The threat to the Indians was very real and very high. The Taliban had erected roadblocks throughout the city, making movement almost impossible. Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar tweeted: âThe movement of the Indian Ambassador and Embassy staff from Kabul to India has been a difficult and complicated exercise.
The movement of the Indian Ambassador and staff from the Kabul Embassy to India was a difficult and complicated exerciseâ¦ https://t.co/M6Wbv2Kf2Q
– Dr S. Jaishankar (@DrSJaishankar) 1629205114000
When the first Taliban groups arrived on the outskirts of Kabul on the 14th, it emerged that they could mount a siege on the city, strike a deal, and then work out some kind of interim power-sharing arrangement. But the Taliban were following a different scenario – they entered the city from all sides, which relented without resistance. When Ashraf Ghani and his coterie fled on the evening of the 15th, all bets were off. All police and security forces have disappeared, sources said. Evacuation became imperative, but under the prevailing circumstances, fraught with danger.
The safety of Indian officials was the government’s main concern. PM Modi and management have been very clear on this. Modi, NSA Ajit Doval and Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar led the way, while operations were led by JP Singh, MEA co-secretary, while Indian Ambassador Rudrendra Tandon held up in Kabul.
Kabul airport was operational on the 15th, when Air India’s last flight brought in 129 people. But looking at images of crowds of assault planes in Kabul, India decided to suspend civilian flights.
It was also decided to divide the evacuation into two stages. The logistical planning consisted of two stages: the transfer from the embassy to the airport and from the airport to India. The second was relatively easier. The first became the problem.
The Taliban roadblocks outside the Indian Embassy were bad enough. Worst of all, there was no armed escort for the Indians to get safely to the airport. Intelligence suggested that the 15 checkpoints erected between the embassy and the airport were filled with all kinds of people – Taliban, LeT and Haqqani (sponsored by the ISI), some even suspected of be Daesh. The Indians are vulnerable anyway, having suffered numerous attacks, notably by the LeT and the Haqqanis. Traveling without an escort was not an option.
The Americans were unwilling to help, citing their own evacuation responsibilities. Finally, Indian security agencies assembled a group of “local assets” who were able to negotiate with the men at checkpoints and get to the airport. The plan was very risky, although under the circumstances the best that could have been done.
On Sunday evening, the government moved the first batch of 45 officials in an overnight convoy to the airport. A C-17 plane had taken off at night from India and had collected them on the morning of the 16th, bringing them back in the afternoon.
But things took a turn for the worse and became volatile on the 16th. Ordinary Afghans stormed the airport and the world saw heartbreaking scenes of people climbing to the top of a plane, crowding into the planes of the. US Air Force to get out. Armed Taliban were everywhere in the city, the roads were blocked.
The Indians had to wait until nightfall. At that time, many Indian citizens in Kabul, who had failed to comply with government travel advisories on time, reported to the embassy. They could not be turned away.
A convoy of 14 vehicles, held back by armed ITBP personnel and the “local” escort, made it to the airport late at night. By then, all documents had been shredded and the embassy had been reduced to a minimum. India has not officially closed the embassy, ââas Afghan staff continue to look after it. He was evacuated due to the prevailing situation.
A second C-17 took off from Hindon on the night of the 16th and parked in Dushanbe, ready to jump to Kabul. The Americans, who then took control of Kabul airport, gave the Indian plane a three-hour window. But first they had to get the officials and other Indian nationals to the airport safely.
The midnight drive was nothing short of breathtaking. At each checkpoint, the local escort ânegotiatesâ the movement.
Back in New Delhi, Modi and Doval and other senior officials stayed awake late into the night, following the convoy through the streets of Kabul until they were safely through the airport gates. Jaishankar was watching from the plane he was traveling on to the United States. At one point it took a high level intervention to get the Americans to facilitate the Indian movement.
The Indians had to wait for daybreak when the C-17 arrived from Dushanbe. The return home was over Iranian airspace, avoiding Pakistan, landing first at Jamnagar for fuel and food, before arriving at Hindon.
There are still many Indians who remained in Afghanistan, who want to return. The government is waiting for commercial civilian planes to resume operations from Kabul before facilitating their return.