ISLAMABAD: Two Indian planes landed in Afghanistan’s Kandahar on Saturday to airlift its team of a diplomatic mission serving there apparently, only to emerge later that it dropped ammunition in the guise of it to be used against Afghan Taliban.
The entire episode exposed the double game of the Indian authorities, who on the one hand are trying to engage the Taliban team in Doha in talks, while on the other hand, providing the Afghan forces with ammunition to be used against them in the guise of airlifting its diplomatic mission in Kandahar.
Two C-130 planes of India landed in Afghanistan on 10 and 11 July to airlift their team of diplomats in Kandahar. The planes on July 10 dropped 40 tonnes of ammunition of 122-mm cannon and delivered the same consignment the next day, local media reported.
It is pertinent to mention here that earlier in the day, a report emerged that India has evacuated around 50 diplomats and other staff members of the Kandahar consulate in Afghanistan in view of the intense fighting near Kandahar city. The personnel at the consulate were flown to Delhi by an Air Force plane.
India confirmed on Sunday it had brought back officials from its consulate in Kandahar.
"Due to the intense fighting near Kandahar city, India-based personnel have been brought back for the time being," Arindam Bagchi, chief spokesperson at India’s foreign ministry, said in a statement. However, Taliban claimed capturing the Indian consulate in Kandahar and also released a video in which it can be seen that the Taliban fighters have ransacked the consulate building and fully occupied it.
Australia’s defence minister also confirmed the end of his country’s involvement in the 20-year Afghanistan war, saying the troop withdrawal had taken place "in recent weeks".
Taliban officials said on Friday the insurgent group had taken control of 85% of Afghanistan's territory, as the United States and others withdraw the bulk of their troops after 20 years of fighting. Afghan government officials dismissed the assertion as a propaganda campaign.
Meanwhile, Afghan security forces, with the help of air strikes, repelled an assault by the Taliban fighters on the provincial centre of a key northern province bordering Tajikistan on Sunday, officials said. "The enemy’s offensive attacks were repelled, and they suffered heavy and unprecedented casualties, as a result of which 55 enemy soldiers were killed and 90 were wounded," the governor of Takhar province Abdullah Qarluq said.
His claims could not be verified independently.
More than a dozen Taliban fighters were killed in air strikes by the Afghan Air Force on hideouts on the outskirts of Takhar’s provincial centre, Taluqan, Afghanistan's defence ministry said on Twitter.
"The Taliban attacked Taluqan from four directions last night (Saturday), but were faced with strong resistance from security forces and (local) people," Khalil Asir, spokesman for Takhar Police Command, said.
Taluqan is just the latest provincial capital to come under Taliban pressure. Earlier this week, Taliban fighters entered the capital of the western province of Badghis, seizing police and security facilities and attempting to take over the governor's office before special forces pushed them back.
In southern Afghanistan, too, clashes continued.
Afghan authorities also prepared to try to retake a key border crossing seized by the Taliban.
Afghan authorities also said Sunday they have installed an anti-missile system at Kabul airport to counter incoming rockets.
"The newly installed air defence system has been operational in Kabul since 2:00 am Sunday," the interior ministry said in a statement. "The system has proven useful in the world in repelling rocket and missile attacks."
Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian said it had been installed at the airport, while security forces spokesman Ajmal Omar Shinwari said the system was given by "our foreign friends".
"It has very complicated technology. For now our foreign friends are operating it while we are trying to build the capacity to use it," Shinwari said, adding that in the past week 1,177 Taliban fighters were killed in fighting with government forces.
The Taliban have regularly launched rockets and mortars at government forces across the countryside, with the Islamic State (IS) carrying out similar strikes on the capital in 2020. IS also claimed responsibility for a rocket attack this year at Bagram Air Base, the biggest US military facility in the country, which was recently handed over to Afghan forces.
Kabul, meanwhile, urged European countries to halt "forced" deportation of Afghan migrants for the next three months given the wave of violence, and the United Nations said the escalating conflict was causing "more suffering" to the people.
Meanwhile, top US peace broker Zalmay Khalilzad begun his shuttle diplomacy tour of Qatar, Uzbekistan and Pakistan amid ensuing violence across Afghanistan.
In a series of tweets, the Afghanistan-born seasoned US diplomat said he was returning to Doha and the region to continue "determined diplomacy" in pursuit of a peace agreement between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban.
"We will work vigorously with all Afghan parties and regional and international stakeholders to try and help the sides find a path to ending this war, one that ensures Afghanistan's security, unity, sovereignty, territorial integrity, and ends the agony of the Afghan people," Khalilzad added.
The US special representative for Afghanistan, who brokered a key deal with the Taliban paving way for the troops' withdrawal, went on to say: "America’s military engagement in Afghanistan is coming to an end. Our commitment to Afghanistan is not."