Explosions and gunfire rang out late Sunday as militants tried to storm the Indian diplomatic mission in a northern Afghan city, officials said, in the latest assault on an Indian installation.
Afghan security forces battled a group of gunmen near the Indian consulate in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif on Sunday, as gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades rocked the surrounding area.
The incident occurred while Indian security forces were still trying to suppress an attack on an air base in Pathankot, near the border with Pakistan that has killed at least seven military personnel and wounded 20 others.
With an unknown number of gunmen holed up in a house across the street from the consulate, special forces units prepared an operation to clear the attackers, police spokesman Shir Jan Durani said.
Two loud explosions and gunshots were heard earlier as the gunmen launched an attack from a nearby house, Muneer Ahmad Farhad, a spokesman for the Balkh province governor said. No details were immediately available on any casualties or damage or on the number of attackers and there was no immediate claim of responsibility.
Farhad said insurgents had hidden in a house near the consulate and struck after darkness fell. He said the attackers had tried to enter the consulate but had not been able to and had shut themselves into a house across the street. “Right now our security forces are fighting them,” he said.
There were conflicting reports about whether the militants had attacked the consulate itself.
“We are being attacked,” an Indian consulate official told AFP by telephone from inside the heavily-guarded compound. “Fighting is still going on.” The official, who was hunkered down in a secure area within the complex, said all consulate employees were safe and accounted for.
But another Indian official told Reuters that it was not certain that the consulate itself was the target of the attack. “Details are very sketchy at this point in time,” he said.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, which came amid renewed efforts to reduce longstanding tensions between New Delhi and Islamabad and restart peace talks with the Afghan Taliban as part of a broader drive to improve stability in the region.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited both Kabul and Islamabad last month, the first visit to Pakistan by an Indian premier in over a decade.
The attack took place shortly after India beat Afghanistan in the final of a regional soccer championship, a game that attracted wide interest in Afghanistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 4th, 2016.