By PTI

NEW DELHI: Former Indian diplomats on Monday termed the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan as a “setback” for India strategically, and asserted that the priority for New Delhi right now should be to evacuate its citizens from the war-torn nation.

Taliban insurgents swept Kabul after the US-backed Afghan government collapsed and President Ashraf Ghani fled the country on Sunday, bringing an unprecedented end to efforts made by the US and its allies to transform the war-ravaged nation in the last two decades.

Concerned over the developments in India’s neighbourhood, several former diplomats underlined the need to evacuate citizens to ensure their safety.

Anil Wadhwa, who served as Secretary (East) in the Ministry of External Affairs before retiring in 2017, said the Taliban seizing control of Kabul was a “setback” for India in strategic terms.

Advocating a “wait and watch” approach for India towards Afghanistan, he told PTI that “from the initial signs it seems the Pakistani ISI is controlling the Taliban right now through the Haqqani faction.

Wadhwa said India’s future course of action will depend on how Taliban will behave in the future and whether it will use Afghanistan as a springboard to carry out terrorist attacks.

“But if that is not happening and they are confined to governance and other issues in Afghanistan, we will also have to open our channels of communication at some point in time,” Wadhwa said.

However, the priority right now must be to ensure that everybody who is an Indian citizen is safe and is taken out of that country, he said.

Rakesh Sood, a former Ambassador of India to Afghanistan, also echoed similar views, saying the priority of the Indian government right now should be the safety and security of Indian citizens in the face of the “very fluid situation” in Afghanistan.

India has been hesitant in establishing any direct engagements with the Taliban unlike some of the other countries like Iran, China or Russia who in recent weeks have hosted senior Taliban delegations, he noted.

“There is a very fluid kind of a situation in Afghanistan for the moment. I think the government has to ensure the security of its citizens, not just the embassy people but also other citizens. Perhaps even evacuate them and close down the embassy temporarily, if so required, till the situation stabilizes because right now there is a complete political vacuum there,” Sood told PTI.

With the Taliban taking control of the Afghan capital, he said it is a “setback” for India because there is going to be instability in the region.

Noting that the Pakistanis have been at lengths to present the Taliban as Taliban 2.0 or something like that, Sood said, however, there is no indication on the ground to show that the Taliban have evolved in any fashion or moderated their stance compared to what it was in the 1990s.

Their statements remain ambiguous, they are declaring themselves as representatives of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan so in a sense they are the same, Sood said, .

“Whether it is an expansion of Pakistan’s influence or growing instability and civil war in Afghanistan, it leads to uncertainty in our neighbourhood and creates an adverse security environment,” he said.

T C A Raghvan, who was India’s High Commissioner to Pakistan from June 2013- December 2015, also asserted that the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan was a setback for India.

“It is a setback, we should not try to sugarcoat it, principally because the government and the system which had existed for the past 20 years (in Afghanistan) was very close to us. The Taliban because of its history and how it has staged a revival is very close to Pakistan,” Raghvan told PTI.

“I don’t think this necessarily means that in the long term also the same kind of position will continue but at the moment it is a setback,” he said.

When asked about the Taliban taking over Afghanistan, G Parthasarathy, who has been India’s envoy in several countries including Pakistan, said,”the fact is that it has happened and a series of American policies have led to this”.

The priority should be the evacuation of Indian people, he said and asserted that till a government comes in Afghanistan “you never know what is going to happen”.

As news of Taliban sweeping across Kabul and Ghani leaving the country came in, former Indian diplomat Nirupama Rao tweeted,”witnessing the fall of Kabul you recall Martin Ewans saying in 2001/02 that the uncompromising Taliban would live long and ‘take’ the country back. Today that’s happened.”

“All policy prescriptions to ‘build’ a stable Afghan nation failed this Sunday,” she said.

Afghanistan’s security forces collapsed or fled in the face of a Taliban offensive that tore through the country, ahead of the planned withdrawal of the last American troops at the end of the month.

Reacting to the fast-paced developments, the external affairs ministry said the security situation in Kabul has deteriorated significantly in the last few days and is changing rapidly.

“The situation in Afghanistan is being monitored on a constant basis at high levels. The Government will take all steps to ensure the safety and security of Indian nationals and our interests in Afghanistan,” the ministry said.