‘India should have kept small team in Kabul’

Ex-diplomats slam withdrawal of all officials

India tried to maintain a core team of diplomats in Afghanistan but could not do so because of lack of operational space for non-NATO countries at the Kabul airport, The Hindu has learnt.

The decision to withdraw all Indian officials from Kabul has drawn criticism from some veteran diplomats who believe that there are many who require India’s help in Afghanistan and a well trained small team of diplomats should have been left behind to help them.

“Evacuation of the embassy in Kabul was a mistake that needs to be corrected promptly,” said former ambassador K.P. Fabian who had played a crucial role in the airlift of Indians in 1990 after Iraq had invaded Kuwait, sparking a conflict that ultimately ended in the defeat of the Saddam Hussein regime in Baghdad.

India on Tuesday evacuated 120 diplomats and officials in a special flight as Kabul was taken over by the Taliban, forcing President Ashraf Ghani to flee. An attempt was made at this time to station a core team of diplomats in Kabul but it did not work out as the place for diplomatic outposts in Kabul airport at present is meant only for the NATO countries. India’s diplomats have served in all recent conflict zones like Libya, Iraq, Syria where the embassies continued to function despite extremely challenging situation outside. A veteran official who served in Afghanistan, however, pointed out that ensuring safety of the Indian diplomats was necessary as a large number of Pakistani “fellow travellers” of the Taliban have also entered Kabul, posing a threat to official representatives of the Government of India.

However, there are equally compelling security concerns for an unspecified number of Indians who remain in various cities of Afghanistan, including in Kabul. Apart from Afghan Sikhs and Hindus who have received some uncertain assurance of safety from the Taliban, there are people from various States who remain there and are trying to return home.

On Wednesday, the Government of West Bengal informed that at least 200 men from Darjeeling and other parts of north Bengal are at present in Afghanistan and urged the Union government to help in bringing them back. Darjeeling MP Raju Bista is also coordinating to bring back the Indians. Absence of Indian officials on the ground is expected to slow the process of bringing these people.

Apart from safety and security concerns, there is also a need to observe the behaviour of the Taliban and other major powers on the ground in Afghanistan which is of crucial importance for India’s security, said Mr. Fabian. “Instead of monitoring developments, India should seek to shape them,” remarked Mr. Fabian, who maintains that India will have to work hard with the dominant forces in Kabul to reopen the mission. He also maintains that there is a need to watch the behaviour of the Taliban and their ties with foreign terrorist groups.

Former Indian ambassador to Afghanistan Jayant Prasad said Taliban were yet to prove that they were serious in tackling the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Jaish-e- Mohammed and the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM). “There have been reports of clashes between the Islamic State and the Taliban in the recent past, but we have not noticed any attempt by the Taliban to counter the other forces like LeT and JeM that specifically are aimed at India,” said Mr. Jayant Prasad.

Former diplomat Vivek Katju, however, supports the evacuation of Indian officials. “In view of the complexities and dangers inherent in the current situation in Afghanistan, the withdrawal of the mission was justified. It possibly may have been a different situation had we established direct and open contacts with the Taliban,” said Mr. Katju.

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