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Flights off, repatriation paused, Govt promises all help to Indians in Afghanistan

“The Government will take all steps to ensure the safety and security of Indian nationals and our interests in Afghanistan,” MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said in a statement.

Written by Krishn Kaushik , Pranav Mukul | New Delhi |
Updated: August 17, 2021 7:53:04 am
Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi. (Video screengrab)

A DAY after the Taliban completed its rapid takeover of Afghanistan by storming into Kabul, the Ministry of External Affairs said Monday that it was monitoring the situation “on a constant basis at high levels” and is “in constant touch with the representatives of Afghan Sikh and Hindu communities”.

“The Government will take all steps to ensure the safety and security of Indian nationals and our interests in Afghanistan,” MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said in a statement.

“We are aware that there are still some Indian nationals in Afghanistan who wish to return, and we are in touch with them… We will facilitate repatriation to India of those who wish to leave Afghanistan,” he said.

However, the spokesperson said “commercial operations from Kabul airport have been suspended today”, which “has forced a pause in our repatriation efforts”. “We are awaiting the resumption of flights to restart the process,” he said.

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Bagchi said that the “security situation in Kabul has deteriorated significantly in the last few days. It is changing rapidly even as we speak”.

Taliban fighters stand guard at the main gate leading to the Afghan presidential palace, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021. (AP)

“We have been issuing periodic advisories for the safety and security of Indian nationals in that country, including calling for their immediate return to India… We had circulated emergency contact numbers and had also been extending assistance to community members,” he said.

“There are also a number of Afghans who have been our partners in the promotion of our mutual developmental, educational and people to people endeavours. We will stand by them,” the spokesperson said.

On Monday, Air India’s daily flight to Kabul was cancelled after Afghanistan’s civil aviation authority handed over the country’s airspace to the military and effectively declared it “uncontrolled”.

The flight was declared cancelled a little over a half hour before its scheduled departure from New Delhi at 12.30 pm IST. Air India had brought 129 passengers to Delhi from Kabul on Sunday evening.

“Airspace over Afghanistan is declared closed, so no aircraft can operate there. Our scheduled flight to Kabul also cannot go,” a source in Air India told The Indian Express.

The Afghan civil aviation authority issued a notice to airmen (NOTAM) on Monday, saying airspace over Kabul had been released to the military, and that surrounding airspaces had been informed. It advised all transiting aircraft to reroute.

Consequently, several flights from the United States and Europe to India and Southeast Asia had to take a last-minute detour. Air India’s Chicago-Delhi and San Francisco-Delhi flights were rerouted to avoid Afghan airspace, and both aircraft made unscheduled refuelling stops in Sharjah in the UAE before continuing to Delhi.

“We have stopped using Afghanistan airspace and are taking an alternate route for our flights to and from London. We are closely working with the relevant authorities to monitor and assess the situation and take necessary steps to ensure the safety of our passengers, staff and aircraft,” a spokesperson for Vistara said.

Several foreign carriers including British Airways, United Airlines and Virgin Atlantic, all of which fly to India, said they were not using Afghanistan’s airspace. United said this would impact schedules of its India flights.

An airline official said the closure of Afghan airspace would add at least 40 minutes to the duration of flights between India and Europe or the US.

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