As Kabul airport closes, India’s repatriation efforts ‘paused’

As Kabul airport closes, India’s repatriation efforts ‘paused’

According to unconfirmed reports, India sent a C-17 Globemaster aircraft to Afghanistan and it returned on Monday.

Concerns about Indian diplomats, security personnel and citizens grew on Monday, as the Afghanistan airspace was shut down  for commercial flights over chaotic scenes at the airport, as thousands of Afghans seeking to flee the country overran the tarmac at Kabul’s international airport.

In meetings led by the Cabinet Secretary, officials of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of External Affairs and the National Security council held briefings about the “deteriorating” security situation in Kabul and the plans for evacuating Indian nationals, Sikhs and Hindus as well as Afghan who have been India’s “partners”, indicating for the first time that the government may be open to accepting Afghans of all religions.

According to sources, India is hoping to use its military C-17 Globemaster aircraft to bring back diplomats, security personnel and about 15-20 remaining Indian nationals from Kabul, but this is contingent on the road to Kabul airport, manned by Taliban, access into the airport, which was being secured by the US-led NATO forces, and permission to land flights.

While one C-17 landed at the airport’s military area on Sunday night, and brought back about 40 Indian nationals on Monday morning, officials said another C-17 stands “ready” to bring back the rest, including embassy staff, personnel of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, that guard the embassy, and other Indian nationals.

“Commercial operations from Kabul airport have been suspended today. This has forced a pause in our repatriation efforts. We are awaiting the resumption of flights to restart the process,” the Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement after no Air India flights were able to land and take off from the Hamid Karzai airport, a day after gun-toting Taliban militia took control of the city. Three Afghans were killed when they tried to cling on to the wing of a US military plane taking off from the airport carrying evacuees and fell to their deaths, adding to the panic amongst crowds gathered there.

Three Afghans were reportedly killed when videos emerged of them trying to cling on to the wing of a US military plane taking off from the airport carrying evacuees and then falling to their deaths, adding to the panic amongst crowds gathered there.

Meanwhile the MEA said it was “in touch” with members of Afghanistan’s Sikh and Hindu communities and would facilitate their “repatriation” to India if they wished to leave. 

“There are also a number of Afghans who have been our partners in the promotion of our mutual developmental, educational and people to people endeavours. We will stand by them,” the MEA statement added. Officials did not confirm the numbers, but the Indian Embassy in Kabul, which has remained operational through the developments in Kabul had issued dozens of visas in the past week, as the Taliban made its advance towards the capital. 

When asked about how many Indians remain in Afghanistan, an official who didn’t wish to be named said that most Indians working on various construction and infrastructure projects in Afghanistan have left already as the Embassy had put out several stern advisories asking all workers, engineers, and media personnel to take commercial flights and return to India. This number is down from about 1,500 Indians that were working in Afghanistan, according to a reply by the government in parliament in early August.

“We had circulated emergency contact numbers and had also been extending assistance to community members. We are aware that there are still some Indian nationals in Afghanistan who wish to return and we are in touch with them,” the MEA statement.

The MEA statement, the first since the Taliban completed its takeover of the country, did not refer to the actual situation in Afghanistan, negotiations under way for the formation of an Afghan government, and whether India would recognise the new regime in Afghanistan.

Last week, India was one of 12 countries including US, UK, China, Qatar, Pakistan, Germany, Norway, Turkey and some Central Asian states that said they would “not recognise any government in Afghanistan that is imposed through the use of military force”.

With the Taliban taking control of Kabul without any apparent resistance from the Afghanistan National Defence and Security Forces, it is likely that some of those countries, including China and Pakistan would recognise the Taliban in power. Russia’s special envoy Zamir Kabulov said on Monday that Moscow would wait and watch the Taliban’s actions in power before deciding on the issue. The government will also have to take a call on whether to engage the Taliban for logistical purposes, including completing evacuation plans. 

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