India evacuated 565 persons, Special Afghan Cell attended thousands of calls, messages; EAM tells political parties

New Delhi : India has evacuated a total of 565 persons, including Indians and Afghan nationals, so far from Afghanistan, and its Special Afghan Cell has attended over 3,000 calls since August 16 when it was set up, and over 7,800 WhatsApp messages, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar conveyed to floor leaders of political parties in Parliament on Thursday.

According to sources, Jaishankar, while sharing details of the recent developments in Afghanistan with the floor leaders, also said that among the challenges they faced during the evacuation process from Kabul airport were frequent firing incidents near the airport as well as inside.

There were multiple checkpoints set up by various groups that the Indian evacuees had to contend with on their way to the airport. Besides there were also issues at the airport, delays in getting landing permissions, and overflight clearances from relevant countries, and coordinating the operation on the ground, the sources added.

As an immediate measure to deal with the evacuation challenges, India has set up a 24X7 Special Afghanistan Cell in the Ministry of External Affairs, and also started an e-visa system for Afghan nationals, he said, according to sources.
The Special Afghan Cell was set up on August 16 to coordinate repatriation and other requests from Afghanistan in a streamlined manner. It has been operational 24X7 for responding to requests over calls, emails and WhatsApp messages.

It is manned by more than 20 Ministry of External Affairs officials, who have attended to 3,014 calls so far, as well as 7,826 WhatsApp messages and answered 3,101 email messages, the EAM conveyed to the leaders.

Giving a breakup of the evacuation details, the minister said that India has evacuated 175 embassy personnel, besides 263 other Indian nationals. India has also evacuated 112 Afghan nationals, who include Hindus and Sikhs, while 15 nationals from third countries have also been evacuated, taking the total to 565.

Explaining the process of withdrawal of Indian staff and diplomats from the different Indian consulates and the Embassy in Kabul, he said that temporary withdrawal of India-based personnel had begun in April 2020 from the consulates in Herat and Jalalabad.

India had begun to scale down the operations of the Embassy in Kabul from June 2021. India flew back its Ambassador in Kabul and the rest of the Indian staff on August 17, two days after the Taliban took over Kabul.

The Kandahar consulate was evacuated between 10-11 July, while the Mazar-e-Sharif consulate was evacuated on 10-11 August, the EAM told the floor leaders.

The Indian Embassy also issued four security advisories to its nationals in Afghanistan. These were issued on June 29, July 24, August 10 and August 12, advising Indian nationals to leave immediately and also warned of discontinuation of commercial airlines from Kabul airport.

India’s priorities under the changed circumstances in Afghanistan have been evacuation of Indian nationals, and the safety of our diplomatic personnel.

Among the priorities also has been assistance to Afghan nationals in distress, providing leadership under the government’s Neighbourhood First policy.

India has also been part of international coordination and humanitarian efforts on Afghanistan.

India, which is holding the month-long presidency of the UN Security Council, also chaired a Special Session on Afghanistan at the Council.

Among the priorities India is looking forward to include an upcoming UNHRC Session in Geneva while New Delhi would also be chairing the UN 1988 Sanctions Committee, also known as the Taliban sanctions committee.

Jaishankar, who briefed 37 leaders from 31 political parties, said that the government is in a wait and watch mode and evacuations are the priority.

Speaking to the media later, he said that the friendship India shares with Afghanistan is valuable.