Despite lack of recognition, Taliban claims Indian Mission invited officials for online training programmes

MEA reiterates it doesn’t recognise Taliban; Afghan students, who have been denied visas for Indian colleges since 2021 say they are ‘disappointed’

Updated - March 14, 2023 08:38 am IST

Published - March 13, 2023 09:21 pm IST - NEW DELHI

A file photo of Afghan students protesting in Bengaluru against the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

A file photo of Afghan students protesting in Bengaluru against the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. | Photo Credit: PTI

Reports of an alleged decision by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) to hold courses for Afghans, including Taliban officials, in Kabul have set off strong reactions among Afghan students who have been denied visas by New Delhi for nearly two years. They termed the decision “contrary to India’s policy” and “disappointing”.

While the Taliban is not recognised by any country, India is amongst about 15 countries that run missions in Kabul, which it reopened in June 2022 as a “technical mission”.

According to an internal memo (in Dari language) circulated within the offices of the Taliban’s Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan and available online, the Taliban’s Ministry of Foreign affairs (MFA) had received intimation of the course from the Indian technical mission in Kabul.

“The Embassy of India in Kabul, via note verbale No. Kabul/nv/2023/05 dated 23/01/2023 to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has announced the organization of a short-term online training program for the staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” a translated version of the memo said, adding that the special course, titled “Immersing with India thoughts” would be held from Tuesday (March 14 to 17).

The MEA refused to comment on the memo, given India’s consistent position that it doesn’t recognise the Taliban regime that took power by force in Kabul in August 2021, and does not recognise their documents as official. However, sources said that the course described is run by the Indian Institute of Management in Kozhikode, sponsored by the MEA’s Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation Programme (ITEC), and is open to students “across the world, including in Afghanistan”. The sources did not rule out that some of those applying for the course would belong to the Taliban regime’s staff.

“This is only an online course — available across the world, including to Afghan students. While none of the students is being invited to India, we are not discriminating against Afghan nationals, and anyone can avail of the course,” a government official said, stressing that New Delhi does not recognise the Taliban, or its MFA, or its diplomats.

According to details of the course available at the ITEC website, that is run by the Development Partnership Administration (DPA) section based at the MEA’s Jawaharlal Nehru Bhawan (JNB) headquarters in Delhi, the course is meant particularly for government officials and business managers. The four-day course would “help foreign officials and executives gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of India’s business environment”, providing participants “an opportunity to experience and learn about India’s economic environment, regulatory ecosystem, leadership insights, social and historical backdrop, cultural heritage, legal and environmental landscape, consumer mind-sets and business risks,” the website explained.

No country for Afghan students

The Taliban memo sparked angry reactions online from Afghan students who have been unable to complete their education in India, as New Delhi cancelled all existing visas after the Taliban takeover, and, according to diplomatic sources, has not yet granted a single new visa for students wishing to travel to India. These include students who went home to Afghanistan mid-studies due to the Covid lockdown and couldn’t return to complete their degrees, and about a thousand students who won scholarships from the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) in 2021.

Onib Dadgar, 28, said he was “shocked and disappointed” to read about the online courses that would be open to Taliban officials and diplomats in Kabul, given the predicament of students like him. Mr. Dadgar, an ICCR scholar, and his wife were due to travel to Karnataka as he was enrolled in a PhD programme but are now stranded. He says he fears for his safety in Afghanistan, and his wife, a qualified teacher, has been banned from working by the Taliban.

“It is really sad that in such a difficult time when Afghans need help, India denies to extend a helping hand, especially to those students whom they supported for years,” he wrote to The Hindu, sharing an online petition on behalf of 2,500 students seeking MEA acceptance.

However, he says, he has “lost faith in India-Afghan friendship”, given that his calls and emails to the government have gone unanswered for nearly two years. In addition, he said most of those students have already received letters from Indian colleges cancelling their admissions due to non-attendance, and many are applying to other countries in desperation.

The lack of visas is also an issue for those students presently in India, as they are unable to return home to see their families, for fear they cannot return to complete their education. “I was the kind of kid who couldn’t go for a single day without seeing my mother,” says Farhad (last name witheld), who hasn’t seen his mother or family in Afghanistan since 2019. “I miss her so much, but I can’t afford to miss finishing my PhD that I’ve worked so hard for,” he adds, saying that he hopes that along with the now controversial ITEC course, the government will pay attention to the worries of students like him, and those stuck in Afghanistan as well.

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