All Saudi diplomats have left Afghanistan over security concerns, Arab diplomatic sources said in Islamabad on Saturday. The move comes after last week’s brazen attack by a group of heavily-armed Taliban fighters and suicide bombers in the heart of Kabul.
Taliban militants succeeded in occupying an under-construction multi-story building in a high-security zone and fired rocket-propelled grenades at the US embassy, Nato headquarters and other key buildings. Their fight with security forces lasted for almost 20 hours.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid was quick to claim responsibility. He said the attack had inflicted heavy casualties on foreign and Afghan forces and “also proved to be a serious political and psychological” setback for US and Nato forces.
The attack raised questions in diplomatic circles as to how Taliban fighters, laden with heavy equipment, crossed security hurdles and reached so close to highly sensitive areas.
A total of 20 Saudi diplomats and other Saudi staff members secretly left their embassy hours later after consulting their government, diplomatic sources said.
The Saudi embassy is located near Kabul’s Abdul Haq Square, where the Taliban used the nine-story building to target the US embassy, just 300 yards away from the attack site.
Sources said the Saudi diplomats did not inform the Afghan Foreign Ministry before leaving the capital Kabul and told their Afghan staff members to stay at home until their return.
A Kabul-based Arab journalist, who preferred to remain anonymous, confirmed the withdrawal of Saudi diplomatic staff to The Express Tribune.
He said that diplomatic relations between the two countries are intact as the diplomats have only left Kabul over security concerns.
The withdrawal comes just a few weeks after Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s visit to Saudi Arabia.
An Afghan diplomat said the incident will not affect bilateral relations and Saudi efforts for peace and reconciliation in the country.
The diplomat added that the Afghan government has been in contact with Saudi authorities about an early return of the Saudi diplomatic missions and a reopening of the embassy.
The closure of the embassy has also raised concerns among the Afghan population as people proceed to Saudi Arabia for Hajj in the coming days.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 18th, 2011.