The Government of India would do well to read the only sensible opinion pieces in the Indian media by retired Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar. It will save the whole of South Asia much grief in the near future if they are heeded. Furthermore, opening formal lines of communication with the incipient ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’ should be the priority.
NEW DELHI—The cussedness of a Hindutva-based policy taking precedence over humanitarian or even geopolitical considerations, implicit in the statement of the Ministry of External Affairs on August 16, 2021, takes one’s breath away.
“We have been issuing periodic advisories for the safety and security of Indian nationals in that country, including calling for their immediate return to India… We had circulated emergency contact numbers and had also been extending assistance to community members,” the MEA spokesperson said.
This is as it should be. The safety and security of Indian nationals should be paramount. It is incredible that the Government of India was dithering on the evacuation for so long. India certainly was not on the same footing as US or UK nationals who could rely on their governments to send troops to ensure their safe evacuation. Neither was it on the same plane as China or Russia. They have had years of intelligence and diplomatic contact with the Taliban, now rechristened as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA).
China, Russia set to recognize ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’
Furthermore, China and possibly Russia are on the cusp of formally recognizing the IEA as the legitimate government in Kabul and officially establishing diplomatic relations. The Cabinet Committee on Security finally met only on August 17. No discussion in Parliament in a special session or even the Standing Committee of the Ministry of External Affairs. A cabal of genuflecting diplomats and security wonks with a Hindutva narrative has brought India to this sorry pass. The MEA spokesperson added, “There are also many Afghans who have been our partners in the promotion of our mutual inter-developmental, educational and people to people endeavours. We will stand by them”. This is dissimulation at its best.
India’s generous development work post-2001 in Afghanistan
Since the fall of the first Taliban regime in 2001, India has been generous in its developmental assistance to Afghanistan. As the External Affairs Minister stated in November 2020, “no part of Afghanistan today is untouched by the 400-plus projects that India has undertaken in all 34 of Afghanistan’s provinces”. Many thousands of Afghan nationals at senior levels who worked alongside Indian nationals could be at risk. Unless the more hardline elements in the Taliban suddenly decide that their technical expertise in running dams and power transmission lines is more important than their suspected collaboration with the previous Ashraf Ghani government and horror of horrors with the Indians. The knee-jerk withdrawal of the Indian Ambassador from Kabul leaves New Delhi no authoritative line of communication with the new dispensation.
What the MEA statement seems to indicate and the usage of the word “number” is that only a few hundred Muslim Afghan security and intelligence assets of our Deep State will be extricated to India. While saving their lives is welcome, this by itself is no assurance of their continued well-being in India. India has had no resettlement policy for long-term refugees, save the Tibetans.
Afghan refugees in the past made to fend for themselves
SAHRDC has documentary evidence of senior Afghan officials in the past, belonging to the former Najibullah government who were told to fend for themselves after a few months of being brought to India. For example, one Afghan general close to Najibullah and a significant asset of the Indian spooks in that country developed severe mental health issues in India. He had committed human rights violations in Afghanistan under the Najibullah regime; he came under the exclusion clauses of UNHCR, denying him third-country resettlement.
Afghan Hindu, Sikh refugees hope to resettle in Canada, Western countries
Furthermore, the Ministry of External Affairs said that it was monitoring the situation “on a constant basis at high levels” and is “in constant touch with the representatives of Afghan Sikh and Hindu communities”. The residual Afghan Sikh and Hindu community is a little less than 700 individuals. While most want to leave, none of them are keen to stay in India permanently. They view India only as a transit point to get to Canada eventually. The Canadian Government has publicly offered to resettle 10,000 Afghan and Sikh refugees. Over 18,000 Afghan Sikh and Hindu refugees are currently in Delhi and Haryana. Over 50 percent of them have now obtained Indian citizenship. The others have long-term visas (LTVs), hoping to be resettled in Canada or other Western countries.
There is no talk of other Afghan professionals with deep and enduring ties being offered asylum in India. The public appeal of the Director of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Mumbai is a case in point. The institution approved the request of Afghan students currently taking their IIT courses online to come to India and live on the campus. The Director hoped they would be able to leave their country and arrive safely in India.
Is anyone in New Delhi even aware of the plight of the Brahui on the Afghan-Iran border? Numbering over 200,000, they are of Dravidian and proto Australoid stock. Their language, Brahui, is akin to Tamil. While they have adopted Sunni Islam over centuries as their faith, many of their social and cultural practices are still pre-Islamic. Has the Indian government, in the last 20 years of having a friendly government in Kabul, done anything to preserve their cultural identity? As a result, the million-plus Brahui in Baluchistan and Iran have adopted the Baluch language and lost much of their unique identity.
