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Sunday, September 19, 2021

Sealed cartons, night flight home via Iran: India starts vacating

For India, it will not just be an evacuation of its premises, but, for now, also its place in Afghanistan, its influence in Kabul, built over the years.

Written by Shubhajit Roy | Kabul |
Updated: August 16, 2021 7:24:54 pm
Passengers walk out from the domestic terminal at Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul. (AP/File)

As the sun set on Kabul, and the Ashraf Ghani government, security checks in Kabul’s diplomatic area, usually very heavily guarded, simply disappeared. The security ring around the Green Zone had collapsed, like the regime.

At the Indian Embassy, past the doors, stood a 6-feet replica of the Lion Capital of Ashoka. Next to it were a dozen brown cartons, sealed with duct tapes.

The mission was readying for evacuation – some staff and personnel were leaving Sunday night on a special aircraft headed to India via Iranian airspace.

For India, it will not just be an evacuation of its premises, but, for now, also its place in Afghanistan, its influence in Kabul, built over the years.

Brick-by-brick, more than 500 small projects had come up in the last six years alone — schools, hospitals, health centres, student hostels, bridges. And not to forget the showpiece Parliament building, the symbol of Afghan democracy, the Salma dam, the Zaranj-Delaram highway — all built at an estimated cost of USD 3 billion.

While these projects are in Afghanistan, the port in Chabahar in Iran has been developed to access Afghanistan.

No one is quite sure what happens next to these projects or the Parliament building. For Indian diplomats, these are all Afghan projects. “We built them, and we handed them over to them… these are their projects now… what they do with it is up to them,” an official said on being asked about the fate of the projects now that the Taliban have completed the takeover of the country.

People of Afghanistan, the official said, will suffer if these projects are damaged or destroyed.

While the projects represent the physical, Delhi’s loss is its influence in the new environment. After all, the celebrations tonight in Islamabad, rather Rawalpindi, are all about the installation of a proxy regime in Kabul, Pakistan’s bridge to Central Asia, the realisation of its dream of a pan-Islamic turf in the region.

Explained

The new reality

The fall of Kabul completes the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. The last time they seized Kabul, in 1996, only Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and UAE recognised their regime. It remains to be seen how the world accepts this new reality.

In the last few days, anticipating the fall of Kabul given the rapid advance of the Taliban, Indian diplomats met all key players. The ground has shifted. How India responds to the change in the political structure will depend on how the Taliban responds to India.

For Delhi, the redlines had weakened over the months: the last such redline, it said, was “wouldn’t accept power-grab by force”. The Taliban sweep has been a military strike, but then there has hardly been any bloodshed in the takeover given that the Afghan government and its security establishment opted for abject surrender.

Outside the embassy, boys were seen carrying big tissue rolls from embassies vacated by foreign governments. A man got a photograph clicked while locking the gates of one of the embassies, while his friends laughed

A few metres ahead, Presidential Palace guards had shed their uniforms for Pathan suits. One of the officials said: “There is a new boss in the palace.”

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