KABUL - Reuters
Ordinary Afghans' mistrust of the Pakistani military and its spies deepened yesterday in the wake of a suicide car bomb attack outside the Indian Embassy in Kabul which killed 41 people and wounded 139.
Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani spoke of his country's goodwill towards Afghanistan while visiting Malaysia, but Afghans' suspicions of their interfering neighbor and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency were running high. "We know that Pakistan's ISI has orchestrated the attack on the Indian embassy because good relations between Afghanistan and India are not in Pakistan's interest," said student Nadir Shah a day after the attack in the center of the Afghan capital.
"India plays a key role in building Afghanistan's infrastructure and is working on many vital projects for the people, whereas Pakistan wants to deter India by using Taliban to kill them and end their mission," he added.
The Afghan government has yet to level a direct accusation at Pakistan, though a spokesman yesterday said the attack bore the "hallmarks of a particular intelligence agency", a likely reference to Pakistan.
"I am not going to name it. I think it is pretty obvious," said spokesman Humayun Hamidzada.
Afghan state-run newspapers were less circumspect.
"The enemy is ISI of Pakistan, who fights on different fronts against Afghans and tries to fish in muddy waters through planning subversive attacks in Afghanistan," the Kabul Times said in an editorial.
The Dari-language Anis newspaper said Pakistan had been behind past attacks on Indian construction workers, who have been killed in bomb blasts or executed after being kidnapped.
Ahmad Fawad, a roadside moneychanger, said Pakistan was habitually blamed.
"Pakistan has been involved in Afghanistan's politics and security for years," Fawad said.
"So, the government blames Pakistan and its intelligence agency for any big attacks that happen in Afghanistan."
There is widespread suspicion Pakistan's ISI maintains contacts with some Taliban factions and other Islamist groups fighting in Afghanistan, although it at the same time works with Western forces and the Afghan government to counter cross-border militancy.
Pakistan has repeatedly denied the allegations, saying Kabul was trying to smear the ISI to deflect attention from its own shortcomings, including corruption and a lack of ethnic Pashtun representation in the government.
After a Taliban jailbreak in Kandahar last month, Afghan President Hamid Karzai lost patience and threatened to launch hot pursuit across the border to hunt down Taliban fighters who fled into Pakistan after carrying out attacks in Afghanistan.
Pakistan had supported the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in the 1990s, and only abandoned the Islamist militia after the United States forced President Pervez Musharraf to reverse foreign policy following al-Qaeda's attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.
Having helped mujahideen, Islamic warriors, fight a guerrilla war to drive the Soviet army out of Afghanistan in the 1980s, Pakistani generals came up with the idea of "strategic depth", which meant cultivating influence in Afghanistan.
The Pakistanis wanted a friendly fellow Muslim nation on their western border ready to rally to the cause of any jihad, or holy war, against India.
Instead, they were stymied by deployment of Western forces in Afghanistan, heavy representation of the Taliban's old enemies in the Northern Alliance in Karzai's government, and India's increased diplomatic and economic presence in Afghanistan.
Pakistan frequently accuses Indian consulates in southern and eastern Afghanistan of meddling, and suspects India of supporting separatists in the western Pakistani province of Baluchistan as a payback for Pakistan's own support of separatists in Kashmir.
While nuclear-armed India and Pakistan began a peace process in 2004, having gone to the brink of fourth war in 2002, the two rivals remain steeped in mistrust and compete for influence in the energy-rich Central Asian states to the north of Afghanistan.