India pulls out staff from Kandahar consulate as Taliban widen control

Afghan Border Police personnel keep watch near the Durand line at Spin Boldak, in southern Kandahar province. (File/AFP)
Afghan Border Police personnel keep watch near the Durand line at Spin Boldak, in southern Kandahar province. (File/AFP)
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Updated 11 July 2021

India pulls out staff from Kandahar consulate as Taliban widen control

India pulls out staff from Kandahar consulate as Taliban widen control
  • Move follows spike in violence in southern Afghan city 
  • New Delhi says evacuation a temporary measure, operations to continue through local staff

KABUL: New Delhi has temporarily evacuated staff from its consulate in Afghanistan’s southern city of Kandahar, where the Taliban have unleashed a series of attacks in recent weeks, official Afghan sources and India’s Foreign Ministry said on Sunday.
“We were informed about this and told that as a precautionary move, India had to pull out the staff temporarily,” one of the sources from Kandahar, requesting anonymity as he is not authorized to speak to the media, told Arab News.
Officials from the Interior Ministry in Kabul refused to comment on the evacuation, which comes a week after New Delhi, Turkey, Pakistan and Russia had to either recall staff or halt operations at their consulates in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif due to the Taliban’s rapid territorial gains in the area.
However, Gran Hewad, a spokesman for the Afghan Foreign Ministry, told Arab News that the protection of diplomatic missions was “of high importance” for the government and that an “increase in the Taliban’s unprecedented attacks” had prompted some nations to take precautionary measures for security reasons.
New Delhi said on Sunday it was “closely monitoring the evolving security in Afghanistan.”
“The safety and security of our personnel is paramount. Due to the intense fighting near Kandahar city, India-based personnel have been brought back for the time being,” Arindam Bagchi, chief spokesman at India’s Foreign Ministry, said in a statement.
He added that India’s consulate in Kandahar was being run by local staff temporarily.
While the source in Kandahar had no further details about the evacuation, Indian media reports said that around 50 diplomats and security personnel had been pulled out due to the “deteriorating security situation” in the southern region, which is considered to be the group’s birthplace and its main stronghold.
The Taliban have widened control amid the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan, which began on May 1 and is expected to be completed next month.
In recent weeks, the group has overrun several areas bordering five countries — Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, China and Pakistan – and captured key border crossings through which Afghanistan conducts most of its trade with Iran and Turkmenistan.
The group said on Friday they had taken control of “85 percent of territory in Afghanistan,” a claim dismissed by Afghan government officials as foreign forces, including the US, withdraw from Afghanistan after almost 20 years of fighting.
According to sources privy to the Kandahar evacuation and as cited by the Indian media, a special Indian Air Force aircraft was sent on Saturday to bring back the staff.
India has remained a key regional player in Afghanistan since the Taliban were ousted from power in late 2001 and has invested nearly $3 billion in aid and reconstruction activities in the war-torn country.
New Delhi enjoys close ties with Kabul, while Pakistan has played a crucial role in facilitating the Afghan peace process since last year. Both accuse each other of running a proxy war in Afghanistan.
During the Taliban’s five-year rule, an Indian passenger plane was hijacked by a Pakistani militant outfit and brought to Kandahar. It was released days later after a ransom was paid to the group.
In recent years, the Indian mission and other establishments have come under the Taliban’s attack in Kabul and elsewhere.
The Taliban have repeatedly assured foreigners they will not be harmed, vowing to protect foreign missions and NGOs in its controlled and newly captured areas.
“No harm will come from our side to any foreign diplomatic mission. They can stay freely; it is essential. We pose no threat to them, but if any country decides to leave or shut operations, then it is their decision,” Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, told Arab News.
Experts, however, said other reasons could be at play for India’s decision to evacuate its consulate staff.
“New Delhi’s long skepticism about the Taliban, past attacks against its interests and fear of the presence of Pakistani militants among the Taliban who may harm India have prompted it to evacuate the staff from Kandahar and Mazar-i-Sharif,” Taj Mohammed, a Kabul-based analyst, told Arab News.
“Other countries have improved their ties with the Taliban, but not India. So, it will take time for India to be assured that the Taliban will not cause them any harm, and that shall happen when both sides engage in dialogue,” he added.

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