Indians stranded in Kabul wait for help as international evacuation efforts continue

·3-min read

India has evacuated some 200 embassy staff and civilians from Afghanistan but many of its stranded citizens have not received word yet on other flights leaving Kabul airport which has been barricaded by Taliban forces.

India is just one of the many countries scrambling to organise evacuations of its citizens stranded in Afghanistan following the takeover of the capital by Taliban forces on Sunday.

India's ambassador to Afghanistan, Rudrendra Tandon, who flew out of Kabul on Tuesday was unable to put a number to those still left behind in the country, where hundreds of Indians work at some of the 400 Delhi-funded projects, private factories, security firms, hotels or offices.

Ashok Dubey, an Indian officer worker who returned to Delhi on 11 August, before the Taliban's coup estimated their number at around 350.

Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty, a retired diplomat, chided nationals for not registering with the Indian embassy in Kabul after arriving in Afghanistan.

"I think that is the problem Kabul (embassy) is having now. They only remember the embassy when there is a crisis," he said.

Rising desperation

In New York, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar held out hope for Indian stragglers in Afghanistan during a UN Security Council meeting.

"I think our focus is on ensuring the security in Afghanistan, and the safe return of Indian nationals who are there and so that has really what has been very much the focus of my own engagements here," he said.

The assurance came as the southern state of Kerala asked Delhi to evacuate 41 of its residents stuck in Kabul, saying Islamist insurgents had seized their passports.

Local TV also broadcast appeals of Indians who also alleged their Afghan employers had confiscated their travel papers.

Sources said some of them were sheltering in guest houses in downtown Shahr-e Naw district, only five kilometres from Kabul’s airport but the road was dotted with Taliban security checkpoints.

"Our colleagues are safe for now and we are in regular touch. But it will be on India to escort them to the airport," said an Afghan engineer who declined to be identified.

Indian media reports the growing worry

"Our families are crying, we are desperate to get out of here,” Suraj, a 28-year-old Indian who started working as a welder in Kabul in January, told online media.

Similar tales of desperation came in from other quarters of Kabul where private guest houses once flourished because of visiting Indians.

"All of us are virtually hiding in various buildings or hotels, fearing the Taliban," said an unnamed Indian quoted by The Indian Express.

"...I left my work camp without even a pair of dresses. We are just surviving for the last four days at the mercy of local benefactors."

But some Indians married locally may not want to leave because of assurances of safety handed out by Taliban, commented Ashok Sajjanhar, a former diplomat.

Pullout plan underway

Ravi Kumar Malik, a Kabul office worker, said he was coordinating with the government in Delhi to plan a safe repatriation.

Some 90 Indians in his list of 190 people hoping to leave were already outside Kabul’s barricaded Hamid Karzai International Airport, the Indian said and added the pullout was imminent.

In Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called a meeting of his security cabinet on Wednesday.

"India must not only protect our citizens, but we must also provide refuge to those Sikh and Hindu minorities who want to come to India," Modi was quoted as saying.

On Tuesday, India announced a new electronic visa to help fast-track applications from Afghans hoping to reach India.

India has experience in mass evacuation, having pulled out 170,000 of its citizens in 1990 from Iraq, some 1000 people of 41 countries from Yemen in 2015 and brought back home hundreds of thousands during the Covid pandemic.

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