The Afghan people are feeling “betrayed” by Delhi shutting its doors on them, allowing just a few to enter India in the last eight months since the Taliban takeover of the country, said Saad Mohseni, the Afghan business baron who owns the country’s biggest media group.
“They are simply not issuing visas to Afghans. I don’t understand why they are punishing the entire Afghan people for no fault of theirs. This is collective punishment,” said Mohseni, the owner of TOLO News, here in the capital for the Raisina Dialogue, organised by the Observer Research Foundation and the Ministry of External Affairs.
Mohseni, whose Moby Group is based in Dubai, said the Afghan people had always believed they shared a special bond with India. “They are now feeling quite betrayed, they are feeling abandoned” he said.
In the wake of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan last August, thousands have fled the country, and many had hoped to come to India, like they did in the 1990s, during a previous Taliban regime.
Besides, many who had been studying in India and had gone home to Afghanistan around the time of the takeover, and wished to return to continue their studies, or visit for medical treatment, also found found that they were no longer welcome.
In December 2021, Parliament was told that India had granted just 200 emergency e-visas to that Afghan citizens.
“In view of the prevailing situation in Afghanistan, the Government of India has started an ‘e-Emergency X-Misc visa’ for a period of 6 months for Afghan nationals. …As on 24.11.2021, 200 e-Emergency X-Misc visas have been issued (since the takeover),” Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai said in a written reply in the Rajya Sabha.
The government has allowed extensions on the visas of Afghans who were staying in the country from before the Taliban take over and remained here.
“Further, stay visa is granted to Afghan nationals staying in India keeping in view the present situation in that country. Presently, 4,557 Afghan nationals are staying in India on stay sisa after extension of their visas,” Rai said.
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Mohseni urged the Indian government to engage with the Taliban regime. “I know the problems India has with Afghanistan,” he said, mentioning the 1999 hijacking episode during which Taliban, then in power, allowed an Indian Airlines plane hijacked by Pakistani terrorists to land in Kandahar, and negotiated on behalf of the hijackers. But, he said, the absence of engagement was hurting the Afghan people more.
Pakistan could no longer take for granted the Taliban, Mohseni said. “The formula is simple: Afghan + Kabul = closer ties with India, no matter who the Afghan is,” he said, explaining that after Taliban took Kabul, the distance between the Taliban and Pakistan had grown, as evident from clashes at the border, and the Pakistani bombing of Afghan areas that had killed civilians.
“Look at the TTP, the Taliban are sheltering them in Afghanistan,” he said, referring to the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, which has targeted Pakistan since its formation in 2007.
“India must engage with the Taliban directly, must engage with the world and the region on the way forward in Afghanistan, and must engage with Pakistan also on the Taliban,” he said.
The media moghul, whose family moved to Australia in 1982, returned to his country after the fall of the previous Taliban regime in 2001 to set up media and entertainment channels. He said the Taliban had not banned news programmes, and his channel had pulled music and entertainment on its own.
He said apart from some run-ins with the Taliban, TOLO news were able to put out news as it happened, including news that would not be favourable to the Taliban, such as on the ban on girls attending high schools or the Taliban house-to-house searches in Kabul.
On the one hand, the Taliban were asking people to return and promising freedom of travel, and on the other, they had restricted the movement of the two most famous Afghans, former President Hamid Karzai, and former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah. “They are not under house arrest, but they cannot leave Kabul,” he said.
The Taliban had to become more inclusive, get rid of the terrorists in Afghanistan to win international trust. At the same time, engagement with the international community might strengthen the hands of the moderates in the regime, Mohseni said.
“We have a very short window of about six month in which some things can be changed for the better. After that, it’s one of two things – either the Taliban turn really repressive and go back to how they were in the 1990s, or they get fragmented and we are in for another long civil war between the factions,” he said.