India evacuates diplomats, security personnel from Kandahar as Taliban captures new areas

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New Delhi, Jul 11 (PTI) India has evacuated around 50 diplomats and security personnel from its consulate in Kandahar in a military aircraft in the wake of intense fighting between Afghan forces and Taliban militants who seized control of new areas around the key city, people familiar with the development said on Sunday.

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said the Indian consulate in Kandahar has not been closed and it continues to operate through the local staff members.

The people cited above said the aircraft brought back the Indian diplomats, officials and other staff members, including a group of Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) personnel, on Saturday evening as the security situation around Kandahar deteriorated with Taliban fighters continuing their offensive.

It is learnt that the aircraft avoided entering the Pakistani airspace. However, there is no official confirmation about it.

MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said India-based personnel have been brought back for the time being in view of the intense fighting near Kandahar city and that New Delhi is closely monitoring the evolving security situation in Afghanistan.

'India is closely monitoring the evolving security situation in Afghanistan. The safety and security of our personnel is paramount. The Consulate General of India in Kandahar has not been closed,' he said.

'However, due to the intense fighting near Kandahar city, India-based personnel have been brought back for the time being. I want to emphasise that this is a purely temporary measure until the situation stabilises. The consulate continues to operate through our local staff members,' the MEA spokesperson added.

He was replying to a media query on the issue.

'Arrangements are being made to ensure continued delivery of visa and consular services through our embassy in Kabul. As an important partner of Afghanistan, India remains committed to a peaceful, sovereign and democratic Afghanistan,' Bagchi said.

The evacuation came four days after the Indian embassy in Kabul said there was no plan to close the embassy and the consulates in Kandahar and Mazar-e-Sharif.

India's move to temporarily bring back its Indian staff came in the midst of growing global concerns over the Taliban fighters rapidly seizing control of a large number of areas in Afghanistan, triggering huge security concerns.

There were reports that a sizeable number of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorists are also operating in the Kandahar and Helmand provinces.

Afghanistan witnessed a series of terror attacks in the last few weeks as the US looked to complete the withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan by August-end, ending a nearly two-decade of its military presence in the war-ravaged country.

There were reports that at least two foreign missions in Mazar-e-Sharif, the capital of northern Balkh province, have closed their operation due to the escalating violence in the region.

Amid growing concerns in India over the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, Afghan Ambassador Farid Mamundzay on Tuesday briefed Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla on the situation in Afghanistan.

The Indian embassy last week asked all Indians visiting, staying and working in Afghanistan to exercise the utmost caution with regard to their security and avoid all types of non-essential travel.

In an advisory, the embassy said the security situation in Afghanistan remains 'dangerous' and that terror groups have carried out a series of complex attacks including targeting civilians, adding Indian nationals additionally face a 'serious threat' of kidnapping.

India has been a major stakeholder in the peace and stability of Afghanistan. It has already invested nearly USD three billion in aid and reconstruction activities in the country.

India has been supporting a national peace and reconciliation process which is Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled.

In March, Afghan Foreign Minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar visited India during which External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar conveyed to him India's long-term commitment towards a peaceful, sovereign and stable Afghanistan. PTI MPB RT RT

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