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Why India is no Longer a Destination for Afghan Students

Thousands of Afghan students studying at Indian universities are stuck in limbo after New Delhi decided to suspend diplomatic ties following the Taliban takeover of the war-torn nation.

For many young Afghans, it appears as if India has turned its back on them at a time of crisis

Over 13,000 Afghan students are currently enrolled in Indian universities, according to data provided by the Afghan Embassy in New Delhi. And about 2,000 of them had returned to Afghanistan before the Taliban seized power in the war-devastated country in August 2021.   

The reason for their return was the closure of Indian universities as part of measures to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. Lectures and seminars were largely held online to reduce the spread of infection.

"Now the universities are open again and we have to be present at classes. But I can't get a visa," complains Issa Saadat from Kabul, who has been pursuing a course in public administration and economics in India.

After the Taliban took power, India shut down its diplomatic facilities in Afghanistan, while suspending air travel and bank payments.

Issa has been trying to apply for a visa to travel to India for five months. "First, I applied online in Kabul. But it didn't work out. Then I traveled to Iran to apply for a visa at the Indian Embassy in Tehran. But they told me that only sick Afghans who want to travel to India for medical treatment can get a visa."

No detour via Iran or Pakistan

Issa is not the only one who wanted to travel to India via Iran. Shakil Razi is pursuing his doctorate in India and has traveled to both Iran and Pakistan to apply for a visa from there — to no avail.

"I've invested a lot in my studies and now I have to defend my doctoral thesis. But everything seems to be going down the drain. I can't even transfer my tuition fees," he said in despair.

For many young Afghans, it appears as if India has turned its back on them at a time of crisis.

For two decades prior to the Taliban's return to power, India had established itself as an important educational destination for young Afghans.

India had been the largest regional donor to Afghanistan since the US ousted the first Taliban regime in 2001, with New Delhi investing around $3 billion (€2.7 billion) in the nation's reconstruction. It was also seen as an attempt by New Delhi to curb the influence of its arch-rival Pakistan in Afghanistan.

India not only built roads, schools, dams and hospitals, but also played an important role in the area of education and vocational training. 

Between 2005 and 2011, 500 scholarships were awarded to Afghans annually, and between 2011 and 2021, the figure was as high as 1,000 a year.

However, many young Afghans also financed their studies in India by themselves.

According to the Afghan Embassy in New Delhi, more than 60,000 Afghans have completed their studies in India in the past 16 years.

Search for a solution

Abdulhaq Azad, spokesman for the Afghan Embassy in New Delhi, which is still being headed by a member of the deposed government of Ashraf Ghani, told DW: "We are in contact with the Indian government and Indian universities to find a solution."

India has yet to recognize the Taliban government in Kabul.

Mulavi Ahmad Taghi, spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Education, told DW that the Taliban are not to blame for the students' difficult situation. "The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan did not cause the problem. Other countries are to blame," he stressed.

Nevertheless, the Afghan Foreign Ministry said it was trying to find a quick solution.

This article was originally written in Dari.

Edited by: Leah Carter

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