With as many as 450 Indians possibly still stranded inside Afghanistan, the Government of India is coordinating with the United States and other embassies to assist in their return, as transport to the airport as well as flights from Kabul to Delhi are proving to be a challenge. In addition, four days after Taliban militia took control of the capital, there was no formal government in place, making it harder for those who don’t have all the necessary documents, officials said.
“Our biggest problem is that even those in Kabul aren’t able to leave their residences without approval from Taliban guards to travel to the airport,” an official said. While American troops were in charge of Kabul’s Hamid Karzai international airport, located just 10 km from the Indian embassy, they were unable to provide support outside of it for convoys to reach, and it became necessary to deal with local militia at every checkpoint, the official explained.
On Monday, Indian diplomats trying to leave the city after closing the embassy faced several issues, after most of their convoy was turned around by Taliban gunmen posted near the city outskirts, and it took them more than a day to make the necessary arrangements to leave. As a result, one of the special military C-17 flights operated by the Indian Air Force had to return to Delhi with only 40 passengers, as the rest couldn’t make it to the airport. Another C-17, that had landed, was asked to fly to Dushanbe, in neighbouring Tajikistan, after the tarmac got overrun by Afghans desperate to leave.
Officials said the U.S. embassy in Kabul, as well as its diplomats in Delhi have been helping by providing their teams access to the airport and security within the area, and had also been providing them updated information on their movements so that the government could “plan ahead”. U.S. officials also coordinated parking slots for the C-17 that finally flew out on Tuesday carrying the remaining 120 Indian diplomats and about 20 others.
Among the Indians left behind who have reached out to the government are doctors, university professors and engineers, many of whom had tried to leave Afghanistan earlier, but had been unable to find seats on Air India flights to Delhi, which were suspended this week. On Thursday, Air India officials told The Hindu no new flights had been planned at present.
The speed with which the Indian embassy had to be closed has also left several Afghans stranded, as they had submitted their passports in order to receive their visas, and those could not be returned before they left. “We are in danger here, but without the passports we can’t do anything right now,” Mohammad Farhan (not his real name), a PhD student who is one of four students who applied some months ago for their visas, told The Hindu over the telephone from Kabul.
Special cell at MEA
Hundreds of calls have come in to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) at a “Special Afghanistan cell” manned round the clock by about 20 officers. The cell was originally set up on Monday night, just as diplomats and personnel from the Indian embassy were leaving so as to ensure “seamless contacts” for Indians who are still stranded inside the country. The officers are preparing an updated database based on the calls received, on what sort of assistance they need. They gave estimates between 300-450 Indians who still remain and need to be evacuated.
The special cell is also coordinating visa applications for the newly launched “e-Emergency X-Misc Visa” for Afghan nationals wanting to flee the country urgently, which will be processed after necessary security clearances by the Ministry of Home Affairs.
According to sources, hundreds of applications have already been filled out online by Afghans, many of them belonging to minorities and sects like the Hazara community that fear being at risk of harm from the Taliban.
However, when asked, officials said the visas will likely take some time to process, and only a few have been issued so far.
( With inputs from Jagriti Chandra )