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NEW DELHI : India on Tuesday urged its nationals in Afghanistan to make immediate arrangements to return before air services are discontinued to their place of stay or travel given the deteriorating security situation in the country.

The advisory issued by the Indian embassy in Kabul came on a day when New Delhi evacuated its diplomatic staff from the consulate in northern Mazar-e-Sharif city, capital of Balkh province, bordering Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. This followed reports of fierce fighting between the rebel Taliban and Afghan security forces and militias owing allegiance to Afghan warlords as the country looked set to spiral into civil war.

The Taliban, which signed a pact with the US in February last year, has captured at least five provincial capitals, according to news reports.

“As violence has escalated in many parts of Afghanistan, commercial air travel services to many provinces and cities are being discontinued. All Indian nationals visiting, staying, and working in Afghanistan are strongly advised to keep themselves updated on the availability of commercial flights from various parts of Afghanistan and make immediate travel arrangements to return to India before commercial air services are discontinued to their place of stay/visit in Afghanistan," the advisory said.

It also called on Indian companies operating in Afghanistan to withdraw Indian employees from project sites. “Indian companies operating in Afghanistan are strongly advised to immediately withdraw their Indian employees from project sites in Afghanistan before air travel services are discontinued. Indian nationals working for Afghan or foreign companies in Afghanistan should immediately request their employer to facilitate their travel from project sites to India," it said.

There are 1,500 Indian nationals in Afghanistan, according to government data. Most of then are engaged in development projects of the Indian government under its $3 billion pledge for reconstruction and development efforts.

The advisory was also valid for Indian media personnel in Afghanistan, the Indian embassy said.

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