This article was published by Sakal Times on the 8th of July 2008 – the morning after the attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul.
Kabul, evening of 7th July 2008
When I look back at today I know that this has been the scariest day of all the 8 weeks I have been in Afghanistan. It all started off normally. Going to office, settling in for some meetings. Then things took a turn for the worse.
Around 0825 in the morning, I heard a loud bang and my office windows trembled. I looked up from my desk and saw a cloud of dust and smoke emerge around 200 metres away. Though it was the first time that I was hearing the sound, I knew that it was a bomb going off. The area where the smoke emerged was close to the Ministry of Interior and that was a likely place to attack. Lots of my colleagues too came out in the office courtyard. We were trying to understand what had happened. In the first hour or so there was utter confusion. We kept getting conflicting reports about the target, number of dead, dying. We heard of another attack on the airport road. That was thankfully untrue. Then word came from reliable sources in that it was not actually the Ministry of Interior but the Indian Embassy (which is just across the road) that was the target. I initially rubbished these suggestions but then Reuters and AP broke the story with photographs of the devastation. I could almost see the room that I had been sitting in when I visited the embassy to register myself on arrival. In the snaps I had to imagine it because there was only a broken wall there. I remember that the security at the embassy was tight and I wonder now whether it can ever be tight enough.
A range of emotions went through me. First and foremost was the hope that there were no casualties. Even as I thought that I knew it was a slim hope since it was peak hour and some of my colleagues had just battled the traffic on that road to get to office. Then came the thought of my family and friends back home getting worried about my safety and the need for me to get in touch. Only much later did the enormity of the incident hit me and that is when a bit of fear and depression set in.
Why was this special, you may well ask. After all bomb blasts, firing, abduction and rocket attacks are not new to this country. Kabul has always been relatively safe if only because of the tight security. The last serious blast had been in early 2008, many months away. Why then was I getting worried? The reason is that previously these blasts and attacks had happened on government installations, hotels frequented by foreigners and convoys of foreign troops. This was the first time that an Indian establishment, and that too the embassy, had been targeted. That was very scary.
All this while I had believed that Afghans have great love and genuine affection for India and Indians. After all our country has always helped Afghanistan and our movies and serials are so very popular here. I had nothing to fear if I took precautions. That confidence has taken a dent today. I know that ordinary Afghans are not behind this blast nor do they condone it. I know that the affection for Indians is genuine. Almost all of my colleagues walked up to me some time today and expressed condolences on what had happened.
Nevertheless a tiny bit of insecurity has crept into my mind and I don’t know how long it will take for my mind to be at rest again. This incident reminds me of the shattering blow our country and the psyche of citizens had taken on 31st October 1983 when Mrs Indira Gandhi was assassinated. Till that point all of us Indians ‘knew’ that assassination of heads of State happened to other countries in the sub-continent, not India. Then it happened in India and we were changed for ever.
My thoughts, at this point, are as disjointed, as this article reads. I can only hope and pray that this senseless violence will not go out of hand. My heart goes out to those killed in the blast, their families and also to the families of the 30,000 Indians presently working in Afghanistan. I know what pain and uncertainty they must be going through. My family, I am sure, is going through it all even as I write this.