As bombs rained down and gunfire boomed around the Afghan city of Herat, 26-year-old Iqra, an Indian citizen, was jolted out of a idyllic holiday with her husband *Shehzad (name changed on request), an Afghan national, two years ago. On India’s Independence day this year, also the anniversary of the day the Taliban took Kabul, Ms. Iqra says she wants nothing more than to be able to savour the freedom of being home with her husband and her one-year-old daughter.
“In front of my eyes, Afghanistan totally changed [on August 15], the same day each year my own country celebrates its Independence. I am here in Afghanistan with so many difficulties…I would given anything to be there with my whole family this Independence Day,” Ms. Iqra told The Hindu over the telephone, her 14-month-old daughter gurgling in the background as she told her story.
Ms. Iqra, then an undergraduate student, met Mr. Shehzad, who was pursuing his post graduate studies, when they were both studying at the Aligarh Muslim University. The two were married in India, where Mr. Shehzad completed his Master’s degree in Political Science and planned to enroll for a Ph.D.
On a visit to Afghanistan, Mr. Shehzad was offered a post in the Afghanistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2020, then under the Afghan Republic government of President Ashraf Ghani, and he jumped at the opportunity of returning to India to work in the Afghan Embassy in Delhi. As he returned to his family in Herat, Ms. Iqra stayed back in Aligarh amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and waited for her husband, but as the diplomatic paperwork for Mr. Shehzad was delayed at the Indian Embassy, Ms. Iqra decided to get on a flight to Afghanistan in early July 2021.
The joy of being reunited with her husband was short-lived as the Taliban began their assault, first attacking Herat on July 28, and then making their way to Kabul, which they claimed on August 15 after President Ghani fled the country.
Between the Taliban’s stringent strictures on women that have been issued since then, including not allowing them to study, take a job, leave home unescorted, or even walk in a public park, and the Indian Ministry of External Affairs’ (MEA) restricted visa policy for Afghans, Ms. Iqra is virtually imprisoned, by both circumstance and paperwork. Her passport has expired in the years since she travelled, her daughter has no diplomatic document other than a birth certificate, and her husband, who is entitled to travel to India as her spouse, has had no reply to his application for the special “Emergency-misc-X-Visa” he applied for in August 2021.
Mr. Shahzad isn’t alone — according to official estimates, about 60,000 Afghans have applied for the Emergency-misc-x-visas, a category started by the MEA and Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) after the fall of Kabul, in order to carry out the orders reportedly given by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the time, that India would stand with Afghan “brothers and sisters” and expedite visas for Afghans needing to come to India.
But the promise proved hollow, as the government has failed to clear visas for all but a handful, leaving thousands of students, businesspersons, and erstwhile Afghan Members of Parliament and former security personnel now being targeted by the Taliban, in the lurch. Although according to the Visa Manual, the spouse and children of an Indian citizen may be granted an”X-2” multiple entry visa for an extendable period of five years, The Hindu has documented several cases of Afghan nationals married to Indian citizens who have not been able to procure a visa for the past two years.
The Indian government’s seemingly unofficial no-visa “policy” has led to the division of families, stopped students from completing degrees, and held up business worth crores of rupees, Afghans say. According to sources, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has repeatedly called on India to not “abandon” Afghans, has recently written a letter to the Indian PM, raising the issue of non-issuance of visas.
Ms. Iqra says she has left no stone unturned, door not knocked, and no email unsent in order to return to India, where she has family, her husband can find work or start a business, and her daughter can go to school. While she was pregnant, Ms. Iqra and Mr. Shehzad even undertook a perilous journey to Iran to try and renew her passport and get him a visa for India. While many officials in the MEA and India’s technical mission in Kabul have been sympathetic, none has thus far provided the documents they need.
To those officials who counsel her to return to India while they sort out the paperwork for Mr. Shehzad and her baby, Ms. Iqra’s response is firm — “Not without my husband, not without my daughter”.