New Delhi: The Afghanistan government recently took an initiative to grant citizenship to Afghan refugees from Hindu and Sikh communities living in India, days before India passed its new citizenship law opening its doors to persecuted minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The Afghanistan government has given a ‘national identity card’ or ‘Tazkera’ to 3,500 Afghan Sikh and Hindu refugees living in India as part of its plan to recognise the “special status” of these minorities, Tahir Qadiry, Chargé d’Affaires at the Embassy of Afghanistan, told ThePrint in an interview.
The cards were distributed last month by a special delegation of the Afghanistan government along with the Afghanistan Embassy in Delhi.
“This was done under a special decree of our President (Ashraf Ghani). Many of our Hindu and Sikh brothers and sisters who have been living here in India for many years, some of whom also have children who are born here, needs these ID cards for many official reasons such as passport and others,” the envoy said.
The Afghan government under President Ashraf Ghani has also taken an initiative to issue travel cards to those Afghan citizens who are Indian passport holders but were born in Afghanistan. Those who have got Indian citizenship will also be given such travel cards, provided they were born in Afghanistan.
Using this card, they can travel to and from Afghanistan multiple times until the expiry of their passports, Qadiry said.
“With the help of these travel cards, those Afghan refugees, who have got Indian citizenship but were born there can now freely travel to that country from India without the requirement of a visa,” he said.
Additionally, the Afghan envoy said, the Ghani government has now made provisions for those Afghan minorities who live in India but own properties back in Afghanistan will now be able to sell those without any hassle.
“We are doing all these because they are our countrymen, and nobody can deny that. So, there is no discrimination,” he said.
On 11 December, the Rajya Sabha passed the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 under which Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis and Jains who have faced persecution in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan will be granted Indian citizenship. These people should be living in India for the last six years and have arrived in the country before 31 December 2014.
‘Equality for all under Afghan constitution’
After the fall of the Taliban regime, the envoy said, the Afghan government has ensured that “all Afghans, irrespective of religion language and ethnicity” will have equal rights under the country’s Constitution.
“Afghanistan has gone through four decades of war. During the war, every single Afghan has been affected. But perhaps the only time the minorities were discriminated was during the Taliban regime,” he said.
The Afghan government has now got a representative each from Hindu and Sikh communities in both Houses of Parliament — Anarkali Kaur Honaryar and Narinder Singh Khalsa. Sandpal Singh Khalsa, a special representative from the minority communities, has been appointed at the Presidential Palace.
“Especially for the minority groups, such as the Afghan Sikhs and Hindus, there have been some special treatment for them in order to protect them. Under the present government, special attention was paid to them because they are Afghans and probably the most hard-working ones, they are there as merchants, they run shops, they are one of us,” Qadiry highlighted.
The Afghan government has also decided that some of the 1,000 student scholarships that the Indian government offers to it annually will be allocated to Afghan refugees based in India, he said.
In 2013, under former President Hamid Karzai, attempts were made to allow Hindus and Sikhs to contest for the lower house of Afghan Parliament, but the Afghan proposal eventually got stalled.
In 2016, President Ghani issued a Presidential decree for the minority community to elect their representative to Parliament.
According to a 2016 report by Afghan broadcaster TOLO News, almost 99 per cent of the Hindus and Sikhs left the country in the last 30 years.
Ghani’s 7-point plan, Afghan elections & Taliban talks
Afghanistan had gone to polls in September, but an announcement on the verdict continues to be delayed due to protest over counting of ballots over allegations of “fraud voting”.
According to Qadiry, the preliminary results by the Independent Election Commission (IEC) will be announced “soon”. It was originally scheduled to be announced on 19 October and then it was postponed to 14 November. But the verdict is still awaited.
“The Afghan electoral commission will quite soon be announcing the preliminary results of the elections. This is to ensure that everyone is satisfied and that the results are transparent,” he said.
Meanwhile, as the so-called peace talks between the US and the Taliban continue to be on wobbly ground, Ghani has put forward a seven-point plan, which includes the Afghan government speaking to the US, the Taliban as well as Pakistan and other stakeholders.
“This seven-point plan is aimed at peace and stability and it includes that the Afghan government has proposed. And based on this the roadmap for an intra-Afghan dialogue (talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban) will be decided and will be moving forward. It also includes talking to regional countries so that everyone is on the same table,” Qadiry said.
After abruptly halting the dialogue with the Taliban, the Trump administration has once again activated its diplomatic channels to revive it.
US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad landed in Islamabad Sunday and briefed the Pakistani leadership on the last round of peace talks he had with the Taliban in Qatar.
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