External Affairs Minister Jaishankar briefs political leaders on Afghanistan situation
Minister for external affairs S Jaishankar on Thursday described the situation in Afghanistan after the Taiban takeover there as critical, that India, like the rest of the world, was following a “wait and watch” policy. Mr Jaishankar said this at an all party all party meeting on the situation in Afghanistan held at Parliament House that the priority of the government of India at this point was the evacuation of Indian nationals and Afghan partners from the war torn country. “It is an evolving situation and I request everybdy to be patient so that once the situation normalises we can tell you what India’s stand is,” he said addressing reporters after the meeting.
The meeting went on for three and a half hours, and was attended by 37 leaders from 31 political parties including Congress leaders Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, Mallikarjun Kharge and Anand Sharma, Nationalist Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar, Trinamool Congressleaders Saugata Roy and Sukhendu Shekhar Roy, former prime minister Deve Gowda, DMK MPs Tiruchi Siva and T R Baalu, Telangana Rashtra Samithii’s Nama Nageshwara Rao, Telegu Desam Party’s Jaydev Gall, CPI MP Binoy Vishwam among othere. Foreign secretary Harsh Shringla and India’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Rudrendra Tandon was also present at the briefing as was Leader of the House in the Rajya Sabha, Piyush Goyal.
Mr Jaishankar briefed MPs on the evacuation of Indian embassy staff and closing down of India’s consulates in various cities and added that a team has been deployed at Kabul airport, after the closure of the embassy to facilitate evacuation. Sharing figures of those evacuated by India with MPs, Mr Jaishankar said that the goverment had evacuated 175 embassy personnel, 263 other Indian nationals, 112 Afghan nationals and 15 third country nationals with the total figure at 565 in six evacuation flights till now.
His presentation to MPs clarified the tough conditions under which the evacuations were taking place including a lack of a central command and control, the takeover of Kabul by the Taliban earlier than expected and the bringing forward of the date of U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. The presentation also went into details of the various talks held on the Afghanistan issues and what went on parallel in terms of development on the ground.
Opposition MPs present at the meeting said that government interlocutors also conveyed that the Kabul airport could also be attacked by suspected Islamic State terrorists, a fear even the Taliban had.
Speaking after the briefing Mr Jaishankar said, “on this (Afghanistan) matter all political parties have similar views, we approached the issue with a spirit of national unity.”
Opposition leaders while appreciating the briefing had tough questions for Mr Jaishankar over the deportation of a woman member of Parliament from Afghanistan a few weeks ago.
Mr Jaishankar expressed regret at the incident calling it a decision taken by “overcautious” immigration officials at the Delhi Airport. According to the sources, this issue was raised by leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge. In reply, Mr Jaishankar while expressing regret said that it is an isolated incident and that India has rescued many other Afghan Parliamentarians. He said, because of security reasons, details can not be shared about all the persons who have been rescued so far.
Fielding many questions from the opposition on what India’s future engagement with the Taliban in Afghanistan, Mr Jaishankar said, that India, like rest of the world, is following “wait and watch” policy.
Mr Kharge, is also said to have raised a series of questions on the government’s contingency plan to evacuate Indians if they are stranded beyond August 31st deadline and the exact number of Indians yet to be evacuated. Sources claimed that the government did not share the exact number to yet be evacuated. The Congress delegation also asked about the government’s counter terrorism measures, especially iin Jammu and Kashmir, in the wake of the rise of the Taliban.
Questions were also raised about the absence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi from the meeting, adding that it was a courtesy that his predecessor, Atal Behari Vajpayee always extended to the opposition.
Former prime minister, H D Deve Gowda said that a similar period of uncertainty in Afghanistan had prevailed during his premiereship, and that the current government needed to foreground the issue of internal security.
RSP NK Premchandran, CPI (M) P R Natarajan and CPI’s Binoy Viswam cornered Mr Jaishankar, on what they called the “grand isolation” of India. Mr Natarajan, as per sources, said, that American President Joe Biden in his campaign speeches had announced that America will be withdrawing its forces from Afghanistan. Despite prior warning, why was India not prepared. He also questioned whether America kept India in loop when they decided to prepone to withdrawal of the American forces. The Left and TMC who was represented by Saugata Roy, also questioned the government on safeguarding the Indian investments in Afghanistan. “There are 500 projects including the Afghanistan Parliament, in which India has made some serious investments. We asked on what was the government’s plan to secure this investment. But Mr Jaishankar did not give us a credible reply,” one of the opposition members said.
Mr Kharge, according to the sources, also said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi should have been present at such a meeting. This is a courtesy that his predecessor, Atal Behari Vajpayee always extended to the opposition.