Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Afghanistan crisis: Second evacuation flight from Kabul returns with over 100 on board, India launches emergency visa

An air force rescue plane carrying Indian citizens and officials from Kabul, including the ambassador to Afghanistan and his staff,  landed in Gujarat's Jamnagar on Tuesday, news agencies reported, as the government took a series of steps, including emergency visas for people of all religions, to help its citizens and vulnerable Afghans trapped in the strife-torn country where Taliban insurgents have seized power in the wake of withdrawal of US troops.

Two heavy-duty C-17s of India have flown to Kabul using the Iranian airspace since the Taliban captured the city of five million on Sunday. The first plane landed in India with 46 people on Monday, ANI reported. The second flight returned minutes before Tuesday noon with over 100 people on board.

"In view of the prevailing circumstances, it has been decided that our Ambassador in Kabul and his Indian staff will move to India immediately," external affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi tweeted on Tuesday morning.

Upon his return, ambassador Rudrendra Tandon thanked the Indian Air Force that "flew us out under conditions that are not normal". He said officials were "continuously monitoring the situation" and stressed that Indians still stuck in Afghanistan will be brought back.

 National carrier Air India will continue to run its commercial services "as long as the airport in Kabul functions", he said. Commercial flights have been temporarily put on hold after chaos at the airport on Monday.

"It's not the we've abandoned the people of Afghanistan. Their welfare and our relationship with them are very much in our mind. We'll try and continue our interaction with them. I can't say in what form, as the situation is changing," ANI quoted him as saying.

The news agency posted a video of relieved evacuees chanting "Bharat Mata Ki Jai" after the touchdown.

The evacuation was fraught with challenges after the Taliban takeover. As desperate Afghans tried to flee Kabul, roads were choked at several points on Monday, even as unprecedented scenes unfolded at the airport. Desperate crowds huddled on to the wings of an evacuation plane and two people clinging to the exteriors of a flight fell to their death. Seven people, including at least two shot by US forces, died in the mayhem at the airport and all flight operations came to a halt. Evacuation efforts resumed after the crowd was dispersed.

External affairs minister S Jaishankar said he discussed the developments in Afghanistan with US secretary of state Antony Blinken. Jaishankar said on Twitter he "underlined the urgency of restoring airport operations in Kabul" and appreciated "the American efforts underway in this regard".

17/08/21 First Post

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