Mumbai: In a development that signals hope for thousands of Afghan students stranded in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, a timeline for the visa process could be initiated by government authorities in India for citizens from the war-ravaged country in 2-3 months, according to Consular officer at the Consulate General of Afghanistan, Mumbai, Rafi Kelewal.
“We are working with the Government of India to prioritise visas for Afghan students, who are in the middle of their studies. We don’t have confirmation on the visas as of yet but the Indian authorities have promised us that there will be a timeline for the same within 2-3 months,” said Kelewal, who added that more than 2,000 students are awaiting their visas though they have admissions in Indian universities.
More ICCR scholarships provided as India seeks trust and efficiency from Afghans
The statement by the Consulate official comes amid External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar’s comments regarding the return of Afghan students to India at an event in Vadodara, which attributed the delay to logistical issues created by the shutdown of the Indian Embassy in Kabul in August 2021 when the Taliban government took over Afghanistan. Responding to a query from an Afghan student in Gujarat, Jaishankar said that “a level of trust and efficiency” has to come out for the visas to be restarted though India has previously announced an emergency e-visa scheme, which for the most part were provided to minority Hindu and Sikh Afghan nationals.
Despite the uncertainty over scholarships and visas for Afghan students, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), which comes under the government of India and builds the country’s cultural relations abroad, has granted 950 scholarships to Afghan students for the academic year 2022-2023 but the recipients for the same are Bachelor’s and Master’s students who are already in India and will pursue post-graduation and Ph.D. respectively. “Some 750 students from Afghanistan have taken admissions to India by availing the ICCR scholarship which is incredible but students who returned to the country due to the Covid pandemic and are not able to return since Taliban regime are losing out,” stated Kelewal who further added that since India doesn’t provide work visas or opportunities to international students, many are looking at greener pastures in Europe.
Asian nations come through for not-so-hopeful Afghan students
Though Europe might seem aspirational for Afghan students, some have already ditched the ‘Indian dream’ to study in other Asian countries. is one of the thousands of female students in the Islamic Emirate who have been hampered by the Taliban’s diktats on girls' education. The eldest in her family, Kinaaz (name changed) took provisional admission in India for Bachelor in Business Administration(BBA) course in July 2021 before the regime change but has now moved to Bangladesh to pursue education. “I couldn’t afford to wait for a long time for an Indian visa so one of my friends who is already here asked me to apply,” said Kinaaz who admitted herself to Chittagong’s Asian University for Women, an international institution, and found it to be the only way to escape Afghanistan. “I came here two weeks ago and our classes have already started wherein we will be taught English and other pre-UG subjects after which I might consider Economics for under graduation,” stated Kinaaz who has no intention to go back to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan and would rather apply for scholarships in other countries.
Some have set their sights on the West but not exactly on Europe or the US. Saqibullah Sadi, a third-year student at Savitribai Phule Pune University, chose Turkey as his study destination and arrived in the country two weeks ago with some other Afghan nationals. A recipient of the ICCR scholarship, Sadi decided to cancel it over growing uncertainty about his future. “I got a new scholarship from Yaşar University in BBA as I had to cancel the one from India since they stopped responding to our pleas for visas,” said Sadi who is now in the process of medical tests in the transcontinental country. “Though I am currently staying with my friends and relatives here, the rent in Turkey worries me,” Sadi continued.
More protests by Afghan students against Indian authorities
Afghan hopefuls protested in front of the Indian Embassy in Kabul for the second time in two months with an appeal to EAM Jaishankar and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. "Student visa is our human right", "We want Indian visa, don't ignore us," said the texts on placards brought by Afghan students, who have enrolled themselves in Indian institutions. “We are still paying fees for our studies in India while facing the repercussions of poor internet and worsening mental health. Oftentimes the fees don't even go through as the banks refuse to cooperate unless we have solid proof of studying from an Indian University,” claimed Noorul Rahimzai, a Civil Engineering student at Punjab Technical University, who has been at the forefront of protests against the denial of Indian visas.
In July 2022, a meeting was held between the students and the Taliban government regarding visas to India and physical classes, to which the regime agreed to raise the issue with the Indian Embassy through 'relevant departments.'