Afghan Students in India Face Uncertain Future

Ahmadshah Kohzad

For the past two decades, India has been a major destination for Afghan students seeking higher education. According to data from the Embassy of India, approximately 60,000 Afghan students have studied in India during this period, with around 14,000 currently enrolled in more than 70 universities and colleges. Prior to the fall of the republic, the Indian government used to provide 1,000 scholarships to Afghan students annually. However, due to the Covid19 pandemic, 2,000 students who had returned to Afghanistan for midsemester holidays are now stuck in Kabul, as India has not issued them visas. Instead, India has provided the opportunity for higher education to those who have graduated from Indian universities and colleges in the last year and a half.

As the situation in Afghanistan remains unchanged, Afghan students graduating from Indian educational institutions have neither the inclination to return to their homeland nor the fortitude to remain in India. Most of these students have registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a process which is very lengthy. Consequently, these students are still facing difficulties and are apprehensive about their future. The pressing question is how severe are the impediments and how justified are their worries?

It is clear that since the Taliban have taken power, the people of Afghanistan have endured a difficult year. Fear, oppression, poverty, and despair have pervaded the city, and people are desperately seeking ways to leave the country. The Taliban government is determined to remain in power at any cost. The dire situation in Kabul and its environs has also caused distress for students abroad, particularly those who have completed their studies. These students are in a quandary, unable to go to a third country or remain in India due to visa issues. Additionally, there are professors from public and private universities in the country who, like other scholars and intellectuals, have spent years studying abroad, unaware of the perilous fate that awaited them.

For those who have completed their studies, obtaining a visa extension is a major obstacle. To address this issue, students must study and pay fees or register with the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Although the UNHCR has become a source of hope and optimism, its process is lengthy due to the slow evaluation of cases. Additionally, it does not take into account the current situation in Afghanistan or the difficulties faced by Afghans. Unfortunately, the UNHCR can take up to five to six years to determine the status of a case. With the uncertain nature of the asylum case and lack of financial support, many students with master‘s and bachelor‘s degrees are forced to take up lowincome jobs such as selling fruit. As more students graduate, the number of those who cannot return to Afghanistan or have a future in India is increasing.

More than two thousand students are currently stranded in Afghanistan due to the lack of a valid visa to travel. Despite their numerous protests and complaints, they have not received the desired response from the Embassy of India. The only response they have received from highranking Indian officials is that, due to security concerns, the Indian government is unable to issue visas to Afghan citizens, including students.

India was a major backer of the former government, however, there is now limited contact between New Delhi and the Taliban. As a result, the Indian government has not resumed its diplomatic services in Kabul. Security worries, lack of confidence, and the effectiveness of the visa system are the primary reasons why India is not granting visas to Afghan citizens.

Given the current situation, the Indian government is expected to issue visas to students, particularly female students. However, several months have passed and it appears that these students admissions have been cancelled, which is a disaster for Afghan girls who are forced to study in India due to visa issues and are denied their rights in Afghanistan. The same applies to male students and university professors who have been facing visa problems for some time. There are no job opportunities in Afghanistan, and students are not valued by the Taliban government. This is because on January 27th, Mohammad Yaqoob, the Minister of Defense of the Taliban, stated that members of the Taliban government are chosen based on theirJihadist activities regardless of their educational qualifications. Additionally, in a meeting with several professors of Kabul University, Abdul Baqi Haqqani, the former head of the Ministry of Higher Education of the Taliban, said that the officials of the Taliban do not have a master‘s degree or a doctorate, yet they are better than others because they are religious scholars. He brazenly declared that nothing could be expected from the students who have studied in the past twenty years, which understandably adds to the fears and concerns of students abroad and makes the decision of their return difficult.