Anger as India invites Taliban to put officials on course

Students from Afghanistan have expressed anger after India’s Ministry of External Affairs conducted a course for members of the Taliban. The four-day online course started on 14 March and was open to participants from all countries, including Taliban members in Afghanistan.

Afghan students enrolled in Indian institutions who have been unable to get a visa for India to complete their education for over two years now, are unhappy with the decision to allow Taliban members to participate in the course. Many said it was against India’s own policy as New Delhi does not recognise Afghanistan’s Taliban-led regime.

The course organised by Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation Programme, a department of the Ministry of External Affairs, and conducted by the Indian Institute of Management Kozhikode a publicly funded institution in southern Kerala state, is intended for foreign businessmen, government officials, and managers, among others, to learn about India’s social and historical background, cultural heritage as well as the economic environment, regulatory mechanism, legal and environmental regime, consumer mindset and business risks.

The Institute of Diplomacy at the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kabul had issued a circular on 20 February, referring to an official note from the Indian embassy in Kabul dated 23 January, inviting the Afghan ministry to nominate eligible candidates for the course.

The circular, addressed to all departments in the Afghan ministry, encouraged interested employees with an “excellent command over the English language” to apply for the course. Participants would be required to write short reports on the subjects and training, to be submitted to the ministry’s institute, it said.

Afghan students upset and angry

But news of official Taliban participation comes as the studies of Afghanistan students who were pursuing higher education in India continue to remain disrupted since the Taliban regained control of the country in August 2021 following the withdrawal of US troops. The Afghan students are upset and angry as their hopes of resuming their studies are fading.

Resentment among the shut-out Afghan students appears to be increasing. Diplomatic sources said that not a single new visa has been issued for students seeking to travel to India and even those who returned to Afghanistan have been unable to return. Many Afghan students had returned to Afghanistan following the COVID-19 lockdown in India.

India has still not issued visas to almost 3,000 Afghan students who had gone to Afghanistan in 2021 and found they could not return to their universities and colleges in India after their pre-existing visas were cancelled following the Taliban takeover. India announced a new ‘Emergency e-visa’ procedure, but no student has been given a visa under the new process – only Hindus and Sikhs fleeing the Taliban have been able to get a visa under the new system.

There are also Afghan students in India who cannot return home as they fear they won’t be able to return to India to complete their studies. Some Afghan students said they had pressing family issues but were unable to go home.

Hikmat Mashwani, who was offered a place at the University of Delhi last year, was unable to go to India. He is furious with both governments. “Our government left me in the lurch and your [Indian] government didn’t solve this problem so I can say that India conducting a course for Taliban is meaningless” for students waiting for a visa, he said, speaking from Afghanistan.

Another student based in India, requesting anonymity, said: “India conducted an online training course in which Taliban members took part, although they do not recognise the Taliban and have denied visas to Afghan students. The future of the students is in jeopardy and Indian authorities have not considered our cases with due sympathy.”

According to the Afghan embassy in India, 13,000 Afghan students are enrolled in India, studying at over 70 universities across the country.

“This is a very sad situation,” said a student in Delhi who did not wish to be identified. “I have not been able to see my family since 2019. Hundreds of Afghan students in India have not visited their families for years.”

Afghan female students denied studies

“Besides, among the Afghan students who can’t return to India there are a large number of females. These female students already face the brunt of restrictions imposed by the Taliban on women’s education. They can neither return to India to resume their studies, nor can they study in their own country. We don't expect anything positive to happen in the near future,” the student added.

The Afghan embassy in India, which represents the previous Afghanistan Republic and not the Taliban regime, has also urged India’s Ministry of External Affairs to grant visas at least to the female students.

Afghanistan’s Envoy to India Farid Mamundzay said last year in October that he had taken up the issue on several occasions with officials from India’s Ministry of External Affairs.

Around 1,000 Afghan students were awarded scholarships by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, under the Ministry of External Affairs, in 2021 for higher education studies in India. But they too have been stuck in Afghanistan.

Faisal Noorzai is a student who held a scholarship to study India but could not travel there as his visa was cancelled when the Taliban took over Afghanistan.

“In my opinion, the acquisition of knowledge and science has nothing to do with the politics and relations of governments. We are students, but by cancelling our visas the Indian government has deprived a generation of hardworking and science-loving people from the pursuit of science. This is not the fault of people who want to acquire knowledge,” Noorzai told University World News from Afghanistan.

“Our request to all the governments and political leaders of the world is not to interfere with science and knowledge and students and keep your relations with other countries and policies separate,” he added.

In June last year when the Indian diplomatic mission reopened in Kabul as a “technical mission”, Afghan students even staged a demonstration outside the embassy.

The embassy of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in India says it is in close contact with the relevant Indian authorities and is continuously considering educational issues. The embassy is trying to transfer about 3,000 students stuck in Afghanistan to India so that they can continue their studies.

The Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), a part of the Ministry of External Affairs, granted 950 scholarships to Afghan students in India last year. Since the scholarships cannot be given to Afghan nationals outside the country under the prevailing situation, the ICCR has given them to Afghan students already in India for studies.