New Delhi: In a “difficult and complicated exercise”, India Tuesday completed the evacuation of all its embassy staff, a move that ended the country’s diplomatic presence in Afghanistan, even as the government announced an emergency e-visa facility for Afghans who want to come to the country.
Also Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired a meeting of the Cabinet Committee, attended by senior ministers –Amit Shah, Rajnath Singh and Nirmala Sitharaman– and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla and Indian envoy to Afghanistan Rudrendra Tandon to take stock of the situation in that country after the Taliban seized power Sunday.
During the meeting, Modi instructed officials to ensure safe evacuation of all Indian nationals from Afghanistan and provide refuge to Sikh and Hindu minorities wanting to come to India from there, besides providing all possible help to Afghan citizens looking for assistance, according to the government sources.
Announcing the completion of the evacuation process of diplomatic mission staff, the MEA said,”in view of the prevailing situation in Kabul, it was decided that our Embassy personnel would be immediately moved to India. This movement has been completed in two phases and the Ambassador and all other India-based personnel have reached New Delhi this afternoon.”
It also said the immediate priority for the government is to obtain accurate information about all Indian nationals currently staying in Afghanistan.
The statement by the MEA came soon after a military transport aircraft of the Indian Air Force brought back from Kabul around 150 people including Indian diplomats, officials, security personnel and some stranded Indians. Another flight evacuated around 40 staffers from Kabul on Monday.
It is the second time that India evacuated all its staff from the embassy in Kabul after a similar exercise was carried out in 1996 when the Taliban first captured power.
After arriving from Afghanistan Indian Ambassador Tandon told media persons in Jamnagar that the situation in Kabul is complex and “quite fluid” now, and the remaining Indians stuck in the city will be brought back home when the commercial flight services resume.
“Happy to be back home safely and securely. We are a very large mission. We are a mission of 192 personnel who were evacuated from Afghanistan literally within a period of three days in a very orderly fashion in two phases,” he said, and thanked the Indian Air Force for the evacuation flights.
Tandon, who assumed charge as Indian ambassador in Afghanistan in August last year, said the embassy provided assistance and even shelter to many distressed Indians following the fast-changing situation in Kabul.
The ministry said India’s visa services will continue through an e-Emergency visa facility, which has been extended to Afghan nationals.
Earlier a home ministry spokesperson said,”the MHA reviews visa provisions in view of the current situation in Afghanistan. A new category of electronic visa called ‘e-Emergency X-Misc Visa’ introduced to fast-track visa applications for entry into India.”
All Afghans, irrespective of their religion, can apply for the ‘e-Emergency X-Misc Visa’ online and the applications will be processed in New Delhi, according to officials.
“We have already received requests from Afghan Sikh and Hindu community leaders, and are in touch with them,” the MEA said.
The ministry also requested the Indians as well as their employers to urgently share the relevant details with MEA’s Special Afghanistan Cell that has been set up to coordinate evacuation.
“The main challenge for travel to and from Afghanistan is the operational status of Kabul airport. This has been discussed at high levels with our partners, including by External Affairs Minister with the US Secretary of State,” the MEA said.
The ministry also asserted that the government is committed to the safe return of all Indian nationals and will institute flight arrangements once Kabul airport is open for commercial operations.
Tweeting on the evacuation of Indian diplomats, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said, “movement of the Indian Ambassador and the Embassy staff from Kabul to India was a difficult and complicated exercise. Thank all those whose cooperation and facilitation made it possible.”
Jaishankar, who is in New York on a four-day visit, also thanked his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian for evacuating 21 Indian nationals from Kabul to Paris.
“Discussed the evolving situation in Afghanistan with Foreign Minister @JY_LeDrian. We will continue to coordinate in the UN Security Council. Thank him for evacuating 21 Indian nationals from Kabul to Paris,” the minister said.
Earlier, Jaishankar also tweeted about his discussion with US Secretary of State Blinken on the latest developments in Afghanistan.
“Discussed latest developments in Afghanistan with @SecBlinken. Underlined the urgency of restoring airport operations in Kabul. Deeply appreciate the American efforts underway in this regard,” he tweeted
While Jaishankar spoke to Blinken, NSA Ajit Doval had a conversation with President Joe Biden’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan Monday evening on the evacuation of the Indian staff, people familiar with the matter said.
It is learnt that both Jaishankar and Doval were involved in ensuring the smooth evacuation of around 190 Indian diplomats, officials and security personnel from the embassy in Kabul.
A contingent of 99 ITBP commandos along with three sniffer dogs were also among the evacuees on board the C-17 Globemaster aircraft of the IAF that landed at the Hindon airbase near the national capital at around 5 PM after a brief halt at Jamnagar in Gujarat.
It is the second evacuation flight as another C-17 aircraft brought back around 40 people from the Hamid Karzai International (HKI) Airport in Kabul on Monday as part of India’s emergency evacuation mission that was carried out following coordination with relevant authorities including US officials handling security at the airport in the Afghan capital.
The ITBP commandos also brought back their personal weapons and belongings and will now undergo a week-long COVID-19 quarantine at a Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) facility in Delhi, they said.
“With this, our complete contingent deployed for securing the Embassy in Kabul, its four consulates in Afghanistan and diplomats have returned. The commandos came along with the Embassy staffers along with other Indian nationals,” ITBP spokesperson Vivek Kumar Pandey said.
After landing at Hindon, ITBP contingent commander Ravi Kant Gautam said, “It was a challenging operation as we were evacuating our people in a country where there was no reinforcement,” adding, “The government of India coordinated all the efforts very well and my commandos carried it out nicely on the ground.”
He said his men have not had sleep for the last 3-4 days and they will finally have some good sleep tonight.