Afghan forces besiege insurgents near Indian consulate in Mazar

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 04, 2016 12:36 AM

By Bashir Ansari

MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Afghan special forces prepared to clear insurgents barricaded in a house near the Indian consulate in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif on Monday after an overnight attack that coincided with an assault on an Indian air base near the border with Pakistan.

A small group of gunmen tried unsuccessfully to break into the consulate late on Sunday and shut themselves into the house but security forces halted operations overnight and were proceeding cautiously to minimize civilian casualties.

Gunfire could be heard around the area and helicopters were circling overhead as army and police commandos surrounded the area in a residential district of the city, in Balkh province, which borders Uzbekistan.

At least one civilian was wounded but the Indian ambassador said all the consulate staff were safe.

There was no indication of who may have been behind 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.

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

However, Sunday's attack and a separate assault on an Indian air base in Pathankot, in the northwest Indian state of Punjab, underlined how difficult that process is likely to be.

As the attack in Mazar-i-Sharif began, Indian security forces were still engaged in mopping up the insurgents in Pathankot.

In 2014, India's consulate in the western Afghan city of Herat was hit by heavily armed insurgents including suicide bombers, one of a series of attacks on Indian diplomatic stations in Afghanistan.

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

(Additional reporting by Mirwais Harooni in Kabul; Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Robert Birsel)