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Indian mission unfazed by bombing

Forty-eight hours after a suicide attacker smashed the Indian embassy in Kabul, the life there is back to normal, reports Amit Baruah.
Hindustan Times | By Amit Baruah, Kabul
UPDATED ON JUL 10, 2008 02:02 AM IST

India is undeterred. Forty-eight hours after a suicide attacker smashed the Indian embassy in Kabul, Jayant Prasad, India’s Ambassador to Afghanistan, is holding an open-air meeting in the mission, telling a bunch of resident Indians it is going to be business as usual.

Much of the rubble has been cleared up. There is a five-foot-deep crater at the entrance to the embassy; the road in front, Shar-e-naw, has been blocked by the Afghan police. “The idea for the suicide bomber was to drive in and hit the embassy building, bringing it down,” Prasad explains.

Walking in to the embassy is not easy. ITBP officer Manoj Patro is suspicious of me. After being told that I’m a reporter from Delhi, he lets me in through an almost-invisible side entrance. As I walk in, vehicles damaged in the blast stare you in the face. This is carnage.

The front of the building is pockmarked with holes. Heavy-duty Tata Safaris parked inside have been smashed. A recently reinforced outer wall saved many others inside from certain death, embassy officials say.

Time has stopped at 8.36 in what was counsellor V. Venkateswara Rao’s first-floor office room. Patro points out that Venkat had his clock five minutes fast; the real time was 8.31. Never mind the nuance, all the hands of the clock are frozen stiff. It is testimony to the damage inflicted by the suicide bomber, who killed four Indians and 54 Afghans on Monday morning.

Two critically injured ITBP men, Om Prakash and Hari Singh, were flown to India on Tuesday. Another wounded guard, Virender Singh, will be flown to Delhi on Thursday. Patro tells me that a huge wall-shelf in Rao’s room had fallen on his table. “Had Mr. Rao been in his room, he would have faced certain death,” he explains.

Downstairs, two ITBP men stand guard at their bunker. They tell me that their colleagues, who died in the suicide attack, were standing at the gate as the Land Cruiser carrying Brigadier R.D. Mehta and Rao tried to enter the Embassy gate when it was rammed by a blue Toyota. There are mangled bits of the Land Cruiser, proof of the intensity of the blast.

“Everybody is able to sit and work,” Jayant Prasad tells me in a quiet, but firm voice. “Communication links with Delhi have been restored. We will resume issuing visas on Saturday.” His message was clear: the suicide attack has been a big blow, but India’s presence and assistance to Afghanistan will go ahead.

“How’s the morale of your staff?” I ask Prasad. “Why don't you ask them yourself?” he shoots back. Given an option to return to Delhi in the special flights that have come in, none of the 40 embassy staffers or the 40 ITBP men chose to take a break. “Morale is as good as it can be under the circumstances,” he replies after a pause. And that’s something I can see for myself. Officers are sitting at their computers in offices that have been cleared of glass and splinters.

With $750 million committed by India in reconstruction projects, a range of Indian organisations are working in Afghanistan — from SEWA to BHEL. India has too much at stake in this country. One suicide attack, howsoever damaging, is not going to drive India and Indians away from this disturbed nation.

That was the message Prasad conveyed to Indian nationals living and working in Afghanistan on Wednesday evening.

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