“Yaari hai iman mera, yaar meri zindangi”- ardor of Zanjeer movie and amity of Aye Mere Payare Watan- Rabindranath Tagore’s novel ‘Kabuliwala’- reflects the surest anchor in India’s enduring friendship roots and identity with the people of Afghanistan. This Lilith of the music engraved in emotions makes thousands of Afghans smile. These euphonious songs are the backdrop- to the dignity, moral conviction and humanity that is deep between the people of the two nations since epoch times.
The glorious, ‘Kabuliwala’-Tagore’s classic work depicts a big picture of Afghans affection for Indians which makes a virtue of permanence. These memories of artwork scintillate the efforts to ignite hope in humanity that people of the two lands hold in their hearts for an everlasting bonding- durable friendship of Sholay – “Yeh dosti hum nahin todenge, Todenge dam magar tera saath na chhodenge, Ae meri jeet teri jeet, teri haar meri haar, Sun ae mere yaar, Tera gham mera gham, meri jaan teri jaan, Aisa apna pyaar”- in this whirlwind of emotions and the realm of this friendship reflects deepest gratitude, admiration and appreciation for each other.
At the heart of this great bonding is the concept of India’s policy towards Afghanistan- which is guided by ‘friendship’ and guided by ‘priorities’ with the Afghan people. This centuries-old strengthened bonding has shown that the people of two countries are capable of great things and both the nations marched together in many ways- mention of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan who had contributed to India’s freedom movement. King Amanullah once told the Maharaja that ‘so long as India was not free, Afghanistan was not free in the right sense’.
Keeping alive the flame of steadfast friendship- the art and culture, education, Bollywood connection and much more has innovated throughout between the people of the two countries.
Based on the truest deliberation of people to people and heart-to-heart connection, India must continue to summon this unwavering support to Afghan people in their pursuit of pressing humanitarian needs that precipitated a humanitarian disaster of unimaginable proportions after the takeover of Taliban in Afghanistan in August last year.
India’s Humanitarian Assistance to Afghanistan
As the people of Afghanistan entered a perilous chapter of humanitarian catastrophe, the role of India affirms to think big and more generously. This will add a remarkable record of India’s achievement in supporting Afghan people and rebuilding their resilience- offering educational scholarships, developmental aspects- India-Afghanistan Friendship Dam, Kabul parliament building, air-freight corridor, Chabahar port project- enumerates India’s sustainable development perspective for the Afghan people.
India has extended aid worth US $3 billion to Afghanistan in the last 20 years, making it the fifth-largest donor to Afghanistan in the world.
India has shown exemplary solidarity for the Afghan people by joining efforts to respond to the crisis and in addressing the recent challenges they face today.
Evacuation of Afghans and Indians after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, providing wheat aid, supply of COVID vaccination and other essential medicinal drugs, offering scholarships. That is a meaningful measure of solidarity.
At this moment where 23 million Afghans livelihood is impacted with acute food insecurity, drought, COVID pandemic, economic collapse and adding to the woes is the harsh winter which is teetering on the verge of a more deteriorating situation. The scale of crisis reflects the scale of their despair.
India voted in favour of the United National Security Council (UNSC) resolution to grant exemptions from sanctions on humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan.
India’s Permanent Representative to United Nations Ambassador T.S. Tirumurti mentioned in his speech that “aid and assistance should be provided to the most vulnerable section of the Afghanistan society focusing on women and children. Aid should be allowed irrespective of ethnicity and religion. India has been providing humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan for the last two decades”.
In this endeavour, India has committed to providing 50,000 MT of wheat and life-saving drugs to the Afghan people as humanitarian assistance.
On 7th January, India supplied the third batch of medical assistance to Indira Gandhi Hospital, Kabul, consisting of two tons of essential lifesaving medicines to Afghanistan.
India had last year delivered 75,000 MT of wheat to Afghanistan through the Chabahar port route.
India remains a major source of wheat for Afghanistan, having already supplied more than a million metric tonnes of the grain in the past 10 years.
In this effort, India had supplied 500,000 doses of COVID vaccine and 1.6 tons of medical assistance to Afghanistan through the World Health Organization (WHO). India would be supplying more batches of humanitarian assistance consisting of medicines and food grains to Afghanistan in the coming days.
It is in line with the humanitarian assistance mandate that India has evacuated 110 Afghan Sikhs from Afghanistan following the collapse of the Kabul Government.
During this difficult year, Indian Council for Cultural Relations has offered 450 scholarships. India’s concrete potential initiative in education cooperation through scholarships and self-financed schemes to Afghan students in different varsities in India remains a pivotal one.
Afghans Should not be forgotten
Tugged in emotions- ‘Aye Mere Pyare Watan’- An imperishable and poignant song from Kabuliwala, that has enlivened in the hearts of Afghans and the people of India with lasting impressions for many years.
The song strikes a chord with the plight of Afghan people- longing to return to their motherland who are displaced due to decades of geopolitical challenges. Afghanistan’s crisis is compounded by many other profound humanitarian crises: conflicts that are continuing or even intensifying; record numbers of people forced to flee their homes.
At this perpetual crisis, those who are away from their motherland as refugees and asylum seekers face threats, grapple in challenges and uncertain futures as historic injustices and political imbalances meted out to them.
It is a pivotal moment to act with moral conviction to help Afghans to weather this storm. As a home away from home, Afghans look to India to seek support. India’s committed determination will strengthen the resilience of the Afghan people.
Since August last year after the collapse of Kabul, the humanitarian crisis is growing in Afghanistan — the collapse of basic services has pushed a large number of people into crisis. An updated Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis shows that “in the first quarter of 2022, a staggering 23 million people, or 55 per cent of the population, are expected to be in crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity (IPC 3 and 4). 8.7 million people are projected to be in IPC 4 – the highest number in the world”. The fundamental drivers of food insecurity in Afghanistan include widespread poverty and economic fragility, extreme weather and climatic shocks, land degradation, and decades of conflict that have limited the spread of essential public services and safety nets.
India’s Enhanced Cooperation for Afghan people- a big hope
First and foremost to respond to the humanitarian crisis of Afghan people, it is important to save lives and livelihoods.
Twenty-two thousand Afghan Diasporas living in India need to access basic services, income and social protection. Ambitious efforts to respond to the Afghan crisis rekindle hope and faith and determination as they have nowhere to go.
Building on those strengths and establishing a higher platform of cooperation with the people of Afghanistan measures solidarity.
To support these efforts, India has shown an agile and multifaceted response for the Afghan people.
Without creative, flexible and constructive engagement by the international community, Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis will only worsen.
India’s humanitarian and refugee response plans need to have more ambitious actions to respond to the plights of Afghan students who completed their courses and graduated in the academic year 2021-2022 but due to the political crisis they fear returning to Afghanistan. After the completion of their respective courses, these graduates’ Residential permits/visas have expired and they are not able to extend it further. There are 800 Afghans, who have secured scholarships from ICCR, but were not able to travel to India because of the Taliban takeover. They are still in Afghanistan and want to be in India and pursue their courses virtually at the moment. 2,500 other Afghan students are still unable to fly to India to pursue their studies as their visas stand revoked.
India’s Sholay movie Love, ‘Yeh dosti hum nahin todenge’- for Afghanistan- transform the solidarity into more strongest commitment to address the pressing humanitarian needs of Afghanistan and to join efforts in addressing the huge challenges of the Afghan diaspora, students from a sustainable development perspective.
India’s solidarity extends beyond words to meaningful action for Afghanistan.- ‘Tera gham mera gham, meri jaan teri jaan, Aisa apna pyaar’.