Amid deteriorating situation in Kabul, India evacuates nearly 400 people
India evacuated nearly 400 people, including 329 of its nationals, who were in Afghanistan on three flights from different destinations on Sunday as the government accelerated efforts to bring back all citizens after the situation at Kabul airport deteriorated further.
A total of 87 Indians and two Nepalese citizens were flown from the Tajikistan capital of Dushanbe to Delhi in a special Air India flight that arrived shortly after 5 am. They were earlier evacuated from Kabul to Dushanbe in a C-130 Hercules aircraft of the Indian Air Force (IAF) on Saturday.
Another 168 people, including 107 Indians and 23 Afghan Sikhs and Hindus, were flown out of Kabul in a C-17 heavy lift aircraft and they are expected to reach Hindon airbase later on Sunday.
Afghan lawmakers Anarkali Honaryar and Narender Singh Khalsa and their families were among the Sikhs and Hindus. They were escorted into Kabul airport by international forces after the Taliban prevent a group of more than 70 Afghan Sikhs and Hindus from entering the airport on Saturday.
Another group of 135 Indians, most of them employees of firms from Western countries that were active in Afghanistan, were flown back from Doha to Delhi on a special flight. These Indians had been flown out to Qatar on US and NATO flights over the past few days.
As reports emerged of Taliban fighters opening fire and using harsh methods to control thousands of people who have been converging on Kabul airport, the US embassy issued a security alert on Saturday advising American citizens to avoid travelling to the airport because of “potential security threats outside the gates”. The alert asked Americans to “avoid airport gates at this time unless you receive individual instructions from a US government representative to do so”.
The alert was issued following intelligence reports that the Islamic State could target Americans in the Afghan capital.
Earlier on Saturday, there was confusion for several hours about the status of some 150 Indians who were to be evacuated following reports that they were rounded up by the Taliban near Kabul airport.
The development was first reported on the website of the Afghan media outlet Etilaatroz and its sister publication Kabul Now, which cited a source as saying that more than 150 people, most of them Indians, had been “abducted”. The outlets subsequently quoted a Taliban spokesman as rejecting the allegations of abduction.
Etilaatroz also reported the Indians were safe and their passports were checked before they were sent to the airport.
There was no official word from the Indian side on this incident. The government has kept all details of the evacuation of Indian nationals from Afghanistan under tight wraps because of operational and security reasons.
People familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity that there were problems when a group of more than 200 people, including around 70 Afghan nationals and the remainder Indians, came to Kabul airport in a convoy late on Friday. The Taliban, who are outside the airport, stopped the group, following which most of the Afghans reportedly escaped.
The Afghan nationals included Sikhs and Hindus, and reports said the Taliban had said they would not be allowed to leave the country.
The Indians were rounded up by the Taliban and taken to an unknown location close to the airport for further checks, the people said. Following inquiries and checking of documents such as passports, the group was sent back to the airport on Saturday afternoon, the people added.
The people said the biggest problem in the evacuation of Indians is the journey from different parts of the city to the airport as Kabul has been taken over by the Taliban, who have set up check posts across the capital. Adding to the worries of the Indian side are reports that terrorists from Pakistan-based groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Haqqani Network are also present among the Taliban.
With the civilian side of Kabul airport still closed, all evacuations are being done from the military side, outside which thousands of Afghans have gathered in the hope of getting on board the flights being operated by countries such as the US and the UK. Numerous videos have emerged of Taliban fighters opening fire outside the airport to drive back crowds.