A homicide car bomb tore open the front wall of the Indian Embassy in Kabul on Monday, killing 41 people and wounding 147 in the deadliest attack in Afghanistan's capital since the fall of the Taliban seven years ago.
As in other recent high-profile attacks, Afghan officials hinted at involvement of Pakistan, India's archrival.
The massive explosion, which rattled much of Kabul at 8:30 a.m., detonated only 30 yards (meters) from where dozens of Afghans line up to apply for visas, one of the reasons the casualties were so high.
Women and children browsing nearby shops were among the victims who lay on the ground, bloodied and in agony, crying for help. Smoldering ruins covered the pavement.
The embassy is located on a busy, tree-lined street near Afghanistan's Interior Ministry that is protected on both ends by police, though the checkpoints are easily driven past.
President Hamid Karzai condemned the bombing and said it was carried out by militants trying to rupture the Afghan-India friendship. He told Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during a phone conversation that Afghanistan would do all it could do identify the attackers.
The Afghan Interior Ministry hinted that the attack was carried out with help from Pakistan's intelligence service, saying the attack was "in coordination and consultation with some of the active intelligence circles in the region."
Pakistan Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi said his country condemned the attack and terrorism in all forms.
The bombing against the Indian Embassy shows that Afghanistan is also a theater for the struggle between longtime rivals India and Pakistan, said Barnett Rubin, an Afghanistan expert at New York University.
"These attacks seem designed to sabotage any improvement of relations between Pakistan and either of its two neighbors, India and Afghanistan, to ensure that Pakistan has no alternative but to continue to support militant organizations as part of its foreign policy," Rubin said.
At Kabul's hospitals, anguished parents railed at the Afghan government.
"Where is the security?" cried Mirwais, a father of four who knew that two of his children had been killed. Before heading to another hospital to search for his other two children, he shouted obscenities at Karzai.
Moments later, a woman ran outside screaming, crying and hitting her face with both hands. Her two children, a girl named Lima and a boy named Mirwais, had been killed. "Oh my God!" the woman screamed. "They are both dead!"
Zemeri Bashary, the Interior Ministry spokesman, said 41 people were killed and 147 wounded in the blast. Six police officers and three embassy guards were among the dead.
In New Delhi, India's foreign minister said four Indians, including the military attache and a diplomat, were killed.
The blast also killed five Afghan security guards at the nearby Indonesian Embassy, where windows were shattered and doors and gates broken. Two diplomats were slightly wounded, Indonesia's foreign ministry said.
In Washington, Gordon Johndroe, a White House national security spokesman, offered condolences to the victims.
"Extremists continue to show their disregard for all human life and their willingness to kill fellow Muslims as well as others," he said. "The United States stands with the people of Afghanistan and India as we face this common enemy."
Afghanistan has seen a sharp rise in violence from Taliban militants in recent months. Insurgents are packing bombs with more explosives than ever, one reason why more U.S. and NATO troops were killed in June than any month since the 2001 invasion.
Still, no one claimed responsibility for the blast, and a Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, denied the militants were behind it. The Taliban tend to claim responsibility for attacks against international or Afghan troops and deny responsibility for bombs that primarily kill civilians.
"Whenever we do a suicide attack, we confirm it," Mujahid said. "The Taliban did not do this one."
The explosion was the deadliest in Kabul since the fall of the Taliban in 2001 and the deadliest in Afghanistan since a homicide bomber killed more than 100 people at a dog-fighting competition in Kandahar in February.
The Indian Ministry of External Affairs said the attack would not deter the mission from "fulfilling our commitments to the government and people of Afghanistan."
Pakistan views with suspicion India's involvement in Afghanistan, including the millions of dollars donated for reconstruction and the thousands of Indian engineers and laborers helping to build roads and other infrastructure.
Pakistanis are also wary of India's consulates in the outlying cities of Kandahar, Jalalabad, Herat, and Mazar-i-Sharif. But Indian officials say they are there to foster reconstruction. Militants have frequently attacked Indian offices and projects around Afghanistan.
"We have lost Indians who were helping their Afghan brothers to rebuild their lives and country. That endeavor must continue with renewed commitment," Singh told reporters. "We will do all that we can to help them bear their loss and grief. This is our pledge."
Ikram Sehgal, a political analyst in Pakistan, said he doubts Pakistan's intelligence service was behind the attack. He instead blamed Pashtuns — the largest of Afghan ethnic groups that also forms the core of the Taliban insurgency.
"The Indians were asking for it," Sehgal said.
"They have set up so many consulates along the border," Sehgal said. "It was question of time. The (Pashtuns) see them as enemies, actually. They had to react to the Indians setting up consulates there."
Pakistan and India have fought three wars since their independence from Britain in 1947. Kashmir is divided between Pakistan and India, and India says Kashmiri militant groups — which are seeking independence or to merge Kashmir with Pakistan — get military and financial support from Islamabad. Pakistan says it only supports the rebels' cause morally.
Afghanistan's allegations that Pakistan was involved in Monday's attack will likely only sour already troubled relations.
Late last month a spokesman for Afghanistan's intelligence agency accused Pakistan's premier spy agency of organizing an April assassination attempt on Karzai. And Karzai last month threatened to send Afghan troops after Taliban leaders in Pakistan, saying he had had enough of cross-border militants attacks.
Mohammed Sadiq, spokesman for Pakistan's Foreign Ministry, declined to comment on any alleged connection to its intelligence agencies.
Afghanistan Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta visited the embassy shortly after the attack and said the blast would not harm relations between the two countries.
The United Nations and NATO's International Security Assistance Force both condemned the attack.
"The total disregard for innocent lives is staggering and those behind this must be held responsible," said U.N. envoy Kai Eide.
The embassy attack was the sixth homicide bombing in Kabul this year. Insurgent violence has killed more than 2,200 people — mostly militants — in Afghanistan in 2008, according to an Associated Press count of official figures.