India completes ‘complicated’ evacuation of Kabul mission staff, focus now to bring back Indians

While the 1st C-17 heavy-lift transport aircraft of the IAF evacuated over 40 staffers on Monday, 2nd one brought back around 150 people including the ambassador, other diplomats, security officials and a number of journalists and stranded Indians on Tuesday afternoon.

New Delhi, India, August 18 : Two days after Kabul fell to the Taliban, India on Tuesday completed the evacuation of all its diplomats and other staff members from the Afghan capital under a “difficult and complicated” exercise, effectively closing its mission for the second time since 1996 when the militant group captured power.

The mission to evacuate close to 200 people including the Indian envoy and other staffers in two military aircraft was accomplished with support from the US, a day after the Kabul airport witnessed unprecedented scenes of desperate residents rushing into it in an attempt to flee the country fearing the Taliban’s brutality.

While the first C-17 heavy-lift transport aircraft of the IAF evacuated over 40 staffers on Monday, the second one brought back around 150 people including the ambassador, other diplomats, security officials and a number of journalists and stranded Indians on Tuesday afternoon.

“Movement of the Indian Ambassador and the Embassy staff from Kabul to India was a difficult and complicated exercise. Thank all those whose cooperation and facilitation made it possible,” External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar tweeted from New York soon after the second aircraft landed in Hindon near Delhi.

While Jaishankar spoke to his American counterpart Antony Blinken, NSA Ajit Doval had a conversation with President Joe Biden’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on Monday evening on the evacuation mission, people familiar with the matter said.

In another tweet, Jaishankar thanked his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian for evacuating 21 Indian nationals from Kabul to Paris.

It is learnt that the second aircraft was parked at an airbase in Tajikistan on Monday in view of the chaos in Kabul airport and it flew into the Afghan capital this morning to pick up the Indians.

The US military had taken control of the security at the Kabul airport on Monday following the unruly scenes with reports saying seven people were killed around its premises.

Indian Ambassador to Afghanistan Rudrendra Tandon told media persons that the situation in Kabul is complex and “quite fluid” and that the remaining Indians stuck in the city will be brought back home when the commercial flight services resume.

“Happy to be back home safely and securely. We are a very large mission. We are a mission of 192 personnel who were evacuated from Afghanistan literally within a period of three days in a very orderly fashion in two phases,” he said.

Tandon said India will remain in contact with the Afghan people and will continue to work for their welfare.

“It’s not that we have abandoned the people of Afghanistan, their welfare and our relationship with them is very much on our minds. We will try and continue our interaction with them. I can’t say in what form as the situation is changing,” he said.

On its part, the MEA said: “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 this afternoon.”

It also said that the focus now would be to ensure the safe return of all Indian nationals from the Afghan capital in view of the prevailing situation in the country, adding India’s visa services will continue through an e-Emergency visa facility and it has been extended to Afghan nationals.

“We have already received requests from Afghan Sikh and Hindu community leaders, and are in touch with them,” it said.

It is learnt that visas will be open for all Afghans irrespective of their religion and that priority will be given to those who worked with the Indian missions, women activists, civil society representatives, opinion makers, officials, NGO workers and those who feel threatened or face persecution.

India may also issue visas to other categories such as students as well as those having medical cases.

“The main challenge for travel to and from Afghanistan is the operational status of Kabul airport.This has been discussed at high levels with our partners, including by External Affairs Minister with the US Secretary of State,” the MEA said.

“Government of India is committed to the safe return of all Indian nationals and will institute flight arrangements once Kabul airport is open for commercial operations,” it said.

It is also learnt that India may even consider chartered flights to Afghanistan to bring back people such as members of the Sikh and Hindu communities.

In a series of tweets, Jaishankar also said that India is monitoring the situation in Kabul continuously.

“Monitoring the situation in Kabul continuously. Understand the anxiety of those seeking to return to India. Airport operations are the main challenge. Discussions on with partners in that regard,” he tweeted.

“Significant UN Security Council discussions today on developments in Afghanistan. Expressed the concerns of the international community. Expect to discuss these during my engagements at the UN,” he added.

The Taliban swept across Afghanistan this month, seizing control of almost all key towns and cities across the country in the backdrop of withdrawal of the US forces that began on May 1.

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