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Security Forces Are Still Battling Gunmen at Indian Airbase and Consulate

An attack on an Indian airbase near the Pakistani border is threatening to derail upcoming talks between India and Pakistan, neighbors and historic rivals.
January 4, 2016, 3:40pm
Photo by Mutlib Sultani/EPA

Indian security forces were battling for the third day on Monday to clear out militants who attacked one of its airbases and killed seven soldiers — at the same time a similar fight at an Indian consulate in Afghanistan entered a second day.

The attack by a group of gunmen on the Pathankot airbase in the northwest state of Punjab, near the Pakistani border, threatened to derail upcoming rapprochement talks between neighboring countries and rivals India and Pakistan.


An Indian government official said India was now considering whether to go ahead with the talks, due to take place between the two nations' foreign secretaries on January 15, and that a final decision will be taken once the operations to secure the airbase were over.

The government official, who requested anonymity, said it could take another 48 hours for the base to be secured, and by then the government hoped to have more information about the attackers and what links they may have to Pakistan, if any.

On Monday, the United Jihad Council, an alliance of more than a dozen pro-Pakistan militant groups based in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, claimed responsibility for the airbase attack, according to a statement from the group's spokesman. As well as the seven Indian security personnel killed, 22 were wounded.

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Meanwhile, Afghan special forces were battling a group of insurgents holed up near the Indian consulate in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif for the second day on Monday, following an attack on the diplomatic compound by the militants who refused to leave the area.

The attack began late on Sunday after gunmen tried unsuccessfully to break into the consulate, taking advantage of the fact that many people were watching the final of a football championship between Afghanistan and India.

After a heavy exchange of fire that went on until well into Sunday night, Afghan security forces paused the operation before resuming Monday morning, firing rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns at the building. On Monday afternoon Afghan soldiers entered the consulate building, where four to six attackers had locked themselves inside a safe room.


"The area is sealed off and we are proceeding cautiously and making all possible efforts to protect the lives of those in the area. The attackers will be killed," the provincial governor, Atta Mohammad Noor, said on his Facebook page.

Noor blamed "enemies of peace and stability" for the attack, which came amid renewed efforts to lower tension between India and its rival Pakistan and restart peace talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

But there was no more concrete indication of who was responsible.

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Last month, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Kabul and Islamabad on the same day, underlining the drive to improve stability and overcome the longstanding hostility in the region.

However, Sunday's attack and the separate assault on the Indian air base underlined how difficult that process is likely to be.

As the attack in Mazar-i-Sharif began, Indian security forces were still engaged in regaining control from the insurgents in Pathankot.

This current standoff at the Indian consulate is the most recent in a series of attacks on Indian diplomatic stations in Afghanistan in recent years. In 2014, India's consulate in the western Afghan city of Herat was hit by heavily armed insurgents and suicide bombers.

Pakistan has long been suspicious of India's engagement with Afghanistan and its diplomatic presence there.

On Monday, a massive explosion took place near the Kabul airport, hours after a suicide bomber blew himself up near the same location.

Early local news reports indicated that the second explosion appeared to be a truck bomb and that there are many injuries, although no one has yet been killed. There were no victims in the earlier bombing other than the suicide attacker himself.

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