India preps to evacuate envoys, citizens still in Afghanistan as Taliban enter Kabul
As Taliban fighters began entering Kabul on Sunday following the collapse of President Ashraf Ghani’s government, Indian authorities scrambled to pull out hundreds of diplomats and citizens still in Afghanistan.
The speed of the Taliban’s advance into the capital again took most countries by surprise, though people familiar with developments said the Indian side was well prepared for all contingencies. The Indian Air Force’s heavy lift aircraft, especially the C-17 Globemasters, have been on round-the-clock standby for several days and could be pressed into service at short notice for an evacuation.
The Indian side had been anticipating the Taliban advance into Kabul would take a few more days, and reports about the entry of fighters into the city on Sunday as Ghani and his close aides reportedly fled to Tajikistan triggered hectic consultations, the people cited above said on condition of anonymity.
The government is closely monitoring the rapidly evolving situation in Afghanistan to decide on the evacuation of diplomatic personnel from Kabul, the people said. Specific plans for all contingencies are already in place and all steps will be taken to ensure that the staff of the Indian embassy in Kabul and Indian nationals are not at any risk, the people added.
Plans are also in place for the destruction and retrieval of documents and computers at the Indian embassy, which is the only functional mission in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of staff from the consulates in Herat, Jalalabad, Mazar-e-Sharif and Kandahar over the past year.
There was no official word from the external affairs ministry on the latest developments in Afghanistan. New Delhi has consistently said it is opposed to any attempt to forcibly capture power in Kabul.
Taliban fighters began entering Kabul from all sides without facing any resistance by late Sunday afternoon. The move came hours after the Taliban captured Jalalabad, the last major city in the north that was under government control, without a struggle.
The Afghan government’s chief peace negotiator, Abdullah Abdullah, said in a video message posted on Facebook that Ghani had left the country. Former president Hamid Karzai tweeted that a coordination council comprising himself, Abdullah Abdullah and Hezb-e-Islami chief Gulbuddin Hekmatyar had been formed following Ghani’s departure to manage the transfer of power.
Taliban spokesmen said some fighters were entering Kabul to prevent chaos and looting. Earlier, in a statement in Pashto, the Taliban claimed “all parts of the country have come under the control of the Islamic Emirate” and said the group’s fighters do not intend to enter Kabul, which is densely populated, “by force or war, but rather to enter peacefully”.
The statement added negotiations were underway to “ensure the transition process is completed safely and securely, without compromising the lives, property and honour of anyone”. The Taliban asked its fighters “to stand at the gates of Kabul” and not to try to enter the city, and to also ensure the security of the capital until the transition process is completed.
“We reiterate that the Islamic Emirate does not intend to take revenge on anyone, all those who have served in the military and civilian sectors in the Kabul administration are forgiven and safe, no one will be retaliated against,” the statement said.
The people cited above said the Taliban’s assurances couldn’t be taken for granted, given the ample evidence that the group’s political leadership isn’t fully in control of fighters on the ground, and the reports of summary executions of security forces and people who backed the government as well as violation of the rights of women and civil society activists.
There were also reports of people making a run for banks to withdraw money and to foreign embassies to seek visas to leave Afghanistan. The Indian embassy too has been swamped with requests for visas over the past few days. Kabul airport is currently the only way out of the country, with all land border crossings currently under the control of the Taliban.