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India adopting ‘wait and watch’ policy on Afghanistan, says government

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Rajya Sabha House Leader Piyush Goyal during a all-party meeting for briefing on the Afghanistan crisis in New Delhi on August 26, 2021.   | Photo Credit: R.V. Moorthy

Minister for External Affairs S. Jaishankar on Thursday described the situation in Afghanistan after the Taiban takeover as critical, saying that India, like the rest of the world, was following a “wait and watch” policy.

Mr. Jaishankar said at an all party meeting on the situation in Afghanistan held at Parliament House that the priority of the Government of India at this point was the evacuation of Indian nationals and Afghan partners from the war torn country.

“It is an evolving situation and I request everybody to be patient so that once the situation normalises we can tell you what India's stand is,” the Minister said, addressing reporters after the meeting.

37 leaders attend

The meeting went on for three and a half hours, and was attended by 37 leaders from 31 political parties including Congress leaders Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, Mallikarjun Kharge and Anand Sharma, Nationalist Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar, Trinamool Congress leaders Saugata Roy and Sukhendu Shekhar Roy, former prime minister Deve Gowda, DMK MPs Tiruchi Siva and T.R. Baalu, Telangana Rashtra Samithi’s Nama Nageshwara Rao, Telegu Desam Party’s Jaydev Galla, CPI MP Binoy Viswam among others. Foreign secretary Harsh Shringla and India's Ambassador to Afghanistan Rudrendra Tandon were also present at the briefing as was Leader of the House in the Rajya Sabha, Piyush Goyal.

Mr. Jaishankar briefed MPs on the evacuation of Indian Embassy staff and closing down of India’s consulates in various cities and added that a team has been deployed at Kabul airport, after the closure of the embassy to facilitate evacuation. Sharing figures of those evacuated by India with MPs, Mr Jaishankar said the government had evacuated 175 Embassy personnel, 263 other Indian nationals, 112 Afghan nationals and 15 third country nationals, with the total figure at 565 in six evacuation flights so far.

His presentation to MPs clarified the tough conditions under which the evacuations were taking place including a lack of a central command and control, the takeover of Kabul by the Taliban earlier than expected and the bringing forward of the date of U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. The presentation also went into details of the various talks held on the Afghan issue and what went on in parallel in terms of development on the ground.

Opposition MPs present at the meeting said the government interlocutors also conveyed that the Kabul airport could also be attacked by suspected Islamic State terrorists, a fear even the Taliban had.

Speaking after the briefing Mr Jaishankar said, “On this (Afghanistan) matter, all political parties have similar views; we approached the issue with a spirit of national unity.”

Opposition queries

Opposition leaders while appreciating the briefing, had tough questions for Mr. Jaishankar over the deportation from India a few weeks ago of a woman member of Parliament from Afghanistan.

Mr Jaishankar expressed regret at the incident, calling it a decision taken by “overcautious” immigration officials at the Delhi Airport. According to the sources, this issue was raised by leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge. In reply, Mr Jaishankar while expressing regret said that it is an isolated incident and that India has rescued many other Afghan Parliamentarians. He said, because of security reasons, details cannot be shared about all the persons who have been rescued so far.

Fielding many questions from the Opposition on India’s future engagement with the Taliban in Afghanistan, Mr Jaishankar said India, like rest of the world, is following “wait and watch” policy.

Mr. Kharge is also said to have raised a series of questions on the government’s contingency plan to evacuate Indians if they are stranded beyond the August 31 deadline and the exact number of Indians yet to be evacuated. Sources claimed that the government did not share the exact number to yet be evacuated.

The Congress delegation also asked about the government's counter terrorism measures, especially iin Jammu and Kashmir, in the wake of the rise of the Taliban.

PM’s absence

Questions were also raised about the absence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi from the meeting, adding that it was a courtesy that his predecessor, Atal Behari Vajpayee always extended to the Opposition. Mr Kharge, according to the sources, said Prime Minister Narendra Modi should have been present at such a meeting, also citing the precedent of Vajpayee.

Former prime minister, H.D. Deve Gowda said a similar period of uncertainty in Afghanistan had prevailed during his premiereship, and that the current government needed to foreground the issue of internal security.

RSP’s N.K. Premchandran, CPI (M) P.R. Natarajan and CPI's Binoy Viswam cornered Mr. Jaishankar, on what they called the “grand isolation” of India. Mr. Natarajan, as per sources, said American President Joe Biden in his campaign speeches had announced that America will be withdrawing its forces from Afghanistan. Despite prior warning, why was India not prepared, the MP asked. He also questioned whether America kept India in the loop when they decided to advanced the withdrawal of the American forces.

The Left and TMC, which was represented by Saugata Roy, also questioned the government on safeguarding the Indian investments in Afghanistan.

“There are 500 projects including the Afghanistan Parliament, in which India has made some serious investments. We asked what was the government’s plan to secure this investment. But Mr. Jaishankar did not give us a credible reply,” one of the opposition members said.


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Printable version | Oct 17, 2021 6:16:55 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/jaishankar-briefs-political-leaders-on-afghanistan-situation/article36112751.ece

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