KABUL: India has suspended medical aid and teaching programmes in Afghanistan, where Indian businesses and charities are slashing staff over fears they are increasingly targeted by militants.

Kabul-based Indians believe they were the specific targets of three recent attacks in the Afghan capital, including a February 26 bomb and gun assault on a guesthouse that killed 17 people, among them seven Indians. Indian charity Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), which promoted economic independence for Afghan women, said it had pulled all staff from Afghanistan.

“At the moment there is no one on behalf of SEWA in Kabul because after the 26 February disaster we were advised to come back (to India),” said SEWA’s Afghanistan coordinator Pratibha Pandiya.

Indian officials said a December 15 suicide car bombing that killed eight people also targeted Indians, although former Afghan first vice president Ahmad Zia Massoud had a home in the same street.

The manager of an IT company that many Indians believe was the target, said his Indian staff had since halved to 11. “We cannot stop people from leaving and we cannot guarantee anyone’s safety,” the manager, also an Indian, said on condition of anonymity and asking that his company also not be named.

“Our office and residences are like fortresses,” he said, adding that extra security promised by the Afghan government had yet to materialise.

Indians in Kabul told AFP they see themselves as victims of a struggle with Pakistan for influence in Afghanistan, which is fuelling attacks on Indian interests in the country.

The Indian embassy was hit on October 8 last year, with the deaths of 17 people, and on July 7, 2008 when more than 60 people were killed.

The Pakistan government denies supporting militants, pointing to its own fight against the Taliban, and says it is committed to peace in Afghanistan.

Since a US-led invasion ended the Taliban’s 1996-2001 regime, India has committed $1.2 billion to Afghanistan, mainly aid for social services including health and education, making it one of the biggest regional donors.

About 4,000 Indians are building roads, sanitation projects and power lines in the volatile country. India is building the new Afghan parliament.

Doctors were recruited from the Indian military for India’s medical mission (IMM) to Afghanistan, which focused on five cities, providing free treatment and medicine for 30,000 Afghans each month, an embassy official said.

The IMM had been temporarily suspended, he said, as those members of the 11-man team who survived the attack were repatriated for treatment.

The head of the Indira Ghandi Children’s Hospital in Kabul, run by IMM, said sick Afghan children were the main victims. “The attack has done nothing but deprive people coming from far provinces of free treatment and medicine,” said Noorulhaq Yousufzai. English-teaching programmes had been also suspended, the embassy official said, as two of three Indian teachers died in the Feb attack.