India withdraws diplomatic staff from Afghanistan after Taliban takeover

India has spent billions of dollars on development initiatives in Afghanistan since 2001

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India has flown its ambassador and diplomatic staff out of Kabul as the Taliban tighten their grip on Afghanistan after the collapse of the government.

An Indian Air Force C-17 transport aircraft took off from Kabul airport early on Tuesday and landed at Jamnagar airbase in western Gujarat state, on its way to Delhi.

Those on board included Rudrendra Tandon, who took over as ambassador to Afghanistan last September, 120 embassy staff and their families.

Some Indian journalists covering the upheaval in the country were also on the flight.

Diplomatic staff left India's embassy on Sunday and secured themselves at Kabul airport amid a brief halt in evacuation efforts.

Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi tweeted that the immediate withdrawal was done “in view of the prevailing circumstances”.

Indian authorities had sought to bolster ties with previous Afghan governments and had a large diplomatic presence in the country, with four consulates and the embassy in Kabul.

India has spent more than $3 billion dollars on infrastructure development and other support programmes in Afghanistan since the Taliban were toppled in 2001.

New Delhi is wary of Taliban rule owing to claims the insurgents are backed by Pakistan, allegations Islamabad has rejected.

Last week, India advised its citizens to leave the country as Taliban fighters advanced towards the capital.

Evacuation efforts were paused after Kabul airport was closed and Afghan airspace was declared “uncontrolled” following the chaos as people fled the insurgents.

US troops fired into the air after crowds arrived at the airport to seek a way out of the country.

On Tuesday, New Delhi said it would introduce an emergency visa system for those who wanted to seek safety in India.

The government said it was in touch with a handful of Hindu and Sikh Afghans and Afghan partners and was ready to fly them to India.

India is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and grants shelter to foreigners facing persecution in their countries on a case-by-case basis.

It has granted long-duration visas to more than 11,000 Afghans of all religions who fled their country during the Taliban's first spell in power and the two decades of war that followed the US invasion in 2001.

Afghanistan’s Hindu and Sikh communities, which once comprised tens of thousands of people, have shrunk during decades of war and persecution.

It is believed there are now 100 Sikh and 50 Hindu families in the country.

“We are in constant touch with the Sikh and Hindu community leaders in Kabul. Their welfare will get our priority attention,” Dr S Jaishankar, India’s External Affairs Minister, said on Twitter.

Critics say the decision to prioritise Sikhs and Hindus is in line with the Citizenship Amendment Act that Indian authorities introduced to fast-track citizenship to religious minorities, but not Muslims.

The move has upset Muslim Afghans living in India who fear for the lives of their families in Afghanistan.

“The Indian government should not think of the religion of Afghans and take quick action to support every Afghan," said Ahmed Gia Ghani, head of the Afghan Solidarity Committee in New Delhi.

“Are Muslim Afghans not humans? We urge the Indian government to have a special programme and give priority to women, translators and those who worked for foreigners."

Updated: August 17th 2021, 1:56 PM