Unsurprisingly, Suhail Shaheen, the Afghan ambassador-designate to the UN, appealed to New Delhi to reopen its embassy in Kabul and promised rock-solid 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 choice but to allow India to use its territory to ferry aid in an unprecedented raid. So far, India has already shipped 20,000 metric tons of wheat, 13 tons of medicine, 500,000 doses of Covid vaccine and winter clothes, which has won the appreciation and gratitude of Afghans.
So far, so good. At present, there is no question of a complete reopening of our embassies or consulates, the return of Indian diplomats to Afghanistan or the recognition of the Taliban government. The need of the hour, I believe, is to arrange for the generous and prompt issuance of visas to Afghans. We have erased our notebook and it is high time to make amends if we are serious about getting back to the fore in Afghanistan, fueled by the love and affection of its ordinary people. After the capture of Kabul by the Taliban on August 15, 2021 and our withdrawal two days later, Afghan students and patients have been the worst victims of our short-sighted visa policy. We are guilty of discrimination on religious grounds – by embracing Hindus and Sikhs and avoiding Muslims. This must stop immediately.
First, we canceled all unused visas issued before August 15, 2021 for security reasons, and introduced a new emergency electronic visa. Figures from December 2021 revealed that out of 60,000 Afghans who applied for an e-visa, only 200 were granted! We pushed back Afghans desperate to flee the Taliban regime. We brutally closed the door to them. Afghan Ambassador Farid Mamundzay said: “When the United States evacuated 150,000 to 160,000 Afghans, when the European Union evacuated almost 100,000 Afghans – and the United States is three to four times smaller than India in population, and at a distance that is 10 times the distance between India and Afghanistan, India has only granted 200 e-visas. The population of Afghanistan is 40 million. Two hundred visas means that only four to five visas were issued for every million. The entire population cannot have become Taliban overnight.
Last month, hundreds of students demonstrated outside our embassy in Kabul demanding electronic visas. Media reports reveal that at least 2,500 Afghan students are desperate to return to educational campuses in India and attend classes. They had applied for electronic visas as soon as it was introduced. And after waiting endlessly, they took him out into the street.
Since we really want to regain lost ground, we can get back on track by helping stranded Afghan students.
(The author is a senior journalist, columnist and commentator. Opinions are personal)