance intercepted phone calls from ISI officials in Pakistan and heard them planning the attack with the militants in Kabul in the days leading up to the bombing. At the time, intelligence officials monitoring the calls did not know what was being planned, but the involvement of a high-level official in promoting a terrorist attack was clear.
“The evidence was so damning that the Bush administration dispatched the deputy chief of the CIA, Stephen Kappes, to Islamabad to remonstrate with the Pakistanis. The bomber struck, however, before Kappes reached Pakistan,” she writes.
“Investigators found the bomber’s cellphone in the wreckage of his exploded car. They tracked down his collaborator in Kabul, the man who had provided the logistics for the attack. That facilitator, an Afghan, had been in direct contact with Pakistan by telephone,” Gall writes.
“The number he had called belonged to a high-level ISI official in Peshawar. The official had sufficient seniority that he reported directly to ISI headquarters in Islamabad,” she claims in her book, running into more than 300 pages.
While Pakistan has repeatedly denied its involvement in the embassy attack, several mainstream US newspapers, including The New York Times, and the governments of India and Afghanistan have accused the ISI of being behind the attack.
The Afghanistan government’s investigations had revealed that the car used by the suicide bombers had been packed with tank shells and mines with Pakistan ordnance factory markings, besides over 100 kg of RDX. Before the embassy hit, most attacks in Kabul since the fall of the Taliban had involved use of a rudimentary IED or, at most, a suicide bomber with RDX.
Gall writes that the choice of the attack was revealing. “This was not a subtle attack needling an old foe. It was a massive car bomb detonated in the centre of a capital city; designed to cause maximum injury and terror. The plan was also to terrify and undermine the confidence of the Afghans and their government, sending a message not just to India but to the forty-two countries that were contributing to the NATO-led international force to rebuild Afghanistan… The aim was to make the cost too high for everyone to continue backing the (Afghan President Hamid) Karzai government. The ISI wanted them all to go home.”
Among those killed in the embassy attack were India’s political and information counselor Venkateswara Rao and Defence Attache Brigadier Ravi Datt Mehta.
According to Gall, as the Afghan government investigated the attack, they became convinced that “the ISI was working with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, the Haqqanis, and Pakistani groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba”.
A senior Afghan security official said his American counterparts knew as well but just could not admit what Pakistan was doing. “They always have the evidence, but they think the viability of Pakistan is more important,” Gall writes.
However, Pakistan denied all this, she says. “Pakistan’s military leaders continued to pursue a policy of using the Taliban to attack the Afghan government and NATO forces in Afghanistan,” Gall writes. “At the core of Pakistan’s thinking was an obsessive desire to dominate Afghanistan in order to protect its own rear flank from India. In that way of thinking, the Taliban were guarantors of Pakistan’s national strategic interests.”
PTI, with ENS inputs