Afghanistan crisis: MEA’s assistance cell steps up efforts to evacuate Indians


New Delhi: A round-the-clock special cell set up by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) following the Taliban takeover of Kabul has been focusing on keeping track of stranded Indians in Afghanistan, ascertaining assistance being sought and advising further course of action.

The ‘Special Afghanistan Cell’ was set up in MEA on the evening of August 16 to coordinate repatriation and other requests from Afghanistan in a streamlined manner.

The cell is being manned 24×7 by young officers of the MEA under the guidance and supervision of senior officers and more than 20 officials have been deployed to it, people familiar with the matter said.

The officers manning the cell answer calls, respond to emails and WhatsApp messages, enquire about the well-being and current status of people contacting them, they said.

It also updates the database of Indians still in Afghanistan, ascertains assistance being sought, and advise further course of action, they said.

The cell was set up prior to the departure of India-based personnel from the Indian embassy in Kabul in order to ensure seamless contact of Indians still remaining in Afghanistan.

It has been working in close coordination with various divisions of the MEA to ensure the smooth flow of most updated information to all concerned, the people cited above said.

The Taliban swept across Afghanistan this month, seizing control of almost all key towns and cities including Kabul in the backdrop of the withdrawal of the US forces.

Kabul fell to the Taliban on Sunday.

By Tuesday, India completed the evacuation of all its diplomats and other staff members from the Afghan capital under a difficult and complicated exercise, effectively closing its mission for the second time since 1996 when the militant group captured power.

The mission to evacuate close to 200 people including the Indian envoy and other staffers in two military aircraft was accomplished with support from the US.

Following the evacuation, the MEA said the focus now would be to ensure the safe return of all Indian nationals from the Afghan capital.

The MEA said the immediate priority for the government is to obtain accurate information about all Indian nationals currently staying in Afghanistan.

It also requested the Indians as well as their employers to urgently share the relevant details with the special Afghanistan cell “Government of India is committed to the safe return of all Indian nationals and will institute flight arrangements once Kabul airport is open for commercial operations,” the MEA said on Tuesday.

“Our immediate priority is to obtain accurate information about all Indian nationals currently in Afghanistan. They and/or their employers are requested to urgently share the relevant details with MEA’s Special Afghanistan Cell,” it said.

Bilateral trade with Afghanistan has been impacted and Indian exporters are concerned about their payments as banking services and remittances may face restrictions due to the ongoing situation in that country, industry body FIEO said on Thursday.

Federation of Indian Export Organisations (FIEO) Director General Ajay Sahai said it is advising exporters to take credit insurance to safeguard their business interests against default.

With the growing uncertainties, trade with Afghanistan has been impacted, he said, adding imports through the land route which passes through Pakistan have been the most affected.

As informed by businesses, Sahai said, while restrictions on the Afghanistan side no longer remain, Pakistan continues to seal the Torkham border, while some movement of personnel was permitted on the Chaman border.

“Exporters are concerned and watching the development. Exporters are concerned with payments also as banking or remittances may face some restrictions,” he added.

The bilateral trade stood at USD 1.4 billion in 2020-21 as against USD 1.52 billion in 2019-20.

Exports from India were USD 826 million and imports aggregated to USD 510 million in 2020-21.

Afghan exports to India include dried raisins, walnuts, almonds, fig, pine nut, pistachios, dried apricot and fresh fruits such as apricot, cherry, watermelon, and medicinal herbs.

India’s outbound shipments to that country include tea, coffee, pepper and cotton.

The Taliban swept across Afghanistan earlier this month, seizing control of almost all key Afghan towns and cities following the withdrawal of the US forces from the country.

Kabul also fell to the Taliban on Sunday after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani left the country.