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Kabul suicide bomber attacks target foreigners, most of them Indians

A Kabul suicide bomber attack on a hotel and guest house in Kabul claimed about 18 lives on Friday, with half the casualties apparently Indians. It puts a spotlight on India's and Pakistan's jockey for influence in Afghanistan.

By Staff writer / February 26, 2010

Unidentified Indians walk away as Afghan policemen look at the scene of a suicide bomber attack at a guesthouse in Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday.

Ahmad Masood/Reuters

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The fourth major attack inside the Afghanistan capital of Kabul since October claimed about 18 lives on Friday. Indian officials said that about half of the victims were Indian nationals, many of whom worked for the Indira Ghandi children's hospital in the city.

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The Taliban quickly claimed credit for the suicide bomber attack, which comes as the US presses an offensive to dislodge Taliban militants from the city of Marjah in Helmand Province, and after a week in which Pakistani officials said they have detained 15 senior and mid-level Taliban leaders operating out of Pakistan since January.

Pakistani intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Monitor this week that they'd arrested about half of the members of the Quetta Shura – the senior Taliban council named for the Pakistani city that many Taliban leaders took refuge in after the NATO-led invasion of Afghanistan.

Among those arrested have been Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the old Taliban leadership's second in command, and Mullah Abdul Qayoum Zakir, who oversees the Taliban's military planning and was believed to be involved in organizing the Taliban's counters to the US offensive in Marjah.

Given the context, it's hard to see today's attacks in Kabul as anything other than retaliation and an attempt by the Taliban to show that they're still potent, whatever their leadership losses recently. One attack, on a guest house holding mostly foreigners from the US and the UK, involved a small team of gunmen and a suicide bomber. The other attack, on the guest house with the Indians, appeared to have been a car bomb.

The Indian Foreign Ministry said nine Indian nationals were killed and that at least one of them was a government official.

It was the third attack on Indian interests in Kabul since 2008, and puts a spotlight on India and Pakistan's jockey for influence in Afghanistan that has colored politics and war since long before US troops arrived in 2001. After a 2008 attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul left more than 50 people dead, India alleged it had intercepted communications that showed that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was involved in organizing the bombing, which was claimed by Taliban commander Sirajuddin Haqqani.

Nuclear-armed India and Pakistan are also in a dispute and have occasionally gone to war over possession of Kashmir.

The ISI has long cultivated ties with the Sunni Islamist and largely ethnic-Pashtun Taliban to counter Indian influence in Afghanistan. India and the US have charged that was why Pakistan had not previously taken stronger action against the Afghan Taliban inside its borders.

The recent spate of arrests by Pakistan appear to have marked a change of course. The arrests came as the US, using unmanned drones, has helped assassinate Pakistani militants determined to topple the government in Islamabad, and as India and Pakistan have returned to peace negotiations.

India also said Pakistan was involved in the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in 2008 and broke off peace talks in their aftermath. Those talks resumed for the first time on Thursday. What effect, if any, this attack will have on renewed efforts at Indian-Pakistani peace is uncertain.

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