On Tuesday, two Indian Air Force transport aircraft landed at the Hindon airbase in Ghaziabad, with over 190 Indian officials evacuated from Kabul. This comes after the Taliban overthrew the Afghan government and took control of the country on Sunday, 15 August.
The evacuation of these officials — mostly journalists, diplomats, embassy staffers and security personnel — had all the makings of a blockbuster movie; from taking circuitous air routes, to dealing with gun-toting Taliban militia at the airport in Kabul.
The situation in Afghanistan continues to be “extremely fluid and unpredictable,” according to officials and India is aiming to evacuate all its citizens from the strife-torn country.
India’s Ambassador in Kabul Rudrendra Tandon, who was one of the few who returned on Tuesday, while asked about the fate of people in Afghanistan was quoted as saying, “It’s not that we have abandoned people of Afghanistan. Their welfare and our relationship with them is very much in our mind.”
MEA’s helping hand
In a tweet on Monday night, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar released call and email details for the “Special Afghanistan Cell” at the Ministry of External Affairs that can be reached on 919717785379 and MEAHelpdeskindia@gmail.com.
“We have circulated emergency contact numbers and have also been extending assistance to community members. We are aware that there are still some Indian nationals in Afghanistan who wish to return and we are in touch with them,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi had also said.
The MEA also released a statement on late Tuesday in which it stated that it was releasing periodic travel and security advisories to all Indian nationals in Afghanistan.
Reports have stated that a contingent of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police would guard those who wish to be repatriated to India and they would be kept in a secure area and would be brought to the country in a day or two.
Flight routes and operations
Airport operations are the main concern for now, as flights were suspended because of the conditions at Kabul airport. However, according to reports, New Delhi has a C-17 Globemaster aircraft on standby for quick mobilisation, if required.
In the case of the rescued embassy staffers and other personnel, the flight route was full of worry and tense moments. While flying to Kabul, the aircraft went via Tajikistan and had a stopover at night in Dushanbe as they could only land in Kabul in the morning. On its way back, the flight flew over Iran and landed in Jamnagar, Gujarat. Pakistani airspace and most of Afghanistan was completely avoided.
It still remains unclear whether Indians flying back will follow the same route, as a NOTAM (notice to airmen) issued by the Kabul airport authorities on Monday stated that the Afghan airspace has been released to the military and any aircraft transit through it “will be uncontrolled.” In another NOTAM, it was stated that the civilian side of the Kabul airport has been shut down until further notice.
Civil society initiatives have also come forth with Vikramjit Sahney, International President of the World Punjabi Organisation, volunteering to send chartered aircraft to Kabul to evacuate Hindu and Sikh citizens of Afghanistan.
With inputs from agencies