India on Monday pledged to stand by its Afghan partners but said the suspension of operations at Kabul airport has “forced a pause” in the government’s efforts to repatriate its officials and nationals following the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban.
The government is working to facilitate the repatriation of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus who wish to leave Afghanistan as well as some Indian nationals, who are still in the war-torn country, external affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said.
“The security situation in Kabul has deteriorated significantly in the last few days. It is changing rapidly even as we speak,” Bagchi said in the first official reaction from the Indian side to the fall of President Ashraf Ghani’s government after the Taliban marched into Kabul on Sunday.
“Commercial operations from Kabul airport have been suspended [on Monday]. This has forced a pause in our repatriation efforts. We are awaiting the resumption of flights to restart the process,” Bagchi said.
The sudden closure of Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport threw schedules for the few remaining airlines operating flights to Afghanistan into disarray, including Air India, which had a flight scheduled for 12.30 pm.
Two NOTAMs or notices to airmen – official notices containing essential information on flight operations – issued by the Afghanistan Civil Aviation Authority said the civilian side of the airport was “closed until further notice” and that Kabul’s airspace “has been released to the military”. The second NOTAM advised all “transit aircraft to reroute” and cautioned that “any transit through Kabul airspace will be uncontrolled”.
Chaos reigned at Kabul airport, which was under the control of US troops, as thousands of desperate Afghans entered the terminal building and walked on to the tarmac in hopes of getting on to any of the aircraft taking off. Amid sporadic firing by the US troops, there were reports that five people were killed. At least two more people who had clung to an US military jet fell to their deaths.
Bagchi said the Indian side is in constant touch with representatives of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus and will “facilitate repatriation to India of those who wish to leave Afghanistan”.
He added, “There are also a number of Afghans who have been our partners in the promotion of our mutual developmental, educational and people-to-people endeavours. We will stand by them.”
At the same time, the Indian side is “aware that there are still some Indian nationals in Afghanistan who wish to return and we are in touch with them”, Bagchi said.
Last year, the Indian government had helped more than 380 Afghan Sikhs and Hindus to travel to the country.
The situation in Afghanistan, Bagchi said, is being monitored on a constant basis at high levels, and the government “will take all steps to ensure the safety and security of Indian nationals and our interests in Afghanistan”.
He pointed out that several advisories had been issued for the safety and security of Indian nationals in Afghanistan, including calling for their immediate return home.
People familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity that a few hundred Indians, including diplomats, officials and security personnel posted at the embassy in Kabul, and citizens were currently in Kabul. Military aircraft have been on standby for evacuation flights and two C-17 Globemaster heavy lift aircraft have been sent to Kabul via Iranian airspace since Sunday. One of these aircraft returned on Monday.