Afghanistan blames bomb on extremists

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan officials suspect that the same Pakistan-based group that's blamed for a suicide attack on the Indian Embassy 16 months ago staged a car-bombing there Thursday that killed at least 17 people and wounded 76.

It was the fourth suicide bombing in nine weeks in Kabul, and it came as President Obama is considering U.S. strategy in the eight-year-old war.

Suspicions in Thursday's bombing focused on the Islamic extremist network led by Jalalludin Haqqani.

Haqqani is a former anti-Soviet guerrilla commander who served as a minister in the Taliban regime, whose forces are fighting U.S. troops in eastern Afghanistan. He's thought to have ties to elements within Pakistan's premier intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate.

U.S. intelligence officials accused the Haqqani network, based in Pakistan's tribal region, of launching the 2008 attack on the Indian mission — which killed more than 60 people — in collusion with ISI officers, a charge that Islamabad denied. Pakistan also denied involvement in Thursday's attack.

However, current and former Pakistani intelligence and military officers and other hard-liners see India's support for the U.S.-backed Afghan government as a threat, denouncing it as part of a plot to encircle and destabilize Pakistan that also involves the United States, the European Union and Israel.

"I don't think there is any doubt about it: Some rogue elements in the ISI are very upset about India's activities in Afghanistan, even though they are very soft — culture and construction initiatives," said Haroun Mir, the director of the Afghanistan Center for Research and Policy Studies

Nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, which have fought three wars and numerous border clashes since they won independence from Britain in 1947, long have competed for influence in Kabul.

New Delhi has pledged $1.2 billion in aid to the government of U.S.-backed President Hamid Karzai, bolstering its clout while blunting Islamabad's long-standing influence.

The U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, warned in his strategic assessment of Afghanistan that Pakistan perceives the Afghan government as being "pro-Indian" and that "increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan is likely to... encourage Pakistani countermeasures in Afghanistan."