Security improves, health and education plummet: Indian team after first visit to Taliban-era Afghanistan
More than nine months after Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, health and education infrastructure is crumbling but the security situation has improved somewhat, the initial assessment of India’s first team to Kabul, learned The Indian Express.
This crucial assessment was shared with senior Indian leaders after India’s first official visit to Kabul since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021.
A team led by a senior Foreign Ministry official met with Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Mottaqi and Taliban Deputy Foreign Minister Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai this week on June 2-3.
JP Singh, Assistant Secretary for Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran (PAI) at the MEA, led the Indian team. In the past, he has met with Taliban officials in Doha, Qatar. India closed its mission in Kabul shortly after the Taliban entered the city last August.
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The team stayed in Kabul for two days, including one night in high security accommodation guaranteed by the Taliban.
The Indian team also visited the premises of the Indian Embassy in Kabul and found the premises to be ‘safe and secure’.
The choice of a young female diplomat Deepti Jharwal, an Indian foreign service officer in 2011, was a signal from New Delhi to assert that she defends women’s rights in the country.
His presence was unchallenged by the Taliban and was not an obstacle in meetings, and was a signal from the Taliban that they wanted to do business with the world, according to the preliminary assessment.
The Indian team visited four projects and programs that had an Indian role, and it was there that they discovered that the situation in the country’s health and education institutions was in dire need of help.
They visited the Indira Gandhi Institute of Child Health (IGICH), a 400-bed hospital, which was Afghanistan’s main hospital caring for children. Established with Indian assistance in the 1970s, the hospital lacks essential medicines as well as essential medical equipment that needs repairing, the Indian team found. India has so far provided 13 tons of medicine and 5 lakh doses of Covid vaccines.
Most doctors have left the country and the hospital is massively understaffed and under-equipped, he said.
They also visited Habibia High School in southwest Kabul, which was renovated by India between 2003 and 2005, and found that they too needed upkeep and help with upkeep. The school, where the Afghan elite, including former Afghan presidents Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani, studied, has few teachers and female students were only allowed up to primary grades – grades 3-4, has noted the Indian team.
The team visited the Chimtala power substation built by Powergrid Corporation of India, which is close to Kabul, and found that it is managed by well-trained Afghan technical personnel, who were trained by the Powergrid company. The power substation is “working well” and providing power to Kabul and about 10 to 12 provinces in Afghanistan, the Indian team found.
In conversations with key Taliban leaders, the Indian team got the sense that the Taliban are “ready to engage” and are desperate for help to improve the country’s infrastructure. But they face governance and capacity challenges, as many well-qualified and trained Afghan nationals have left the country.
One of the key and noticeable changes in Kabul was the general improvement in the security situation, where the Indian team felt there was a perception of improved security in the capital. Unlike in the past, the Indian team found that the Taliban have so far ensured a better security environment in the Afghan capital.
They also visited a World Food Program food distribution center as India provided several humanitarian aid shipments consisting of 20,000 metric tons (MT) of wheat.
As the Indian team briefed senior strategic and political leaders on its return, New Delhi for the first time since August last year got a first-hand view of the situation on the ground in Afghanistan, sources told The Indian Express.