NEW DELHI: Noor Zahid Paiman wanted to obtain his computer science degree from an Indian university this year and return to Afghanistan to become a lecturer.
But like many other Afghan students enrolled in Indian colleges, he has been unable to go to his campus at Sharda University in Noida for half a year now, waiting for his visa to be renewed.
About 4,000 students from Afghanistan used to arrive in India every year to pursue higher education — hundreds of them on Indian government scholarships.
Many traveled home last year when India went into a lockdown during a devastating second wave of the pandemic. They have been unable to return ever since, as the lifting of virus restrictions in India coincided with the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in mid-August, which prompted New Delhi’s decision to suspend diplomatic ties with Kabul.
The students have been holding numerous protests in front of Indian consulates across the country. In the latest one last week, dozens demonstrated in front of the Indian embassy building.
“Our future is at stake now since we have already missed one full semester due to lack of visa,” Paiman, a native of the eastern Khost province, told Arab News over the phone.
“For five months, I have been stranded here and my final year exam is already happening. I am really nervous about what’s going to happen to my future,” he said. “I had plans to become a university professor and work for our people.”
When the Indian embassy suspended its operations, it canceled the visas it had issued, asking holders to reapply online.
Students say there has been no response to their applications. “I had a valid visa, but the Indian government canceled it, and this happened with around 2,500 students who are stuck in Afghanistan,” Paiman said.
Farzana Ayubi, also from Khost, found herself in the same situation. She wondered why New Delhi has not helped them leave Afghanistan like other countries did.
“Other countries who were not close to Kabul evacuated Afghan students,” the second-year business student at Goa University said. “Russia, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, European countries and Bangladesh evacuated their students from Afghanistan, but India is still waiting.”
Jalal Ahmad Baryal, from the Oruzgan province, was worried about what would happen as he was about to miss his final exams at the Gandhi Institute of Technology and Management in Bangalore.
“For 20 years, the Indian government was with us,” he said. “But in this hour of grave crisis, it is not helping us.”
It is unclear whether the student visa policy will change.
“On the specific issue of visas, I have to refer you to the Home Ministry,” India’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said.
But officials at the Home Ministry have not replied since last week despite attempts to reach them. The Afghan Embassy in New Delhi said it is also waiting for Indian authorities to respond.
“It’s a difficult situation for us,” Abdul Haq Azad, press secretary at the embassy, told Arab News. “We have been pursuing the matter with the Indian government for the last few months, but so far there has not been any response.”
Shukria Barakzai, former Afghan lawmaker and ambassador to Norway, said it was “unbelievable” that neighboring India had turned its back on Afghans at a time of crisis while countries far away offered them shelter. “Even countries that are far away, such as Mexico, are trying to support Afghans. Australia, Europe, America, Canada and even some countries in Africa are trying to provide a safe shelter for Afghans,” she told Arab News.
“We are expecting our friends to stand beside us,” she said. “We will remember our friends, their help and support to us.”