The Pulse

Attacks Threaten India-Pakistan Thaw

Only a week after Narendra Modi dropped in to visit Nawaz Sharif, the rapprochement is in jeopardy.

Attacks Threaten India-Pakistan Thaw
Credit: U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Ernesto Hernandez Fonte

On Sunday evening, gunmen attempted to enter the Indian consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan’s Balkh province. After meeting resistance from the consulate’s guards, the gunmen holed up in a nearby building where they continued to fire on the consulate. After 25 hours, TOLOnews reports that special forces “were dropped by helicopter on to the roof of the building in a bid to eliminate the insurgents.” Shortly thereafter the siege of the Indian consulate was over.

Casualty details vary. TOLOnews cites “officials” as saying that a security officer was killed and nine people, including three civilians, were injured. RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan was told at one point by Muneer Ahmed Farhad, the government spokesman in Balkh Province, that two from the Afghan security forces had been killed. Before the siege ended, Al Jazeera reported the Indian consul-general as saying that none of the consular staff had been injured in the attack.

The day before the attack on the Indian consulate, nearly 600 miles to the southeast, militants attacked an Indian air base near the Pakistani border, just south of the contested Jammu and Kashmir region. That attack began early in the morning on January 2, when at least five gunmen entered the Pathankot airbase wearing Indian Army uniforms. On Monday morning, Dushyant Singh, an inspector general in India’s National Security Guard, told a news conference that Indian forces have killed five of the attackers and that “combing and search operations continue.” As of Saturday, officials said at the Monday news conference, the attackers had been confined to a barracks building. The airbase, according to Arun Jaitley, India’s finance minister, is fairly large. He said it would take time to search for any remaining gunmen but that the “strategic assets” presumed to be the target of the attackers were unharmed and had been secured. Seven Indian soldiers have been killed in the three days following the initial attack.

Hamid Fahim, writing for AFP, noted that “the lethal assaults on Indian targets appear aimed at derailing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s bold diplomatic outreach to arch-rival Pakistan following his first official visit to Afghanistan last month.”

The airbase attack has been claimed by the United Jihad Council, which the BBC characterized as “a coalition of militant groups fighting Indian rule in Kashmir.” The attack on the consulate in Afghanistan has not been claimed by any group as of yet but is far from the first attack on the Indian presence in Afghanistan. A 2008 car bomb at the Indian embassy in Kabul killed 60 and the Indian consulates in Jalalabad and Herat were attacked in 2013 and 2014, respectively.

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Optimism regarding India-Pakistan relations is always cautious and these attacks underscore the rationale for that caution. Pakistan may have managed to bring both the civilian government and military leadership around to the idea of working toward better relations with India but not all will back the initiative. If tensions between India and Pakistan are to lessen in any meaningful way, the two will need to be able to work through flares of violence such as those over the weekend.