Operation 'Devi Shakti' Reinforced The Message That Come What May, India's Government Will Be There For Its People, Anywhere In The World
As it became clearer that Kabul had fallen to the Taliban, BJP MP from Darjeeling, Raju Bista, began getting calls from anxious constituents, requesting help for evacuation of their loved ones.
Here, Bista describes what followed.
The Taliban took over Kabul on 15 August, a mere 10 days after the withdrawal of US forces, emphatically establishing that they were back in control of Afghanistan after a hiatus of two decades. Almost no one had any inkling that the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces would cave in so quickly.
Afghanistan – The gradual Shift
Afghanistan, with nearly 3,00,000 trained soldiers, including 60,000 trained by the US Army, were expected to hold back the Taliban for months. But instead, the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces capitulated within weeks. Hardly anyone was prepared for the rapid takeover of Kabul by the Taliban.
However, the Indian government was better prepared than most other countries, having withstood eight attacks on its embassy/consulate in Kabul and consulates in Jalalabad, Herat, and Mazar-I-Sharif between 2006-18.
In the preceding three months, the Ministry of External Affairs had gradually reduced the number of personnel present in our missions across Afghanistan to 200. This way, the government could provide adequate support and help to those in need while they were also ready for a quick evacuation if necessary.
Keeping in view the rapidly deteriorating situation, the MEA had also sent out advisories to Indian citizens as early as June. Between 29 June and 12 August, the MEA had issued four security advisories, urging Indian nationals to leave Afghanistan. A majority of the Indian citizens followed the MEA advisories and left the country. However, some had stayed back.
Challenges before the Government
The challenge before the Government of India was to evacuate Indian nationals caught up in Afghanistan, who were desirous of returning.
After the Taliban took over, the civilian side of Hamid Karzai airport in Kabul had come under attack and was immediately shut down. The military side of the airport was under the control of US forces. Our MEA coordinated with the US officials and ensured that Indians were allowed access to this part of the airport. As firefights erupted across various parts of Kabul, embassy staff were evacuated in two batches. It was necessary to evacuate embassy officials, as the threat of our embassy being made one of the primary targets by Pakistan-backed terrorists was high.
It was estimated that around 1500-1700 Indian citizens were still stuck in Afghanistan. To evacuate them, the government commenced Operation Devi Shakti.
The Ex-servicemen of Darjeeling Hills, Terai, and Dooars
As soon as the news of the Taliban taking over Kabul spread, I started getting calls from concerned constituents requesting for repatriation of their family members from Afghanistan. With each passing hour, details of people from Darjeeling hills, Terai, and Dooars awaiting rescue kept on growing. By the end of the day, I had a list of around 200 individuals from our region who needed rescuing. The majority of these individuals were ex-army men who were working in various embassies in Kabul. I immediately reached out to the Ministry of External Affairs and other concerned government departments.
Operation Devi Shakti
While the embassy staff was repatriated, a small crack team, trained to work during a crisis, stayed behind on the military side of the Kabul Airport and played a crucial role in ‘Operation Devi Shakti’. The operation to evacuate Indian citizens and foreign nationals from war-torn Afghanistan was named 'Operation Devi Shakti'.
“Operation Devi Shakti” is not the first operation of its kind conducted by India. Earlier such evacuation operations by India, under the NDA government, include: -
Operation Raahat: Launched to evacuate Indian citizens and foreign nationals of 41 countries from Yemen during the 2015 Yemen Crisis.
Operation Maitri: A rescue and relief operation carried out in Nepal in the aftermath of the 2015 Nepal earthquake.
Along with Operation Devi Shakti, our government had simultaneously reached out to other governments that were involved in rescuing their citizens, to ensure that any of our citizens who had arrived at the airport could be evacuated from Kabul, without any delay. A safe and prompt evacuation was a priority.
All those who could enter the airport were safe and ready for evacuation. However, the main challenge was to bring those stranded in various parts of Kabul to the airport. The Taliban had set up checkpoints in various parts of Kabul, and evacuees coming from different quarters of the city were getting assaulted and beaten when travelling to the airport.
It is difficult to state the immense difficulties faced by the Indian government in securing the safety of our citizens. Had the government not acted with promptitude, coupled with unflinching leadership at the highest level, things could have taken an ugly turn on the ground.
Operation Devi Shakti enabled the successful evacuation of large number of people from Kabul, including citizens of Nepal and even Afghanistan.
This evacuation under trying conditions and an unpredictable Taliban was made possible by the visionary leadership of our Hon’ble Prime Minister Narendra Modi ji, guided by our core philosophy of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam – the world is one family". By its handling of the situation in Afghanistan, India has reinforced its standing as a nation capable of taking care of its own and others, even outside its borders.
Everyone from our region was brought back to safety, and for this, I thank the Hon’ble Prime Minister Narendra Modi ji, Hon’ble External Affairs Minister Dr. S Jaishankar ji, the Indian Air Force, and all the officials involved with the rescue.
As in the past, our government has displayed its firm resolve that it would protect Indian citizens in danger anywhere. It is this fact that today energises our nation, especially our youth who are working across the world confident in the knowledge that, ‘come what may, our government will always be there for us’.
*Raju Bista is the Member of Parliament, Darjeeling, and BJP National Spokesperson.
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