Gun battles rage near Indian consulate in Afghan city

MAZAR-e-SHARIF - Gunfights raged on Monday as Afghan forces battled to flush out militants holed up near the Indian consulate in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, hours after they attempted to storm the diplomatic mission.

No group has so far claimed responsibility for the raid, the latest in a series of assaults on Indian installations in the country. Up to six assailants mounted the attack from a building close to the consulate in relatively tranquil Balkh province, prompting Afghan forces to cordon off the area. “Our clearance operation is going on near the consulate,” said Munir Farhad, a spokesman for the Balkh provincial governor, told AFP.

“Since it is a residential area, we are proceeding very cautiously to avoid civilian casualties.” An Indian official, who was hunkered down in a secure area within the diplomatic enclave, said all consulate employees were safe and accounted for.

“We are being attacked,” the official told AFP by telephone from inside the heavily-guarded compound. “Fighting is going on,” he said soon after the fighting erupted late Sunday evening. Vikas Swarup, an Indian foreign ministry spokesman, also told AFP that no Indian casualties had been reported so far.

The attack followed a deadly assault over the weekend by suspected militant insurgents on an air force base in the northern Indian state of Punjab.

Seven soldiers and six attackers were confirmed killed in the raid on the Pathankot base, which triggered a 14-hour gun battle Saturday and spurred Indian forces to be scrambled again on Sunday.

The assaults threaten to derail Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi s bold diplomatic outreach to arch-rival Pakistan following his first official visit to Afghanistan.

The violence comes a week after Modi paid a surprise visit to Pakistan, the first by an Indian prime minister in 11 years. The visit immediately followed a whirlwind tour of Kabul, where Modi inaugurated an Indian-built parliament complex and gifted three Russian-made helicopters to the Afghan government.

India has been a key supporter of Kabul’s post-Taliban government, and analysts have often pointed to the threat of a “proxy war” in Afghanistan between India and Pakistan.

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