Nirupama Rao in Afghanistan after bombing

Nirupama Rao in Afghanistan after bombing

Kabul: Foreign secretary Nirupama Rao arrived in Kabul on Friday to inspect the site of a huge bomb attack on the Indian embassy a day earlier that killed 17 people and renewed focus on India’s tense relations with Pakistan.

The attack, which harmed no Indian embassy staff, occurred as India seeks to retain influence in Afghanistan and control any possibility of an Islamist surge in a region with traditional ties to Islamabad.

India last year accused Pakistan’s military spy agency, the ISI, of orchestrating an attack on the Indian embassy that killed 58 people. While New Delhi has made no public accusations in the latest blast, links will most likely be drawn to Pakistan.

In Kabul, Foreign secretary Nirupama Rao was due to visit the embassy and meet top Afghan officials to discuss security, but no details were immediately available.

“The foreign secretary is here for a day to meet foreign minister (Rangeen Dadfar) Spanta and visit the embassy," said an embassy spokesman.

Another Indian diplomat told Reuters separately that Rao would meet Afghan president Hamid Karzai to discuss security.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the latest blast which was carried out by a suspected suicide bomber and wounded 76.

Afghanistan itself has uneasy relations with Pakistan, but improving ties between them is now a key part of US President Barack Obama’s strategy against regional Islamist militancy.

Pakistan has long seen Afghanistan as a strategic fall-back position in the event of war with India and fears being squeezed between India and a potentially hostile, Indian-backed Afghanistan.

The explosion in the centre of Kabul also highlights worsening security in the country as the NATO-led war in Afghanistan enters its ninth year.

This year has already been the deadliest for foreign troops fighting an increasingly fierce Taliban insurgency. The rise in casualties has made many in the West question their countries’ involvement.

Washington is embroiled in a debate over whether to boost the size of its force in Afghanistan to confront the Taliban insurgency or to scale back the US mission and focus on a more modest goal of striking at al Qaeda cells.

To prevail in the counter-insurgency fight, US general Stanley McChrystal, the top US and NATO commander in Afghanistan, has asked for a minimum 40,000 more troops, two sources told Reuters in Washington.