Did India foresee the crisis currently unfolding in Afghanistan? Probably yes as the sources involved in India’s evacuation efforts say a contingency plan for this eventuality had been hashed out almost six months before the Taliban stormed the Afghan capital and formally declared their rule over the country.
With the peace talks in Doha going sideways and the Taliban not holding up to its end of the bargain, the Indian authorities anticipated that there would come a time when New Delhi will have to decide whether to stay put or extricate itself from Afghanistan.
“Our overriding concern was the security of our officials on the ground. So we prioritised it in our plan to exfiltrate them from Afghanistan should the Taliban gets hold of the country,” TOI quoted a senior official as saying, who wished to remain anonymous because of being unauthorised to speak on the issue.
The official further added that while drawing out a plan to withdraw or reduce the number of its officials in Afghanistan, it was acutely aware of the message it would send to the Afghans.
India has fostered a unique relationship with Afghans over two decades and has a very different standing in the eyes of Afghans. At the UNSC, The External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar spoke about the dynamic that the two countries share with each other. India is involved in infrastructure development projects in all 34 provinces of Afghanistan. Therefore, its pullout had to be different from the ones planned by the western countries.
Indians were plagued by primarily two concerns. Firstly, it didn’t share a contiguous border with Afghanistan, which meant that the evacuation had to be carried out at a broader level with an all-embracing approach. Secondly, India had no security footprint in Afghanistan.
“India did not want to be the first ones to flee the country,” said sources, who added that it wanted to be last to leave—which would take place only if push came to shove and remaining in the country became untenable and fraught with danger.
A close group of officials monitored by NSA Ajit Doval and foreign minister S Jaishankar conducted a continuous and detailed assessment of security for the past 3 months.
As Talibani started its offensive, gaining control of one city after another, the Indians activated its plan to rescue Indians. The Taliban first seized the northern provinces but India stepped up its activities after the key provinces in the south started falling to the Taliban.
When the Taliban took control of districts around Kandahar, the Indian authorities took the decision of closing the Indian consulate in Kandahar and remove the Indian officials.
Likewise, when Sheberghan fell to the Taliban, the Indian officials proceeded to clear out from Mazar-e-Sharif. However, according to the sources, even then, Indians were among the last to leave. For example, the Russians left in January. Turkey also pulled out in January. In the end, among those left were India, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Pakistan in Mazar-e-Sharif.
The security assessment changed dramatically after the Taliban walked into Kabul without facing any resistance. The security forces had vanished from the scene, allowing the Taliban to take control of the capital without even firing a bullet. This was the time when India decided to evacuate the Indians.
India flew in an Air India aircraft and brought the first lot of people back to India as the Taliban was taking control of the city. The second Air India flight did not land at the airport as pictures of aeroplanes being swarmed by panic-stricken Afghans started doing the rounds on the internet. India did not want its aircraft to face such a predicament. So, over the next couple of days, the Indian authorities undertook a complex manoeuvre to rescue the stranded officials.
As the situation in Kabul evolved over the course of time, India remains steadfast in its commitment to get all other Indians repatriated back to the country in the coming few days.