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India to prioritize granting visas to civil society members, activists

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New Delhi: In line with its historical ties with Afghan people, India will prioritise granting visas to civil society members, opinion makers, women activists, students and NGO workers from Afghanistan in view of the current situation in the country, people familiar with the development said on Friday.
Afghan people feeling threatened or facing the fear of persecution and those who supported India in rolling out various welfare and development projects will also be given priority for grant of visas, they said.
However, they said the government’s immediate priority is to evacuate the stranded Indians from Kabul and arrangements are being made in coordination with the US and other partner countries to bring them home.
It is learnt that all back-up plans have been put into place to facilitate their return at the earliest.
Amid fears of a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, a number of countries such as the UK, Canada, have already announced resettlement schemes for Afghan refugees while several others have agreed on providing temporary shelter to them.
Two days after Kabul fell to the Taliban, India on Tuesday introduced a new category of electronic visas called “e-Emergency X-Misc Visa” to facilitate the grant of visas to Afghan nationals after reviewing the situation in the conflict-ridden country.
The people cited above said India will continue to stand by those Afghan people who have supported India in various ways.
Following the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul, thousands of people rushed to the airport in the Afghan capital in a desperate attempt to flee the country fearing the Taliban’s brutality.
“We have a historical relationship with the Afghan people and I think that relationship will continue to guide our thoughts and outlook,” External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said in New York on Thursday.
India has been a key stakeholder in Afghanistan and it has invested nearly USD 3 billion in carrying out nearly 500 projects across Afghanistan.
The people said another priority for the government has been to facilitate the evacuation of the members of the Hindu and Sikh minorities from Afghanistan.
The majority of the people from the Sikh community in Afghanistan possess long-term Indian visas.
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on Monday set up a round-the-clock special cell set to keeping track of stranded Indians in Afghanistan, ascertaining assistance being sought and advising a further course of action.
The Taliban swept across Afghanistan this month, seizing control of almost all key towns and cities including Kabul in the backdrop of the withdrawal of the US forces. Kabul fell to the Taliban on Sunday.
By Tuesday, India completed the evacuation of all its diplomats and other staff members from the Afghan capital under a difficult and complicated exercise, effectively closing its mission for the second time since 1996 when the militant outfit captured power.
The mission to evacuate close to 200 people including the Indian envoy and other staffers in two military aircraft was accomplished with support from the US.
Following the evacuation, the MEA said the focus now would be to ensure the safe return of all Indian nationals from the Afghan capital.
The MEA said the immediate priority for the government is to obtain accurate information about all Indian nationals currently staying in Afghanistan.
It also requested the Indians as well as their employers to urgently share the relevant details with the special Afghanistan cell.
Meanwhile, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar held talks with his Qatari counterpart Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani on the situation in Afghanistan as he made a stopover in Doha on his way back from the US.
Qatar’s capital Doha has been the venue for the intra-Afghan peace talks and the Gulf country has emerged as a crucial player in facilitating the Afghan peace process.
“Met Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani @MBA_AlThani_DPM & FM Qatar during my stopover in Doha. Had useful exchange of views on Afghanistan,” Jaishankar tweeted.
Earlier this month, Qatari special envoy for conflict resolution Mutlaq bin Majed Al-Qahtani visited India.


Press Trust of India

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