Afghanistan's Remaining Hindus and Sikhs Accuse India of Stalling Their Visa Applications
Once a thriving business community numbering in the thousands, there are just over 200 Sikhs and Hindus left in Afghanistan today, on account of decades of religious persecution by radical Islamists. While Delhi has said that it will facilitate the travel of these minorities to India, those in Kabul accuse New Delhi of failing to keep that promise.
Over 220 Afghan Sikhs and Hindus, as well as Indian passport-holders, stranded in Afghanistan
since August have accused the Indian government of stalling their electronic visa applications, which has been preventing them from reuniting with their loved ones in India.
Gurnam Singh, an Afghan Sikh who is the president of the Kart-e-Parwan Gurudwara (Sikh temple) in Kabul, told Sputnik that the stranded community members applied for an e-visa back in August.
“Till now, there hasn’t been any communication from the Indian government. They should at least tell us if our visa applications have been rejected or accepted. We have to make our arrangements to get out of Afghanistan”, he said.
The Kart-e-Parwan Sikh temple in Kabul currently houses four Indian citizens and 223 Afghan Sikhs and Hindus.
Only eight Afghan Sikhs and Hindus have so far been granted e-visas by the Indian authorities, while the fate of 208 of the Indian-origin community members remains unknown. Seven of the stranded Afghan Sikhs and Hindus don’t hold any passports at all.
“We are just asking for an e-visa and passports (for those who don’t have it) to be able to fly out. The Iranian government has agreed to provide us with transit en route [to] India, but they would require valid documents. Even the Taliban* has said that we are allowed to leave if we have the proper documents”, says Singh, referring to a press release by the Islamist group on 30 August.
In fact, the Taliban also asked India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to resume commercial flight operations
between the two nations in a communication dated 7 September, as per a release.
The Afghan Sikh temple head says that all of the stranded people wanting to leave Afghanistan had a valid Indian visa before New Delhi “invalidated their visas” on 25 August and called for fresh e-visa applications in the wake of the Taliban taking over Kabul on 15 August.
Singh further questions why their cases are being treated differently from those of Afghan Muslims who have already been evacuated to India in recent months.
The Indian government helped in the evacuation of 106 Afghan nationals to Delhi on 8 October, most of the evacuees being patients availing treatment at Indian hospitals or at risk of persecution.
To date, the Indian government has flown back to the country 67 Afghan Sikhs and Hindus in two batches — on 22 and 24 August.
The Sikh community leader says that the stranded Indians and Indian-origin people don’t even require any financial assistance from the Indian government to help with their evacuations.
8 September 2021, 10:51 GMT
In a letter to the Indian Foreign Ministry on 11 October, a travel agency based in New Delhi requested the Indian side to arrange for landing permissions in India for a Mahan Air charter flight that could accommodate 200 people.
The Indian Home Ministry is tasked with issuing visas to foreign nationals after granting necessary security clearances, with the Foreign Ministry (in this case) concerning itself with facilitating the travel arrangements.
Taliban Isn’t Harming Us, But Our Economic Situation is Dire, Say Sikhs and Hindus
70-year-old Ram Sharan Bhasin, an Afghan Hindu who runs a grocery store in Kabul, tells Sputnik that Taliban officials have been “helpful” and weren’t “harming” the minorities.
“Our problems are more of an economic nature. The economy is in tatters and the banks aren’t allowing us to withdraw more than $200 a week. How could I run my grocery store with such little money?” he asks.
The septuagenarian Hindu community leader points out that almost every Afghan Sikh and Hindu in the country owned spice and grocery stores.
After the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August, the US Treasury froze
nearly $9 billion in Afghan assets in US-based global financial institutions, amid fears that the funds could be channelled into terror financing by the Taliban.
13 September 2021, 12:14 GMT
Several countries, including Pakistan, China, and Russia, among others, have called for Afghan federal funds in global financial institutions to be unfrozen in order to avert an impending humanitarian crisis.
The participants of the Moscow Format talks — Russia , China, Pakistan, Iran, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan — said in a joint statement after their meeting in Moscow on 20 October that “the core burden of post-conflict economic and financial reconstruction and development of Afghanistan must be shouldered by troop-based actors which were in the country for the past 20 years”.
5 October 2021, 17:18 GMT
Mansha Singh, an Afghan Sikh who wants to return to India, says that, so far, the Taliban has stayed true to its international commitments to respect the rights of minorities living under its rule.
“However, there are many radical elements who are using the Taliban’s name to enforce their strict version of Sharia (Islamic law). Right now, Daesh* is of a greater concern to us minorities than the Taliban”, he says.
He cites an incident on 5 October, when unidentified gunmen stormed the Kart-e-Parwan shrine and vandalised the temple as well as the CCTV cameras on the premises.
The Taliban denied responsibility for the incident.
“The people behind the incident have been arrested now”, he says.
India’s Official Response
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired a high-level meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security on 17 August, two days after Kabul fell to the Taliban.
During the meeting, he asked officials to immediately evacuate Sikhs, Hindus, Indian citizens, as well as those at the risk of persecution from Afghanistan.
In a press statement issued after the Moscow Format talks
, the Taliban said that it had held separate bilateral discussions with the Indian delegation, which was led by J.P. Singh, a joint secretary in the Indian Foreign Ministry. New Delhi has remained tight-lipped about the meeting so far.
In another meeting
between India’s envoy to Qatar, Deepak Mittal, and the head of the Taliban’s political office, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, on 31 August, Indian officials called for “safety, security and early return of Indian nationals stranded in Afghanistan”.
“The travel of Afghan nationals, especially minorities, who wish to visit India also came up”, said an Indian press release issued after the meeting.
However, it remains unclear as to why the Indian government has so far refused to resume the repatriation process.
A petition filed by Indian social activist Parminder Singh, a Sikh community leader, in the Delhi High Court on 25 October urged judicial intervention to nudge New Delhi to grant “immediate” visas to the stranded people.
In response to the petition, the Indian government has said that a “lot of efforts have already been made” by New Delhi in evacuating the stranded people.
Sputnik has approached both the Indian Home Ministry and the Foreign Ministry spokespersons for a comment, but has not received a response as of the time of publication.
*The Taliban and Daesh, also known as ISIS/Islamic State/IS, are terrorist groups banned in Russia and many other countries.