UPDATE ON AUG 18, 02:05 PM IST
Embassy decided to ask Taliban to shepherd Indians when its fighters closed access to the once heavily fortified neighbourhood.Embassy decided to ask Taliban to shepherd Indians when its fighters closed access to the once heavily fortified neighbourhood.
Outside the main iron gate of the Indian embassy in Kabul, a group of Taliban fighters waited, armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.
Inside the compound were 150 Indian diplomats and nationals, growing increasingly nervous as they watched news of the Taliban tightening their grip on the capital, which they took a day earlier without a fight.
Their position was a precarious one.
Pakistan has long been the Taliban’s biggest supporter, using the country for so-called “strategic depth” in never-ending battles – real and diplomatic – with archrival India.
India, in turn, strongly backed the government that took over when the Taliban was removed, earning them hatred and enmity from the hardline group.
But the Taliban fighters outside the Indian embassy were not there to extact revenge but rather to escort them to Kabul airport, where a military aircraft was on standby to evacuate them after New Delhi decided to shut its mission.
As the first of nearly two dozen vehicles drove out of the embassy late on Monday, some of the fighters waved and smiled at the passengers, an AFP news agency correspondent among them.
One guided them towards the street leading out of the city’s green zone and on the main road to the airport.
The embassy’s decision to ask the Taliban to shepherd the Indians out was made when the fighters closed access to the once heavily fortified neighbourhood after capturing Kabul the previous day.
A quarter of the 200 or so people who had gathered at the foreign mission had already been flown out of Afghanistan before the country’s new leaders took full control of the city.
“When we were evacuating the second group … we faced the Taliban, who refused to allow us to exit the green zone,” said an official who left with Monday’s group.