New Delhi The Indian government may grant refuge to Afghan citizens, especially those facing threats or fearing persecution from the Taliban, against the backdrop of the rapid deterioration of the security situation in Afghanistan.
Afghans have begun leaving key cities following the rapid advances by the Taliban into urban centres over the past week. As many as 18 out of 34 provincial capital across Afghanistan are now under the control of the Taliban, including some of the largest cities such as Herat and Kandahar.
People familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity that there was no immediate update on the issue of granting visas to Afghan nationals fleeing their country though discussions on the matter were underway.
Among those who are likely to be granted refuge are political leaders or activists, human rights workers, media personnel, members of minorities and people who have worked with the Indian government, the people said.
There has been a sharp increase in requests for Indian visas in Kabul over the past few weeks. Images shared on social media on Saturday showed the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul packed with people waiting for flights out of the country.
The airport is currently one of the few ways out of the country and there were reports of people waiting as long as three hours to get into the terminal after buying tickets at counters set up in the parking lot outside. Air India, Emirates, FlyDubai, Pakistan International Airlines and Turkish Airlines are among the airlines currently operating flights to Kabul.
With the fall of several provincial capitals surrounding Kabul and the capture of Logar province, located just 11 km south of the city, fears have grown that the Taliban could be knocking at the doors of the capital within a week, if not days.
India has provided refuge to several Afghan leaders and their families amid the turmoil of the past four decades. Afghan chief negotiator Abdullah Abdullah’s family currently lives in India and others such as former president Hamid Karzai have lived and studied in the country.
Asked about the possibility of India offering refuge to Afghanistan’s Hindu and Sikh minorities at last week’s media briefing, external affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said the government is keeping a close eye on all developments related to the two communities.
“Last year, our mission in Kabul had facilitated the return of 383 members of the Sikh and Hindu communities in Afghanistan. Our mission continues to remain in touch with the Afghan Hindu and Sikh community members and we will ensure the provision of all necessary assistance to them,” he said.
Several countries have announced plans to give refuge to Afghans facing threats, especially those who have worked with Western countries or foreign troops over the years. The US has plans to help thousands of Afghans under its special immigrant visa programme or as refugees, while Canada has announced it will take in up to 20,000 Afghan refugees, including women leaders, government workers and people facing threats from the Taliban.