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Afghanistan situation critical, evacuating Indians top priority: Govt

New Delhi, Aug 26 (IANS) The Centre on Thursday said that the situation in Afghanistan is very critical after the Taliban’s seizure of power on August 15 and evacuating the remaining Indians was the top priority of the government.

Briefing leaders of various parties at an all-party meet heere, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said: “India is trying to evacuate as many people as possible from Afghanistan and evacuating Indian personnel was a top priority.”

Besides Jaishankar, Union Minister and Leader of the House in Rajya Sabha Piyush Goyal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi were also present during the briefing in the Parliament House.

Jaishankar also briefed the leaders on Operation ‘Devi Shakti’ for evacuation of stranded Indians and those Afghans who wish to come to India.

He said India has adopted “a wait and watch policy” on the situation in the war-torn country, sources said.

Updating the party leaders about the pre-emptive measures taken by India which included the temporary withdrawal of India-based personnel from the Consulates in Herat and Jalalabad in April 2020 and remaining two Consulates in Kandahar and Mazar-e-Sharif in June, he said that after evaluating the critical situation in Kabul, all embassy personnel including Ambassador Rudrendra Tandon were flown out on August 17.

The External Affair Minister also informed the all-party meeting about the setting up of a round the clock ‘Afghanistan Cell’ on August 16 to help the stranded Indians and other Afghan nationals who wanted to come to India, fearing Taliban’s prosecution and an special category of emergency visas for Sikh and Hindu Afghans by the Union Home Ministry, the sources added.

The Afghan Cell, manned by more than 20 MEA officials, has attended 3,014 calls, and responded to 7,826 Whatsapp messages, and 3,101 e-mails.

Sharing the evacuation data, he informed that so far, 175 embassy personnel, 263 Indian nationals, 112 Afghan nationals of Hindu and Sikh communities, and 15 nationals from third countries have been evacuated.

The Minister has cited the evacuation challenges such as frequent firing incidents near the airport and inside Kabul city, multiple checkpoints by various groups, multiple issues at the airport, delay in landing permissions, flight clearances from the countries for using their airspace, and coordination at the Kabul airport.

Jaishankar also said that the Taliban have been ignoring the pact inked between them and the US in February 2020 which envisaged religious freedom and democracy, and a government in Kabul that represented all sections of Afghan society.

NCP leader Sharad Pawar, Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge, Leader of Congress in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, DMK’s T.R. Baalu, and former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda were among those who attended the meet.

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