Not surprisingly, Suhail Shaheen, Afghanistan’s UN ambassador designate, started appealing to New Delhi to reopen its embassy in Kabul and promised fool-proof arrangements for the security of Indian diplomats. New Delhi instead promised to send 50,000 metric tonnes of wheat through Pakistan leaving Islamabad with no option but to allow India to use its territory for transporting aid in an unprecedented climb down.
Till date, India has already dispatched 20,000 metric tonnes of wheat, 13 tonnes of medicines, 500,000 doses of Covid vaccine and winter clothing earning Afghan appreciation and gratitude.
So far, so good. At present, there is no question of a full reopening of our embassy or consulates, the return of Indian diplomats to Afghanistan or recognising the Taliban government. The need of the hour I think is to make arrangements for issuing visas to Afghans generously and speedily.
We blotted our copybook and it’s high time we make amends if we seriously want to return centre-stage in Afghanistan powered by the love and affection of its ordinary folks.
After Taliban captured Kabul on August 15, 2021 and our withdrawal two days later, Afghan students and patients have been the worst victims of our myopic visa policy. We are guilty of discriminating on religious grounds – embracing Hindus and Sikhs and shunning Muslims. This must immediately stop.
First of all, we cancelled all unutilised visas issued before August 15, 2021 citing security reasons, and introduced a new emergency e-visa. Figures in December 2021 revealed that out of 60,000 Afghans who applied for e-visa, only 200 were granted! We rebuffed Afghans desperate to flee Taliban rule. We rudely shut the door on them.
Afghanistan’s ambassador Farid Mamundzay blurted out: “When the United States evacuated 150,000 to 160,000 Afghans, when the European Union evacuated closer to 100,000 Afghans – and the US is smaller by three to four times than India in population, and is at a distance which is 10 times more than the distance from India to Afghanistan, India has granted only 200 e-visas.
“The population of Afghanistan is 40 million. Two hundred visas means that only four to five visas were given for every million. The entire population can’t have turned into Taliban overnight.”
Just last month, hundreds of students demonstrated outside our embassy in Kabul demanding e-visas. Media reports reveal that at least 2500 Afghan students are desperate to return to educational campuses in India and attend classes. They had applied for e-visas no sooner it was introduced. And after waiting endlessly, they took it out to the street.
As we are serious about regaining lost ground, we can get off to a flying start by coming to the aid of stranded Afghan students.
(S.N.M. Abdi is former Deputy Editor of ‘Outlook’ magazine and one of the targets of Pegasus spyware attack on journalists. Views are personal)