Considering possibility of more evacuation flights from Kabul: India on Afghan crisis
The last evacuation flight had about 40 people, and there were reports that Afghan nationals were facing difficulties in reaching the airport. Indian evacuation flights have so far brought back more than 550 people, including more than 260 Indians, from Kabul or Dushanbe. The government has also facilitated the evacuation of Indians through other countries.
India is considering the possibility of mounting more evacuation flights to bring back nationals still in Afghanistan even as the government has adopted a cautious approach to recognising any new set-up in Kabul in view of the fluid situation there.
At least 20 Indian nationals and some 140 Afghan Sikhs and Hindus were unable to access Kabul airport to board a military evacuation flight on Wednesday, reportedly due to impediments created by the Taliban. The security situation at the airport has taken a turn for the worse after Thursday’s devastating suicide attack by the Islamic State-Khorasan that killed nearly 100 people, including 13 US military personnel.
External affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi declined to give an exact number for Indian citizens who are still in Afghanistan, saying the figure changes as requests come in from people to be evacuated, though he acknowledged that at least 20 Indians had missed the flight from Kabul on Wednesday.
“Our overall assessment is that the vast majority of Indians who wished to return have been evacuated, but of course, some more are likely to be in Afghanistan. I don’t have an exact number for that,” he told a regular weekly news briefing on Friday.
Describing the situation on the ground as “very difficult”, he said India is in touch with “various parties regarding when we can mount evacuation flights”.
The last evacuation flight had about 40 people, and there were reports that Afghan nationals were facing difficulties in reaching the airport. “Some Indians, say around 20...were also trying to reach [the airport] and as you’ve seen the kind of chaos at the airport, they could not reach. And so our flight had to come without these Indian nationals,” he said.
Indian evacuation flights have so far brought back more than 550 people, including more than 260 Indians, from Kabul or Dushanbe. The government has also facilitated the evacuation of Indians through other countries.
These evacuation efforts have involved coordination with several countries, particularly the US, which controls Kabul airport, and Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Iran.
While the current focus is on the safe evacuation of people, India, like other countries, has adopted a wait and watch attitude on the issue of recognising any Taliban regime in Kabul.
“The situation on the ground is uncertain...Currently, there is a lack of clarity or no clarity about any entity forming a government in Kabul. I think we are jumping the gun here regarding recognition,” Bagchi said.
“We continue to monitor the situation very carefully,” he said, adding there various reports about whether the next set-up in Kabul will be inclusive and whether other elements of Afghan polity will find representation in it.
“There is a peace process, and discussions are ongoing now. Let’s wait and see how it develops,” he said.
Bagchi reiterated that India will “stand by Afghans who stood by us”, and said a recent incident of an Afghan MP being sent back to Turkey after she travelled to New Delhi on her diplomatic passport was the outcome of “confusion”.
After the security situation deteriorated following the Taliban takeover on August 15, groups of people raided one of India’s outsourcing agencies handling Afghan passports with Indian visas.
“In the light of the loss of Afghan passports containing Indian visas, our authorities were in a state of high alert,” he said, adding that the resultant confusion led to the “unfortunate incident of denial of entry” to the Afghan MP.
Responding to a question on the status of Afghans who enter India through a new emergency e-visa regime, Bagchi said they would be allowed to stay in the country for six months.
“We will take it from there...that’s the current plan for six months. This is an evolving situation, I think making long-term plans has not been the best of ideas considering the changes of the last few days,” he said.
“India has always been a place where people have come in times of distress; people have come here before this problem started. Discussions are going on to see what can be the modalities, how to deal with Afghans already here.”