New Delhi: India has strongly condemned the attack on its consulate in the Afghan city of Herat by four gunmen, however, asserting that all its diplomatic and security forces personnel there "are safe".
In a pre-dawn assault yesterday, the four gunmen attacked the Indian mission – they reportedly first tried to enter the complex housing the consulate and later fired from neighbouring buildings.
After over 10 hours of intense gunbattle, all the four attackers were killed by Indian para-military troopers, guarding the consulate, and Afghan security forces.
Cutting across party lines, both outgoing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and PM designate Narendra Modi slammed the attack, which came just days before a new government is to assume office in Delhi, and hailed the bravery of the Indian and Afghan security forces for repulsing it.
"I condemn in the strongest terms the attack on the Consulate General of India in Herat this morning. We are greatly relieved that all staff and security personnel at the consulate are safe. No words of gratitude would be enough for the bravery and skill with which the attack was repulsed," Singh said in the national capital.
Thanking the Afghan government for its prompt and decisive response, the outgoing PM added: "Such attacks will neither succeed in undermining the close relations between India and Afghanistan, nor deter India from fulfilling its commitment to help the Afghan people in building a peaceful, stable, united, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan."
Singh's successor-in-waiting, Modi, tweeted: "I condemn the attack on our consulate in Herat, Afghanistan." He also spoke to the Indian Ambassador to Afghanistan, Amar Sinha, and assured him of all help, and even called up Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and thanked him for the efforts of Afghan forces in thwarting the attack.
"Earlier this morning the consulate was attacked. Our brave ITBP personnel and Afghan soldiers were successful in rebutting the attack. All Indian personnel are safe. Modi has spoken to the Indian envoy and boosted the morale of staff in diplomatic missions across Afghanistan," Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin told the media in Delhi.
The attack came on a day when Pakistan was mulling over whether its Premier Nawaz Sharif would attend Modi's swearing-in ceremony as the next Indian Prime Minister on Monday, an invitation Afghan President Karzai and many other leaders of neighbouring countries have already accepted.
Though no group has claimed responsibility for the attack and Pakistan has condemned the attack, experts say that the choice of Herat for the assault is surprising.
"The Indian Embassy in Kabul was attacked twice in 2008 and 2009 that left 75 people dead. But Herat lies near Afghanistan's border with Iran and is considered one of the safest cities in the country. The attack there was unexpected," said Prof Ravinder Singh of Delhi University.
India and Afghanistan have close strategic and economic ties, and Delhi has invested more than $2 billion in developmental projects in the war-ravaged country.
Satrajit Moitra - Our Correspondent