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Delhi dispatches mission to Kabul; likely to start flights

Delhi dispatches mission to Kabul; likely to start flights

Author: Nilofar Suhrawardy, Special to Arab News
Publication: Arab News
Date: November 22, 2001
URL: http://www.arabnews.com/Article.asp?ID=10714

New Delhi, 22 November - India staged a comeback in Afghanistan yesterday by sending its first diplomatic mission there since the closure of its embassy in Kabul in 1996.

"I am happy to inform ...that a diplomatic mission to Afghanistan landed at Bagram airfield, near Kabul, at 0955 hours this morning," External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh told the upper house of parliament.

The mission comprises the Indian Special Envoy for Afghanistan, Satinder Lambah, senior diplomats, interpreters and "other essential staff," he said.

"It also has a medical and nursing component which will stay on in Kabul along with the liaison officer of the Ministry of External Affairs of India," Jaswant added. An Indian Army spokesperson said the doctors and nurses were from the Army Medical Corps. and the Military Nursing Service respectively. He did not specify the number of medical staff sent to Afghanistan.

Besides reopening the embassy in Kabul, diplomats yesterday spoke of the possibility of a resumption of civilian flights between Delhi and Kabul in the coming weeks. If resumed, the flights would be operated by Indian Airlines.

However, an Indian Airlines source said "there is no way" flights can resume "until a government is established in Afghanistan which is officially recognized by the Indian government." The Indian Embassy in Kabul was closed on Sept. 26, 1996, after the Taleban seized the Afghan capital.

India, like Russia and Iran, supported the Northern Alliance in its fight against the Taleban.

In recent days India had indicated that it was considering "various options" vis-a-vis Afghanistan, including the reopening of its embassy in Kabul.

External Affairs Ministry spokeswoman Nirupama Rao said the objective of the mission was "to express solidarity with the Afghan people" and re-establish historic ties by ascertaining what needs to be done there.

She said the mission's medical personnel will seek to revive the Indira Gandhi Hospital in Afghanistan, which was set up by India but has been closed since the Taleban came to power.

Special envoy Lambah was expected to return to India late yesterday after meeting representatives of the Northern Alliance as well as other Afghan leaders who were trying to restore peace and normalcy in Afghanistan, Rao added.

An Indian official said there had always been strong links between India and Afghanistan, and that New Delhi was hoping to reopen its embassy there as soon as conditions on the ground would allow.

India has pledged more than $100 million for the reconstruction of Afghanistan. While Northern Alliance forces were battling the Taleban, Delhi had established a "goodwill" field hospital on the Tajik-Afghan border.

Since the fall of Kabul on Nov. 13, India has intensified efforts to play a significant role in post-Taleban Afghanistan. Last week, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee said the installation of a UN-supervised government in Kabul was the most concrete solution in Afghanistan.

India is the third country after Russia and Iran to send diplomats to Kabul. The United Nations is organizing an inter-Afghan conference next week in Germany with the objective of convening a Loya Jirga (Grand Assembly) to establish an interim government in Kabul.
 


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