With Taliban forces having advanced to within a few kilometres of Kandahar, India has evacuated Indian staff and personnel from its consulate in the southern Afghanistan city.
New Delhi is watching the situation in Mazar-e-Sharif in the north of the country, where it has a consulate.
“The security situation is grim in the north as well, so we are closely monitoring the situation there,” a source told The Indian Express. If the situation deteriorates, Mazar-e-Sharif could be the next place from where Indian officials and staffers will be evacuated.
As of Sunday, there were no Indian diplomats or other staffers at the Indian consulates in Kandahar, Herat, and Jalalabad — there were only about 15-20 Afghan staffers at each of these locations.
The Indian embassy in Kabul though, was still functioning with Indian diplomats and Afghan staffers.
About 50 Indian diplomats and staffers were evacuated from Kandahar on Saturday, sources said.
A special aircraft of the Indian Air Force was sent on Saturday to bring back the Indian diplomats, officials, and other staff members including a group of Indo-Tibetan Border Police personnel, the sources said.
The evacuation has been carried out in view of the “intense fighting near Kandahar city”, the government said.
“India is closely monitoring the evolving security situation in Afghanistan. The safety and security of our personnel is paramount,” the Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement.
The official spokesperson of the Ministry, Arindam Bagchi, said on Sunday that the evacuation was a “temporary measure”, and that the Kandahar consulate had not been shut down.
“The Consulate General of India in Kandahar has not been closed. However, due to the intense fighting near Kandahar city, India-based personnel have been brought back for the time being. I want to emphasise that this is a purely temporary measure until the situation stabilises. The Consulate continues to operate through our local staff members,” the spokesperson said.
India has taken the decision to evacuate its nationals in view of the rapid advance of Taliban fighters, who have seized control of a number of key areas in southern and western Afghanistan, triggering grave security concerns.
Last Tuesday, the Indian embassy in Kabul had said there were no plans to shut the embassy or the consulates in Kandahar and Mazar-e-Sharif.
The same day, Afghanistan’s Ambassador to India Farid Mamundzay had briefed Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla on the situation in his country.
Two days ago, the Ministry had said India was carefully monitoring the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan and its implications on the safety and security of Indian nationals.
“Our response will be calibrated accordingly,” Bagchi had said at the media briefing on Thursday.
Sources said the situation around Mazar-e-Sharif, capital of the northern Balkh province, was “quite serious”.
The Indian embassy in Kabul had last week asked all Indians who were visiting, staying, or working in Afghanistan to exercise the utmost caution with regard to their security, and to avoid all non-essential travel.
The security situation was “dangerous”, and terror groups had carried out a series of complex attacks including targeting civilians, the embassy had said in its advisory.
It had added that Indian nationals faced a “serious threat” of kidnapping.
Meanwhile, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi will be headed to Dushanbe, Tajikistan, this week for a meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). They are expected to discuss the situation in Afghanistan.
Jaishankar had travelled to Russia and Iran, where he discussed the situation in Afghanistan with counterparts in those countries.
India has major stakes in ensuring peace and stability in Afghanistan. It has invested nearly $ 3 billion in aid and reconstruction activities in the country. India has been supporting a national peace and reconciliation process which is Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, and Afghan-controlled.