More than nine months after Afghanistan fell to the hands of the Taliban, the health and education infrastructure is crumbling but the security situation has shown some improvement, initial assessment of the first Indian team to Kabul has revealed, The Indian Express has learnt.
This crucial assessment has been shared with the top Indian leadership after the first official Indian visit to Kabul since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021 took place.
A team led by a senior official from the Ministry of External Affairs met Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Mottaqi and Taliban’s deputy foreign minister Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai this week on June 2 and 3.
J P Singh, Joint Secretary in-charge of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran (PAI) in the MEA, led the Indian team. In the past, he has met Taliban officials in Doha, Qatar. India closed its mission in Kabul soon after the Taliban entered the city last August.
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The team stayed in Kabul for two days — including a night stay in an accommodation under tight security guaranteed by the Taliban.
The Indian team also visited the Indian embassy premises in Kabul, and found that the premises were “safe and secure”.
The choice of a young woman diplomat Deepti Jharwal, a 2011 batch Indian Foreign Service Officer, was a signal from New Delhi to make its point that it stands for the rights of women in the country.
Her presence was not objected to by the Taliban and was not a hindrance during the meetings, and was a signal from the Taliban that it wanted to do business with the world, the preliminary assessment said.
The Indian team visited four projects and programmes which had some Indian role, and that is where it discovered that the situation in the country’s health and education facilities were in dire need of help.
They visited the Indira Gandhi Institute of Child Health (IGICH), a 400-bed hospital, which was the main hospital in Afghanistan that caters to children. Set up with Indian assistance in the 1970s, the hospital lacks essential medicines as well as key medical equipment that are in need of repair, the Indian team found. India has so far supplied 13 tonnes of medicines and 5 lakh doses of Covid vaccines.
Most doctors have left the country and the hospital is massively understaffed and under-equipped, it found.
They also visited the Habibia High school in south-western Kabul, which was renovated by India between 2003 and 2005, and found that they, too, needed maintenance and help with the upkeep. The school, where Afghan elite including former Afghan Presidents Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani have studied, has some teachers and girl students were allowed only till primary classes — Classes 3rd to 4th, the Indian team found.
The team visited the Chimtala electricity sub-station built by Powergrid Corporation of India, which is close to Kabul, and found that it is being handled by well-trained technical Afghan staff, who were given training by the Powergrid corporation. The power sub-station is “working well” and is supplying electricity to Kabul and about 10 to 12 provinces in Afghanistan, the Indian team found.
In their conversations with the key Taliban leaders, the Indian team got a sense that the Taliban is “ready to engage” and is desperately looking for assistance to improve the country’s infrastructure. But they are facing challenges in governance and capacity, as many well-qualified and trained Afghan nationals have left the country.
One of the key and perceptive changes in Kabul was the general improvement of the security situation, where the Indian team got the sense that there was perception of improved security in the Capital. Unlike in the past, the Indian team found the Taliban have ensured a better security environment so far in the Afghan capital.
They also visited a World Food Programme’s food distribution centre, as India has supplied several shipments of humanitarian assistance consisting of 20,000 metric tonnes (MTs) of wheat.
As the Indian team has briefed the top strategic and political leadership on its return, New Delhi has for the first time since August last year has got a first-hand sense of the on-ground situation in Afghanistan, sources told The Indian Express.