New Delhi: As Taliban continue to overrun vast swathes of Afghanistan amid the US pullout, the Indian government has been pushed to prepare a contingency plan to evacuate its diplomats from the war-torn country, ThePrint has learnt.
According to sources, India is now reviewing the “highly volatile and fluid” security situation in Afghanistan on a daily basis and responding to challenges within 48-72 hours.
In an emergency operation late Saturday, as many as 50 Indian diplomatic staff, including ITBP personnel, were evacuated from the Kandahar consulate, which is now operating only with the local staff, sources said.
“Taliban is seizing control of key cities swiftly and fast… Kabul is still steady but one never knows,” said a source, adding that India will have to close its Embassy in Kabul as well if the situation continues to deteriorate. According to media reports, there is a possibility Kabul may fall to the Taliban within months of the US’ withdrawal.
“India is closely monitoring the evolving security situation in Afghanistan. The safety and security of our personnel is paramount. The Consulate General of India in Kandahar has not been closed. However, due to the intense fighting near Kandahar city, India-based personnel have been brought back for the time being,” Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said in a statement Sunday.
“I want to emphasise that this is a purely temporary measure until the situation stabilizes. The consulate continues to operate through our local staff members,” the statement said.
“Arrangements are being made to ensure continued delivery of visa and consular services through our Embassy in Kabul… As an important partner of Afghanistan’s, India remains committed to a peaceful, sovereign and democratic Afghanistan,” it added.
As of now India’s missions in Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif are operating with Indian diplomatic staff. Sources said India’s Ambassador to Kabul Rudrendra Tandon has been travelling to New Delhi frequently in the past couple of weeks.
Worrying security situation
India had already shut down its missions in Jalalabad and Herat in 2020, keeping in mind the deteriorating security condition in Afghanistan. However, it cited the pandemic as the official reason for the move.
The Taliban have been rapidly gaining control of some of the key cities in the country ever since the US finalised its exit, ending a 20-year-long war.
Earlier this week, as the US made a silent exit from its most important base — the Bagram Air Base — the Taliban have been making rapid strides and have now taken control of two key border crossings to Iran and Turkmenistan.
In Herat, Ismail Khan, once a dreaded warlord, has reportedly given a clarion call to his supporters to begin fighting the Taliban, with the man in his mid-70s offering to lead from the front, according to a Guardian report.
In an interview to ThePrint, the Afghan envoy said the country’s government is keen that India talk to those Taliban leaders who are willing to reconcile.
As the situation continues to deteriorate, the country’s key peace and reconciliation leader Abdullah Abdullah visited New Delhi earlier this week on a personal visit, according to sources.
This report has been updated to correct the name of India’s Ambassador to Kabul. The error is regretted.