Elaborate plans have been prepared for the speedy withdrawal of diplomats from the embassy in Kabul and a dwindling number of Indian nationals, most of them workers engaged in development projects in Afghanistan, people familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity.

India is prepared for all contingencies in Afghanistan, including the rapid evacuation of its officials and nationals, against the backdrop of a Taliban blitz over the past week that has seen the capture of five provincial capitals since Thursday.

Elaborate plans have been prepared for the speedy withdrawal of diplomats from the embassy in Kabul and a dwindling number of Indian nationals, most of them workers engaged in development projects in Afghanistan, people familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity. These plans include putting heavy lift aircraft of the Indian Air Force on standby round the clock, the people said.

These efforts have gained urgency following reports that the US is deploying 3,000 troops to Kabul and the UK sending 600 troops to provide security for the evacuation of nationals of the two countries. India has also received requests from several international organisations, among them media outlets and rights organisations, seeking help for the possible evacuation of their personnel from Afghanistan, the people cited above said.

According to information provided by the government in Parliament last week, there were 1,500 Indian nationals in Afghanistan. The people said this figure had now come down to few hundreds, including diplomats and the large security contingent at the embassy in Kabul.

Another concern for Indian authorities were Indian nationals who haven’t heeded the latest security advisories calling on them to immediately return home. The latest alert issued by the Indian mission on Thursday highlighted the case of three engineers who remained at a project site in an area not controlled by Afghan forces and required an “emergency air rescue”.

Among the five provincial capitals captured by the Taliban since Thursday was Pul-e-Alam, the capital of Logar, which put the group’s fighters just 70 km south of Kabul. While a recent estimate by US security agencies had stated that the Taliban could take Kabul within 30 days, the latest reports suggest the Taliban could tighten their grip on areas around the capital and march towards the city within days.

Among the provincial capitals captured by the Taliban since August 6 are Zaranj, Sheberghan, Sar-e-Pul, Kunduz, Taloqan, Aybak, Pul-e-Khumri, Faizabad, Ghazni, Herat, Kandahar, Qala-e-Naw, Lashkargah, Pul-e-Alam, Tarinkot, Qalat and Firozkoh. While the fall of provincial capitals in sparsely populated regions in the north were initially attributed to the Afghan government’s new security policy focused on larger and more populated urban centres, the rapid fall of Kandahar and Herat, Afghanistan’s second and third largest cities, dramatically altered the ground situation. The capture of Ghazni also cut the highway between Kabul and southern Kandahar.

Despite the Taliban being emboldened by the US drawdown and showing little inclination to return to the negotiating table, India and other countries are continuing with efforts to press for a political settlement and an immediate truce.

On Thursday, India joined Germany, Qatar and Turkey in calling for an immediate ceasefire in Afghanistan and asserting that any government imposed by military force in Kabul would not be recognised.

A statement issued by Qatar following a meeting of special envoys and representatives of India, Germany, Norway, Qatar, Tajikistan, Turkey and Turkmenistan in Doha also highlighted the urgent need to accelerate the process to find a negotiated settlement.

The statement said two separate meetings on Afghanistan – one joined by the representatives of China, Uzbekistan, the US, Pakistan, the UK, Qatar, the UN and the European Union on August 10, and the other held on August 12 – had agreed that the participants “will not recognize any government in Afghanistan that is imposed through the use of military force”.

The countries also agreed on the need to accelerate the Afghan peace process as a “very urgent and essential issue for negotiating concrete proposals from both sides”.

The participants urged the Taliban and the Afghan government to “build trust and accelerate efforts to reach a political settlement and comprehensive ceasefire as quickly as possible”, and to stop “violence and attacks immediately in and against provincial capitals and other cities”.

The meetings expressed “grave concerns” about reports from across Afghanistan regarding violence, high civilian casualties, extrajudicial killings, widespread and credible allegations of human rights violations, and the destruction of physical infrastructure that make reconciliation efforts more difficult.

As part of desperate efforts to counter the Taliban’s advance, UN Security Council members Estonia and Norway drafted a statement to condemn the group’s attacks on cities and towns resulting in high civilian casualties. According to Reuters, the draft statement, which has to be agreed by consensus by the 15-member body, threatens sanctions for abuses and acts that risk Afghanistan’s peace and stability.

The text also “strongly affirms that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is not recognized at the United Nations and declares that it does not and will not support the establishment of any government in Afghanistan imposed through military force or restoration of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”.

This is largely in line with the position taken by India, which holds the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council for August.