IAF plane with 168 people from Kabul lands in India

TWO AFGHAN Members of Parliament and their families were among 168 people, including 107 Indians, airlifted from Kabul to the Hindon airbase in Ghaziabad, in an Indian Air Force C-17 military transport aircraft, on Sunday morning.

According to reports, the group had 24 Afghan Sikhs and Hindus, including the two minority MPs, Narinder Singh Khalsa and Anarkali Kaur Honaryar.

168, including two Afghan MPs, arrive from Kabul: ‘Nothing is left. It’s zero...’ Indian and Afghan nationals arriving from Kabul at Hindon Airbase in Uttar Pradesh on Sunday. (Express photo by Praveen Khanna)

“India is our second home. We have been living there since generations. We pray to God that Afghanistan is rebuilt, and we can go back to tend to our gurdwaras and temples and serve the people,” Khalsa told PTI.

“I thank the government of India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Ministry of External Affairs and the Indian Air Force for lifting us from Kabul and saving my life,” Honaryar said in a video message.

“All achievements of the last 20 years in Afghanistan have been lost. Nothing is left. It’s zero now,” said Khalsa. “I feel like crying. Everything is finished. It is a very difficult and painful decision to leave the country. We have not seen such a situation. Everything has been snatched away. It’s all over,” he said.

Bagchi posted details of the evacuation efforts by Air India and IndiGo flights. (Twitter/MEA)

Khalsa said almost all Indians and Afghan Sikhs were taking shelter at gurdwaras in Kabul and elsewhere.

The evacuation efforts began Friday night, when 72 Afghan Sikhs and Hindus were moved from a gurdwara to the airport in Kabul. But they were stopped by the Taliban on Saturday, and sent back to the gurdwara. The group again made its way to the airport on Saturday, and some of them, including the two MPs, were finally allowed to board the IAF plane.

168, including two Afghan MPs, arrive from Kabul: ‘Nothing is left. It’s zero...’ India on Sunday brought back nearly 400 people, including 329 of its nationals, in three different flights as part of its efforts to evacuate its citizens from Kabul. (Express photo by Praveen Khanna)

“They (Taliban) separated us from others while going to the Kabul airport yesterday as we are Afghan nationals… We fled as we have small children with us,” said Khalsa. “At each of the airport gates, 5,000-6,000 people were standing. Initially, we could not go inside,” said Khalsa. “Then around 8 at night, we entered the airport by a VIP entry point,” he said.

Till early Sunday morning, when the flight finally took off from Kabul, they remained uncertain about their fate. “We had been planning the evacuation for weeks. I didn’t pack a lot of luggage and was waiting to get out of Afghanistan… For a moment, we thought they would send us back and the Taliban would pick us up. We waited for hours before the officials granted approval and we were allowed to return home,” said Ravi, 32, one of the Indians on the flight, who was working with a logistics company in Kabul.

“There was shortage of water and I had no groceries left at my place. The Taliban would come near our houses and threaten us. I was scared. We tried contacting as many people as we could with the help of WhatsApp and Facebook,” he said.

“I don’t know what I will do here. I was working there for 10 years. I built a life there…it’s all gone,” said Rajiv Malik, a businessman.

“The Ministry of External Affairs has reached an agreement with the US security forces to allow two flights per day for evacuation of Indian nationals. We hope the remaining Afghan Sikhs and Hindus will be evacuated soon. The only issue remains access to the Kabul airport due to the chaos there,” said Vikramjit Singh Sahney, president, World Punjabi Organisation.

Sources said the next batch of 185 Afghan Sikhs and Hindus is expected to be evacuated on Monday or Tuesday.

India on Sunday brought back nearly 400 people, including 329 of its nationals, in three different flights as part of its efforts to evacuate its citizens from Kabul.

Another group of 87 Indians and two Nepalese nationals were brought back in a special Air India flight from Dushanbe, a day after they were evacuated to the Tajikistan capital in an IAF aircraft, officials said.

Separately, 135 Indians evacuated from Kabul to Doha in the last few days by US and NATO aircraft were flown back to Delhi on a special flight, they said.– With PTI

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