India, Afghan embassy quietly prepped for flight from Kabul for weeks

Dec 10, 2021 07:43 PM IST

The special charter flight from Kabul to Delhi brought 10 Indians and 94 Afghans, including members of the Hindu and Sikh minorities. 90 Afghan nationals stranded in India after the Taliban takeover took the flight back to Kabul.

NEW DELHI: A special charter flight from Kabul to New Delhi on Friday evacuated 104 people, most of them Afghan Sikhs and Hindus, and took back Afghan nationals stranded in India and medical supplies.

Kabul, Dec 10 (ANI): A Sikh delegation with the Holy book of Guru Granth Sahib boarding a plane for India from Afghanistan under Operation Devi Shakti, in Kabul on Friday. (ANI Photo) (ANI)
Kabul, Dec 10 (ANI): A Sikh delegation with the Holy book of Guru Granth Sahib boarding a plane for India from Afghanistan under Operation Devi Shakti, in Kabul on Friday. (ANI Photo) (ANI)

The flight, operated by Afghanistan’s Kam Air and arranged by India, brought 10 Indians and 94 Afghans, including members of the Hindu and Sikh minorities, external affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said in a tweet.

Indian authorities and the Afghan embassy in New Delhi worked discreetly over the past few weeks to arrange the charter flight, people familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity.

A video posted on social media showed a Sikh man, who was among the Afghan Sikhs evacuated to India, saying that they were taking the flight after waiting for almost three months.

The group – which included women, six children and three infants – brought with it three Guru Granth Sahibs from historic gurdwaras and Hindu religious texts from the ancient Asamai Mandir in Kabul.

The family of Mahram Ali, an Afghan security guard killed during the March 2020 terror attack on Gurdwara Guru Har Rai in Kabul, was evacuated to India and will be rehabilitated by Sobti Foundation.

The charter flight took back close to 90 Afghan nationals, mostly people who came to India for medical treatment and were stranded after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. The aircraft also carried medical supplies that are part of the humanitarian aid offered by India to Afghanistan, the people said.

The last commercial flight from the Indian side on the Kabul-Delhi route was operated by Air India on August 15, the day Kabul fell to the Taliban. Hundreds of Indian nationals, including diplomats and security personnel, were subsequently evacuated from Kabul in special Indian Air Force flights during August.

India also withdrew its ambassador and all other staff from the mission in Kabul – effectively closing the embassy for the second time since 1996.

However, scores of Indian nationals were still in Afghanistan after all evacuation flights were stopped because of security concerns, which were heightened after the devastating suicide attack at Kabul airport on August 26 that killed more than 180 people.

The people cited above said many of these Indians subsequently left Afghanistan via land routes and travelled to Iran and Central Asian states. As of last week, it was believed that a little more than a dozen Indians were currently stranded in Afghanistan.

More charter flights could be arranged to take back hundreds of Afghans still stranded in India, the people said.

Four special flights were recently arranged to take Afghan nationals stranded in India to Kabul via Tehran but this arrangement was subsequently suspended as the cost was too high – each traveller paid almost $850 for the trip – and most of the Afghans could not afford the fare.

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