The deportation of an Afghan woman MP, Rangina Kargar, from the Indira Gandhi International Airport, demonstrates how insensitive and callous Indian Babu-dom can be. It is unimaginable why the officers of the Bureau of Immigration (BOI), a subsidiary of the Intelligence Bureau, could be so oblivious to the unfolding situation in Afghanistan and not have taken an enlightened and humane view and allow the Hon’ble Member of the now-defunct Wolesi Jirga (House of the People of Afghanistan) into India. Unless of course, they were instructed otherwise by their political masters.
So what if she did not have her medical treatment details on hand? It is obvious that she was fleeing the Taliban. The whole world knows how conservative, if not downright uncivilised, is towards women the attitude of the bigots who have seized Afghanistan. Even a child could have figured out that she could have easily got equally good, if not better, medical treatment in Istanbul, or even Dubai. She was obviously here seeking asylum in a friendly country and paving the way for her family.
While it is perfectly understandable that the government does not want undesirable elements to take advantage of the confusion and slip into India, this concern can not be implemented in a hidebound manner.
A Cryptic Press Release
On 25 August, the government put out a rather cryptic press release. It stated “Owing to the prevailing security situation in Afghanistan and streamlining of the visa process by introduction of the e-Emergency X-Misc visa, it has been decided that all Afghan nationals henceforth must travel to India only on e-Visa. Keeping in view some reports that certain passports of Afghan nationals have been misplaced, previously issued visas to all Afghan nationals, who are presently not in India, stand invalidated with immediate effect. Afghan nationals wishing to travel to India may apply for e-Visa.”
The Ministry of External Affair’s announcement raises more questions than it answers — who are these mysterious Afghan nationals whose passports have been misplaced? Why is the deed of misplacement so portentous that visas issued to all Afghan Nationals who are currently not in India need to be cancelled, especially at a time when many of them would be struggling to get out to save themselves and their families from the depredations of the Taliban- ISI combine? It defies all logic.
Obviously, visas would have been issued by our embassy in Kabul and the various consulates that we had in Afghanistan after due diligence and proper vetting in the past. If the government thought that there was indeed someone undesirable who had shown up, the person could always have been detained or deported. Moreover, ‘disagreeable elements’ do not travel with visas and show up at immigration points.
The broader point is that when we needed to keep our doors open, at least for those Afghan nationals who worked to make their country a better place in the past two decades and today require protection, we have slammed our doors shut.
The US Was Never Going to Stay
About five years back at a Track One and a Half event in one of the Gulf states, I ran into a Former Chief of General Staff of the Afghan National Army early one morning. I asked him how the situation in Afghanistan was. He replied that girls went to schools, they had newspapers, radio stations, TV channels, and any common citizen could go and tell the President that he is out of line. All that now would sadly be history.
Perhaps the General has no one but his Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) to blame for this unmitigated debacle. If anyone thought that the Americans or their allies would have stayed on forever, they were living in a veritable cuckoo’s land.
All nations act according to what they perceive as their enlightened national interest. The American commitment to Afghanistan had started waning way back in 2003, when George Bush turned his attention to Iraq.
Since then, the American commitment to Afghanistan has been tardy. Beginning with Barack Obama in 2009, the US had been trying to end its presence in Afghanistan. The Afghans, therefore, had enough time to consolidate themselves and get their act together. Be that as it may, what defies logic is the manner in which the US chose to hand Afghanistan back to the Taliban. The Doha Process midwifed by U.S. Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and his cohorts was a classical self-goal, sending American blood, treasure and Afghan aspirations for a better society into a bottomless sinkhole. History would not be kind to the Doha cabal.
India’s Moral Responsibility
Coming back to India, though we have been a small player in that graveyard of empires (since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan), post-2001, we were also invested in the human and infrastructural development of Afghanistan. We contributed in our own humble manner to the emancipation of women in Afghanistan and to broadening and deepening the democratic ethos and traditions of that nation.
We also would have cultivated some allies and friends in that nation and built up some equities. Now, when those friends require help in their hour of ultimate desperation, we are seen turning our backs on them and shutting our doors. Not just Hindus and Sikhs from Afghanistan, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government must open its hearts and minds to all those ordinary Afghan men, women and children who want to leave the chaos and anarchy behind and head for secure environs.
For a child born in December 1979, when the Soviets occupied Afghanistan, violence, mayhem, murder and loot is “the only normal”. As the Afghan people stare into another abyss, they need India’s empathy, not its disdain. The real victims of the Afghan conflict are the Afghan people.
(The writer is a lawyer & Lok Sabha MP. Views are personal. He can be reached at @ManishTewari. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)