The present BJP government, not having inherited any traditions of India’s freedom movement, is unaware of Afghan support to the Indian freedom movement.
India’s first provisional Govt set up in Kabul with Raja Mahendra Pratap as President
On December 1, 1915, during World War I, Raja Mahendra Pratap established the first Provisional Government of India at Kabul in Afghanistan as a government-in-exile of Free Hindustan with himself as President, Maulvi Barkatullah as Prime Minister, and Maulvi Ubaidullah Sindhi as Home Minister.
Ordinary Afghans supported his movement. However, the then Amir of Afghanistan kept aloof out of fear of the British.
Afghan religious, political leaders supported Raja Mahendra Pratap
According to KH Ansari, in his seminal article, Pan-Islam and the Making of the Early Indian Muslim Socialist. Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 20, No. 3. (1986), pp. 509–537, Cambridge University Press, states that Mahendra Pratap found support amongst Amir’s political and religious advisory group. The Amir’s brother Nasrullah Khan, his sons, Inayatullah Khan and Amanullah Khan, religious leaders and tribes leaders supported Mahendra Pratap.. Afghanistan’s most influential newspaper at that point, the Siraj al-Akhbar, appointed Barkatullah as officiating editor in early 1916. The paper published many anti-British articles by Raja Mahendra Pratap. The paper was deemed anti-British for the Raj to intercept copies being brought to India.
Only Jan Sangh contested against Raja Mahendra Pratap from Mathura in 1957 general elections
And in the best perfidious Hindutva tradition, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS), the genetic ancestor of the present Bharatiya Janata Party, was the only party to oppose his candidature from the Mathura parliamentary constituency after Independence. As a result, Mahendra Pratap won the 1957 elections defeating the BJS candidate. Mahendra Pratap was also the President of the All India Jat Mahasabha at that point.
Afghans protected Subhash Chandra Bose from the British
And lest we forget, the Afghan Government knew of Subhash Chandra Bose’s presence in Kabul at its most senior level. It chose to look the other way when the British requested them to check about his presence in Kabul.
Govt has no policy for Afghan refugees
History apart, in a final denouement, the Indian government on August 17 stated that it would offer the opportunity to Afghan nationals seeking to come to India the facility of e-visas, but without the attendant assurance of chartered flights or the resumption of commercial flights between Kabul and New Delhi. This was the proverbial pie in the sky – a flimsy offer by a government facing national and international criticism on its shortsighted and petty-minded refugee policy to desperate Afghans. There is no official clarification on whether the e-visa policy is available to Afghan nationals who are Sunni or Shia. How long will the visa processing and security clearances for each applicant take? And most importantly, will there be flights to bring them to India? Are there any institutional arrangements for their rehabilitation in place, or will they be asked to fend for themselves in the bylanes of Lajpat Nagar, Bhogal, and Khirki extension?
A few Twitter posts by individuals who have no official locus standi also indicate the differences between the diplomats and the deep state in India. The penny has dropped somewhere that the statement of the MEA would ensure that there would be no human assets building in Afghanistan for at least another generation. Some Tajiks in Kabul can run to the safety of Panjshir, but that is not available for the Hazaras, Uzbeks, and Pashtuns as their areas of control have fallen like ninepins.
If some of them are not airlifted to New Delhi, all the monetary investment and goodwill will evaporate faster than it takes to run from Kabul city to Pul-I-Charki prison. And just as I finish writing this, the correspondent of a web publication that is considered close to the Delhi dispensation has tweeted a picture of a half-empty C-17 Globemaster flight. The picture says it all, highlighting an inept evacuation policy while hundreds of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus cower in Kabul’s gurudwaras waiting for deliverance. Not to mention the thousands of Muslim Afghans of different ethnicities who placed their faith in India. The last scheduled commercial Air India flight brought a mere 129 passengers!
Open lines of communication with the Taliban
The Government of India would do well to read the only sensible opinion pieces in the Indian media by retired Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar. It will save the whole of South Asia much grief in the near future if they are heeded. Furthermore, opening formal lines of communication with the incipient Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan should be the priority.
*Ravi Nair is with the South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre. He has been working with Afghan refugees in India since January 1980.
(Disclaimer: The views are personal. India Tomorrow does not necessarily agree with the views of the author).