Embassy intact, India speeds up work in Kabul

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The technical team that reopened the mission in June found ammunition and all equipment intact

The technical team that reopened the mission in June found ammunition and all equipment intact

The recently reopened Indian Embassy in Kabul is set to increase its operations in Afghanistan, with the “technical team” posted there in June focusing on business and trade opportunities and the distribution of food and medical aid.

This month, Afghan Airlines Ariana will follow Kam Air, which has been operating weekly flights every Thursday between Kabul and Delhi since July, and will also begin a weekly service, officials confirmed, saying they expect the that more goods are transported via air freight. itinerary.

However, the embassy, ​​which currently has 60-70 staff, has not yet opened visa facilitation services, and only a “limited number” of visas have been issued to Afghan citizens through the visa route. email, disappointing hundreds of students and patients in need of treatment in India.

Sources said The Hindu that more than 60 people were now stationed at the embassy and the residential compound. The group comprises five to seven officials, including a director-level IFS officer acting as deputy head of mission, as well as a head of chancery and a large contingent of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP).

The force constitutes about a third of the total capacity of the embassy compound. A senior government official said the staff could be increased in the near future.

A senior government official also said that contrary to expectations, the team that moved into the embassy on June 23 this year, 10 months after its hasty evacuation, were surprised to find all the equipment, including ammunition. , bulletproof vests and monitoring devices, intact. .

“They were in the same condition as a year ago,” the official said, but added that all the locks on the storage rooms and containers had been broken, indicating that the Taliban forces guarding the embassy in India’s absence had checked the items left behind. the.

Another official credited the local caretakers for maintaining the premises. “Although the embassy was evacuated by all Indian personnel, the local Afghans deployed there ensured that no damage was caused to the premises or inventory,” the official said. More than 1.5 tons of equipment including baggage scanners and hand-held metal detectors had to be abandoned. Some of these items had been sent to safekeeping from India’s other consulates in Herat, Jalalabad and Kandahar, all of which were closed in 2020-21.

The team also found dozens of passports belonging to Afghan citizens who applied for visas at the time but were unable to access them after the embassy closed.

A few weeks after the reopening, the Embassy team handed over approximately 120 passports to the Indian Embassy’s Passport and Visa Officer, Shahir Travels, for return to their owners.

Talk to The HinduKarim Dastagir, owner of Shahir Travels, said he still hopes the embassy will reopen the visa issuance system as currently all applications are processed from New Delhi with clearances from the ministry. of External Affairs and the Home Office, and the intelligence agencies R&AW and the IB being consulted in each case.

In a response to parliament, the government said it had only issued around 200 emergency electronic visas to Afghan citizens.

“The hardest hit are Afghan students, including thousands of ICCR (Indian Council for Cultural Relations) scholarship holders, and patients like cancer survivors who need regular chemotherapy and radiation therapy.” , said Mr. Dastagir. “It would be better if they issued visas in Kabul to verify applicants on the ground, rather than by email,” he added.

While the Taliban regime, including acting interior minister Sirajuddin Haqqani, provided security for the embassy, ​​officials said the threat to the mission, which has been attacked in the past, remains. a major concern.

“The assassination of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in the upscale central Kabul district, not far from the Indian mission, highlights the serious and continuing threat to security,” said Kabir Taneja, member of the ORF.

An official said that apart from al-Qaeda and IS-Khorasan, infighting within the Taliban and the ISI presence also posed a threat to the Indian mission. The attack on the gurudwara in Kabul on June 18 had forced a security review just as the technical team was leaving for Kabul, and the reopening of the embassy had to be postponed for a few days, the official added.

For now, officials said, the embassy was concentrating on distributing food and medicine through various agencies and ensuring the upkeep of Indian projects that had been handed over to Afghan authorities, including the power plants and water supply projects.

In the next phase, Indian infrastructure companies hope to return to unfinished infrastructure projects, while India is exploring the possibility of reopening the Chabahar road as well as the Consulate in Herat to send further shipments to India. Afghanistan, including wheat.

India has so far transferred 40,000 tonnes of a promised shipment of 50,000 tonnes of wheat to the World Food Program via trucks via Pakistan, and is awaiting an extension of route permits to send the rest.

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