The Indian government said on Tuesday it would prioritize the repatriation of Hindus and Sikhs from Afghanistan — a move that drew comparisons with a controversial 2019 citizenship law passed under Prime Minister Narendra Modi that discriminates against Muslims.
The country’s interior ministry said it would introduce “emergency visa” to allow Afghans to stay in India for six months. It did not say whether Muslims, who make up the majority of those seeking to leave Afghanistan while the Taliban takes over, would also be considered.
“We are in constant contact with the Sikh and Hindu leaders in Kabul,” said S. Jaishankar, India’s foreign minister, said on Twitter. “Their well-being is our priority.”
That distinction led to condemnation from some quarters.
“Ashamed that the government of India is now reacting to see desperate Afghan refugees, not as people fleeing persecution and certain death, but from the standpoint of whether they are Muslims or not,” Kavita Krishnan, an opposition politician said on Twitter.
India was also criticized after numerous seats were left empty on Tuesday on an air force flight that evacuated Indian citizens and officials from the country’s embassy in Kabul.
Officials in New Delhi have indicated that the country will “assist” Afghans who have worked closely with the Indian government and its mission in Afghanistan. It is not clear whether their religious status would play a role in this.
A foreign ministry spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
India has previously granted longer-term visas to Afghans fleeing persecution, regardless of their religion. Many Afghans migrated to India when the Taliban took over about twenty years ago. Some have settled in New Delhi, where a shopping area popularly referred to as “Little Kabul” comes alive every night with stalls selling traditional food.
US and Afghan officials say India’s arch-rival Pakistan has allowed free movement for Taliban leaders, and the country continues to serve as a refuge where fighters and their families can receive medical care.
But experts say India is cautious in its relationship with Afghanistan’s new leaders. Indian diplomats have recently made efforts to engage with the Taliban as part of the US-led talks in Doha, Qatar.
Some in India have urged their governments to deal directly with the Taliban. Vivek Katju, a former Indian ambassador to Afghanistan, told The Wire last week that the country had become a “bystander” in Afghanistan and that India’s leaders no longer knew “which way to go.”
“Involvement with the Taliban must happen,” Mr Katju said in a telephone interview with NewsMadura on Tuesday. “The mechanics of the assignment must be such that it must be open and direct.”
For its part, the Pakistani leadership has not yet welcomed the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
“If you adopt someone’s culture, you believe it is superior and you end up enslaving it,” Prime Minister Imran Khan said Monday in a veiled reference to the United States and Western culture. “In Afghanistan they have broken the shackles of slavery,” Mr Khan said during a performance in Islamabad, “but the slavery of the mind is not breaking away.”