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India Announces New Scholarships for Afghanistan as Visas Remain Restricted

India has recently announced one thousand scholarships for students from Afghanistan. The scholarships are for online undergraduate and post-graduate programs as Indian visas remain restricted for nationals of Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover.

The Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), a body of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, said the scholarship program for the academic year 2023-24 seeks to promote capacity building in Afghanistan.

The Afghanistan Embassy in New Delhi, which is still managed by diplomats from the previous government, welcomed the announcement, adding that the scholarship program offers hope and strengthens students toward a prosperous future.

India introduced the ICCR scholarship for Afghanistan in 2005, taking in 500 students each year which later increased to 1,000.  The program has since helped thousands of students to get higher education across different fields of study. S. Jaishankar, the Indian Minister of External Affairs, said in a conference in November 2020 that 65,000 Afghan students had studied in India through various scholarship programs. 3,000 among them were women, Mr. Jaishankar said.

The new scholarships are for online programs as India still does not issue visas to Afghanistan nationals, a decision that has impacted thousands of Afghan students at Indian universities. There were 15,000 Afghan students in 2020, according to Mr. Jaishankar, at the time.

Many of them found themselves helpless after India closed its embassy in Kabul and canceled Afghans’ visas following the Taliban’s return to power in August 2021.

The decision left more than 2,000 students with scholarships from Indian universities stranded in Afghanistan, many of whom feared losing their admissions or faced difficulties in attending online classes due to power outages and poor internet connection. Female students were particularly hurt as the Taliban banned them from attending universities.

New Delhi resumed limited operations at its Kabul embassy in August 2022. Although it has not yet decided whether to send an ambassador to Afghanistan.

The visa restrictions, however, still remain in effect.

Indian government encouraged students to apply under its e-visa program, but it falls short of helping Afghans because it is only valid for six months and is granted in very limited circumstances. Last year, only 300 e-visas were issued to Afghanistan nationals. One student said her visa application was rejected thrice.

On Wednesday, September 13, hundreds of students from Afghanistan launched a protest in New Delhi calling on the Indian government to extend their visas and allow them to continue their studies. If they were forced to return, students said they would face Taliban brutality and no certain prospects of jobs or further studies due to a worsening economic and humanitarian crisis.

Onib Dadgar, a Ph.D. student in Computer Science at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, has been running a campaign since May to advocate for Afghan students’ rights. He urges the Indian government to issue visas to stranded students in Afghanistan. “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.” Part of his campaign statement reads.

Addressing these concerns, India’s ICCR Director General said that his country will not force any student to leave India against her wish.