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India’s new contacts with Taliban aid evacuation of Kabul embassy

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Amid high drama, the Government on Tuesday airlifted its Ambassador to Kabul and rest of the diplomatic staff to Delhi and plans to shift several hundred loyal Afghans some of whom are understood to have moved to neighbouring countries for the time being.

The evacuation of the mission on Monday night just after midnight was enabled due to New Delhi’s newly established  back channels with Taliban, said sources.

The Indian Air Force’s C-17 Globemaster finally took off at 7 am Kabul time and landed in Jamnagar, Gujarat, on way to Delhi.

Sources said the deteriorating security situation put the Indian envoy and 132 others to great inconvenience in trying to reach Kabul airport. The arrival and departure of a large number of military aircraft from western countries got bunched up as operations were suspended following gunfire near the airport leading to the Indian plane staying in Kabul more than warranted.

The virtual rolling up of the Indian embassy came a day after the Union Home Ministry had introduced a new category of electronic visa to fast-track the applications of Afghans wanting to enter India. With the virtual closure of the Indian Embassy in Kabul, India’s extensive outreach that once included four consulates has been terminated for now.

At the moment, envoys of Turkey, Russia, Iran, Pakistan, Central Asian countries and China remained in Kabul.

Addressing the anxieties of those left behind, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, who reached New York to participate in the UNSC events, said New Delhi is working out arrangements for their extraction with its partner countries.

The US, left flatfooted by the Taliban’s surge, was working the phones. As part of this effort, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to Jaishankar besides the Foreign Ministers of several European countries, Pakistan, Russia and China.

The nuances of Blinken’s conversations differed. State Department readouts said he discussed the developing situation with his counterparts from India and Pakistan. With the Chinese and Foreign Ministers, he also dwelt on the efforts to bring American, Chinese and vulnerable Afghans to safety. To EU, NATO, Turkey and the UK, he expressed his appreciation for bringing American citizens to safety and assisting vulnerable Afghans.

Also left on the sidelines by the speed of Taliban’s takeover, British PM Boris Johnson called up French President Macron to summon an extraordinary G7 meeting on Afghanistan.

Blinken began working the phones shortly after US President Joe Biden addressed criticism over the US getting blindsided in Afghanistan.

“I am now the fourth American president to preside over war in Afghanistan. Two Democrats and two Republicans. I will not pass this responsibility on to a fifth president…The buck stops with me,’’ said Blinken in a televised address while calling Afghanistan as “the graveyard of empires’’.

“I know my decision will be criticised, but I would rather take all that criticism than pass this decision on to another president of the United States – yet another one – a fifth one.’’

“I always promised the American people that I will be straight with you. The truth is: This did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated. So what’s happened? Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country. The Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight,’’ he reasoned.

“So I’m left again to ask of those who argue that we should stay: How many more generations of America’s daughters and sons would you have me send to fight Afghans – Afghanistan’s civil war when Afghan troops will not? How many more lives – American lives – is it worth? How many endless rows of headstones at Arlington National Cemetery?’’ he asked, while reiterating, “I wasn’t going to ask them to continue to risk their lives in a military action that should have ended long ago. Our leaders did that in Vietnam when I got here as a young man. I will not do it in Afghanistan.’’

Biden felt no amount of military force would ever deliver a stable, united, secure Afghanistan, What’s happening now, could just as easily have happened five years ago, or 15 years in the future.”

Biden said the US would lead with diplomacy, international influence and humanitarian aid. “We will continue to speak out for the basic rights of Afghan people, for women and girls – just as we speak out all over the world,” he said.

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