NEW DELHI: The Indian government on Thursday held a meeting with all political parties, including the opposition, over what it said was a “critical” situation in Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover.
The militant group earlier this month seized most of the country and on Aug. 15 entered Kabul as the Afghan government collapsed and began promoting foreign missions to evacuate its staff and nationals.
New Delhi has since operated six flights and evacuated about 800 Indian nationals and some Afghan Sikhs and Hindus from the country.
“The situation in Afghanistan is critical and our immediate concern and task is evacuation,” Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar said during the meeting with government ministers and leaders of 31 opposition parties.
He did not give details, but said that “a few Indian nationals” still remain in Afghanistan.
Later, he took to Twitter to say that New Delhi’s long-term interest is “friendship with the people of Afghanistan.”
He added: “Our strong friendship with the people of Afghanistan is reflected in the more than 500 projects we have there.”
In the past 20 years, India has spent about $3 billion on development projects in different parts of the neighboring landlocked country.
As other powers look to cement their grip on the region, the government has faced criticism for allowing India to be sidelined in Afghanistan while other players such as Pakistan, Russia and China sweep in.
During Thursday’s meeting, the government denied the accusations, an opposition leader who was present in the conference told reporters.
“In the meeting on Afghanistan, the government denied reports it has been isolated and told us efforts are being intensified to rescue the trapped Indian nationals,” said Prasanna Acharya, leader of Biju Janata Dal, a regional political party in the Indian state of Odisha.
Foreign policy experts, however, have warned that India has paid the price for its dependence on the US, whose troops are completing their withdrawal from the war-torn country.
“The Indian government crafted its Afghan policy around the US presence in Afghanistan. All its investments were driven on this assumption that the US presence will protect it,” said Sanjay Kapoor, editor of Delhi-based magazine Hardnews.
He welcomed the government’s move to reach out to the opposition, saying that it would help formulate a “more nuanced position” on Afghanistan.
“It came as a surprise that the government is speaking to the opposition,” he said, “but it’s a welcome move.”