Thousands Are Fleeing War-Torn Afghanistan, But India Isn’t the Destination

A refugee influx is unlikely in India due to its sealed borders amid COVID-19 and the physical buffer of Pakistan.

5 min read
Hindi Female

As the violence in Afghanistan swiftly descends into utter chaos, with provincial capitals like Kunduz, Sar-e-Pol and Taloqan and cities like Sheberghan and others in the northern Helmand and Nimruz provinces reportedly falling like ninepins to the Taliban militias, it is clear that nobody is in control in that war-ravaged country.

India, the first country with which Afghanistan signed a strategic partnership agreement, in October 2011, is deeply worried about the situation but has limited options to actually make a difference, primarily because it has very few levers with the rampaging Taliban militias. However, an influx of refugees from the war-ravaged country at this stage is not among New Delhi’s concerns.

This is not because of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), which excludes Muslims from within its ambit of getting fast-tracked citizenship status, as rules for the CAA have yet to be framed. It is actually because of the COVID-19 restrictions that are in place and India’s sealed borders, since April 2020, an official explained. There are no flights between Kabul and New Delhi except to transport essential commodities and people, and since there is a physical border buffer between India and Afghanistan — Pakistan — refugees are not the worry.


Kashmir May Become A Real Issue

India’s concerns are more security-related, with the very real possibility of those currently trying to take over Afghanistan by force turning their attention to Jammu and Kashmir if they succeed in capturing Kabul.

The bulk of those who fled Afghanistan and came to India arrived during the tenure of the Taliban regime between 1996 and 2001. The brutality of that regime and the vicious targeting of minority communities, such as Hindus and Sikhs, ensured that a small but steady stream of refugees kept trickling into India, with numbers increasing each time there was an escalation in violence there, till as recently as 2017.

After the CAA was enacted in December 2019, a group of 11 Afghan Hindus and Sikhs arrived in New Delhi on 26 July, 2020. Subsequently, around 190 Afghan Hindus and Sikhs have arrived in India and have been accepted as refugees, and are awaiting citizenship. This is likely to take considerable time as the framing of rules will be done only in January 2022.


India Can Do Only a Little

According to available estimates in 2020, less than 1,300 Hindus and Sikhs remained in Afghanistan out of almost 40 million people — 99 per cent of them are Muslim, and a majority of them are practitioners of Sunni Islam. However, an official in Kabul said that there are actually less than 300 Indians in Afghanistan today.

The Afghan Muslims in India, numbering around 18,000, are not formally recognised as refugees but live mostly in pockets of South Delhi, where they have set up small businesses like restaurants and travel agencies; some have taken refuge in Himachal Pradesh. Many of them have family members in Afghanistan and as tensions soar there, the Afghan community in Delhi anxiously awaits news from relatives back home.

India, which is chairing the United Nations Security Council through August, convened a special meeting of the Council on 6 August, focusing on the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan. However, other than some usual expressions of concern, little of substance emerged from the meeting.

Stressing that “the future of Afghanistan cannot be its past”, India urged the immediate dismantling of terrorist safe havens in the region and called for disruption of terrorist supply chains, while emphasising that it was time for the Security Council to decide on actions to ensure the immediate cessation of violence in the country.


The Taliban Remains Relentless

“We had hoped for sanctions to be imposed on the supporters of terrorism, like Pakistan, and on the Taliban, but nothing happened,” said an Afghan official in Kabul.

Despite being on the UN list of non-state designated “terrorist” groups, no sanctions were imposed on the Afghan Taliban, who all but received official sanction when the United States dealt with them, even signing a peace agreement with them

The militias who are over-running vast swathes of that country are apparently not under the control of the more suave Qatar-based Taliban leadership, representatives and spokesmen, led by Zabiullah Mujahid, who have been conducting negotiations with regional powers and P-5 members such as Russia and China at various capitals across the region.

They have reneged on every agreement, starting with the one with the US in February 2020, and refused to talk with the government in Kabul or curb the violence. The armed militias have been making their all-out bid to take over the country through bloodshed, despite knowing that they will be an outlawed, pariah State not recognised by most of the international community. They remain relentless in their pursuit for power and clearly unwilling to open channels of communication with their elected government, inflicting increasingly greater acts of brutality against fellow Afghans.


People Are Fleeing in Droves

“These are not human beings, these are the worst barbarian terrorists,” said a resident of Kabul, who has been at the forefront of trying to relocate hundreds of those fleeing the Taliban brutality. “We had never dreamed that this would happen again,” said the Kabuli who can’t be named for security reasons. “There is no Allah, because Allah would not abandon his people like this and allow these bloody games in his name,” said the resident, in despair. “Where will the people go, what will they do? What will we do? To whom can we turn?”

The sudden and complete withdrawal of the US and NATO troops has only given the Taliban the licence to throw every civilised norm to the wind and send the country careening toward an abyss of primitive barbarism, with their own country-folk as targets.

As a result, a mass exodus is taking place and thousands of Afghans are leaving their homes and fleeing from the northern, western and southern provinces towards either the relative safety of the capital Kabul, or outward, surreptitiously, into Central Asian countries like Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Popular border crossing points to Pakistan, such as Spin Boldak, have been shut down by the Taliban because Pakistan is looking for visas from fleeing Afghans to prevent the kind of refugee crisis it faced in the early 1980s, when over three million Afghans sought refuge in that country after troops of the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Those who can have already left, while others are acquiring passports and visas and heading in droves to countries like Turkey and the UAE, or the European Union nations, Canada and the US, among others. India is no longer a destination of their choice.

(Nilova Roy Chaudhury, a senior journalist, is Consulting Editor with India News Stream and a Senior Fellow with think tanks WISCOMP (Women in Security, Conflict Management and Peace) and Society for Policy Studies. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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Topics:  Afghanistan   Taliban   Refugees 

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