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150 people, mostly Indians, captured by Taliban; GoI says ‘not in danger’

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Around 150 Indian citizens were picked up by the Taliban from outside the gates of Kabul airport in Afghanistan this morning while they were waiting for an evacuation flight, NDTV reported, quoting a top government source. It however added that these Indian citizens are in “no immediate danger”.

“They (Indian citizens) are currently being questioned at a nearby police station. Back-channel talks are ongoing to secure the release of all Indian citizens,” it said.

Earlier local news outlets in Kabul reported that the Taliban had abducted over 150 people, including Indians. The Taliban rejected that claim, according to a tweet by Sharif Hassan, a Kabul-based reporter for The New York Times, who quoted a spokesperson for the group.

This comes hours after an Indian Air Force transport aircraft managed to evacuate around 85 Indians from Kabul. The plane has landed safely in Tajikistan and a second aircraft is on standby in India for further evacuations.

NDTV also quoted sources as saying that the government is trying to bring as many Indians as possible into the airport at Kabul to keep them safe while it works out the evacuation logistics.

India has evacuated all embassy staff but an estimated 1,000 citizens remain in several cities in the war-torn country, and ascertaining their location and condition is proving to be a challenge, a Home Ministry official had said, since not all of them registered themselves with the embassy.

Among those are around 200 Sikhs and Hindus who have taken refuge at a gurudwara in Kabul. Late Wednesday a spokesperson for the Taliban released a video of the gurudwara head saying he had been assured of safety.

Separately the political office of the Taliban had also sent messages to Delhi urging against the evacuation of diplomats and embassy staff, saying India had nothing to fear for their safety.

However, days before those ‘outreach’ messages, Taliban forces had reportedly entered at least two of India’s consulates, “ransacked” offices and took away documents and parked vehicles. A senior official told NDTV “we expected this…”

Foreign Minister S Jaishankar this week said the government is “very carefully” monitoring the situation in Kabul and Afghanistan, but that the immediate focus is on safely evacuating all citizens. Asked how India views and deals with the Taliban leadership, he said it is still “early days”, not offering direct comment on whether or not India was in touch with the Taliban.

The Taliban took effective control of Afghanistan on Sunday, after President Ashraf Ghani fled and the group walked into capital Kabul with no opposition. This was after a staggeringly fast rout of major cities – with relatively little bloodshed – following two decades of war that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.

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