India sent two C-17s, which flew into Kabul using a circuitous route through Iranian airspace and over the Arabian Sea in order to avoid flying over Pakistan or spending too much time in the uncontrolled Afghan airspace.
India on Tuesday withdrew its ambassador and diplomatic staff from Kabul, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a high-level meeting during which he directed officials to ensure all Indian nationals are evacuated safely from war-torn Afghanistan.
Some 150 people, including India’s ambassador to Afghanistan Rudrendra Tandon, were brought back on a C-17 Globemaster heavy lift aircraft from the Afghanistan capital on Tuesday, a day after 45 diplomats and security personnel were flown in similarly as part of an extensive evacuation programme kept tightly under wraps and put into motion after Indian side received credible inputs about possible threats from rouge elements and Pakistani terror groups.
PM Modi held a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) and, according to officials aware of the discussions, issued directions to ensure all Indian nationals are brought back safely, and that India is able to extend assistance to Afghan citizens requiring it.
“In view of the prevailing situation in Kabul, it was decided that our embassy personnel would be immediately moved to India. This movement has been completed in two phases and the ambassador and all other India-based personnel have reached New Delhi [on Tuesday] afternoon,” the external affairs ministry said earlier in the day.
India sent two C-17s, which flew into Kabul using a circuitous route through Iranian airspace and over the Arabian Sea in order to avoid flying over Pakistan or spending too much time in the uncontrolled Afghan airspace. As the Kabul airport is small and the aircraft were offered slots of limited duration, the C-17s halted in the Tajikistan capital of Dushanbe till it was time for them to fly into Kabul, said people aware of the matter.
The second of these flights landed in Gujarat’s Jamnagar on Tuesday afternoon.
The withdrawal of the ambassador and other staff from Kabul reflected India’s misgivings about Taliban’s assurances that all embassies and diplomats would be provided security. Taliban spokesman Suhail Saheen had tweeted on Monday night that no problems will be created for diplomats, embassies and charitable workers but this failed to reassure the Indian side.
Tandon, who had taken up his assignment in Kabul only in August last year, told reporters during an interaction at the Jamnagar airbase, where the C-17 jet halted to refuel, that some Indian citizens were still in Afghanistan and Air India would continue operating flights from Kabul as long as the airport there remains functional to bring them back.
He added: “As you know, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan no longer exists and the situation is quite fluid now.”
Air India has temporarily suspended its flights to Kabul because of conditions at the airport, but the MEA has opened a help desk and will ensure that anyone stuck in Kabul is brought back, he said.
According to another official aware of the evacuation efforts at Kabul, the Indian ministry of external affairs and security officials started bringing evacuees to the Kabul airport from Monday as negotiations were undertaken with Taliban and other terrorist groups manning 15 check posts that lay between the Indian mission in Kabul to the international airport.
Other people familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity that at least 300 Indian nationals, including those working for Western firms and other professionals, were believed to be in Afghanistan. Flights by Air India to bring back these Indians are expected to resume once the civilian side of Kabul’s Hamid Karzai international airport reopens.
The airport, currently under the control of US troops, was closed on Monday following chaotic scenes as thousands of Afghans seeking to flee the Taliban entered the facility and marched on to the tarmac.
External affairs minister S Jaishankar was involved in efforts to oversee the departure of the evacuation flights. At almost 3 am on Tuesday, he tweeted about his discussions in this regard with US secretary of state Antony Blinken: “Discussed latest developments in Afghanistan with @SecBlinken. Underlined the urgency of restoring airport operations in Kabul.”
On Tuesday evening, Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security to assess the situation in Afghanistan. The meeting was attended by home minister Amit Shah, defence minister Rajnath Singh, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, foreign secretary Harsh Shringla and Tandon.
Meanwhile, the Union home ministry announced Tuesday it had reviewed visa provisions in view of the situation and introduced a new category of electronic visas called “e-Emergency X-Misc Visa” to fast-track applications by Afghan nationals.
The people cited above said the Indian embassy in Kabul was technically not shut down as it is still being manned by local Afghan staff – an arrangement similar to the one made for the consulates in Kandahar and Mazar-e-Sharif, from where all Indian staff were pulled out in recently weeks. The local staff have been given specific assignments and are being paid their salaries.
The decision regarding the withdrawal of India’s diplomatic personnel and other staff was based on two factors – the security of the personnel and ensuring that their departure was not perceived as abandonment by Afghan partners. An earlier Indian assessment had suggested the Taliban would continue negotiations in order to gain legitimacy, at least till August 31, when the US drawdown was to be completed, but the situation changed swiftly as the Taliban marched towards Kabul over the weekend.