A group of writers, activists and former bureaucrats on Wednesday urged the Indian government to provide shelter to all Afghan citizens who fled Afghanistan after the Taliban seized control of the country.

“There should be no discrimination on grounds of religion in providing shelter to Afghans who have been forced to leave their country,” the group, under the banner “Indian Friends of Afghanistan”, said.

Thousands of Afghan citizens are desperately trying to escape the country after the Taliban’s return to power on August 15. But the Indian government has said it will help members of the Hindu and Sikh communities from Afghanistan who want to come to India.

The 11 signatories included former Union ministers Natwar Singh, Yashwant Sinha, Mani Shankar Aiyar, former Indian Police Service officer Julio Ribeiro, former Lieutenant Governor of Delhi Najeeb Jung and experts on Afghan affairs.

The statement also added that India should permit temporary stay to Afghan journalists, artists and civil society leaders who feel threatened by the conditions in Afghanistan.

This was in purported reference to India’s deportation of an Afghan MP on August 20. The MP, who held a diplomatic passport that allows visa-free travel under an arrangement with the government of India, had flown from Istanbul to Delhi. Rangina Kargar said that she was treated like a criminal. After Kargar’s situation was made public, the Indian government apologised.

“The people of India stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Afghanistan in these difficult times as they seek to embark on a new road of hope towards peace, national reconciliation and national reconstruction,” the statement added.

The Indian Friends of Afghanistan also urged political parties not to use the “developments in Afghanistan to communally polarise Indian society for electoral gains”. Such attempts should be dealt with sternly, they added.

The statement was also in favour of India’s engagement with the Taliban in Doha.

On Tuesday, Indian Ambassador to Qatar Deepak Mittal met a top Taliban leader. This was the first official meeting between an Indian diplomat and the Taliban since the insurgent group took over Afghanistan.

During his talks with Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, the head of Taliban’s political office in Doha, Mittal said that Afghanistan should not be allowed to be used for “anti-Indian activities and terrorism”.

The statement also welcomed the withdrawal of United States troops on August 31, which marked the end of the 20-year-old “American mission”. However, they were critical of its chaotic execution and said that it encouraged terrorists to attack the Kabul airport on August 26.

More than 100 individuals, including US Army soldiers and Taliban militants, lost their lives in that attack. The Islamic State Khorasan – an affiliate of terror group ISIS – claimed responsibility for the attack.

Read the full text of the statement:

The People of India, stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Afghanistan in these difficult times as they seek to embark on a new road of hope towards peace, national reconciliation and national reconstruction. The proud, patriotic and brave people of Afghanistan have defeated every invading army and continue to fight forces of extremism and terrorism.

Freedom is an inalienable right of every nation — small or big, poor or rich. Sovereignty of every nation is inviolable, and forms the key principle of international law and the basis of global stability. We welcome the complete withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. However, the unplanned manner of its execution created conditions of avoidable chaos. The chaotic circumstances emboldened certain terrorist groups to kill innocent Afghans and foreigners. We strongly condemn the barbaric suicide attacks in Kabul on August 26, in which scores of Afghans and over a dozen American soldiers lost their lives.

As friends of Afghanistan, we are deeply concerned over the current situation in that country. We care for the security, wellbeing and national aspirations of Afghan people because the millennia-old cultural relations between India and Afghanistan are deep and unbreakable. We believe it is our duty to stand in solidarity with our Afghan sisters and brothers because India and Afghanistan both cherish the fundamental human values of peace, freedom, justice and universal brotherhood. All the countries in South Asia — especially India, Pakistan and Afghanistan — should strive to make it a region of peace, harmony and collective progress. This dream is best symbolised by the close partnership between Mahatma Gandhi and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan during India’s anti-colonial struggle.

Peace, stability and ending the situation of strife are what Afghanistan needs the most today. This is the collective responsibility of all the internal stakeholders in Afghanistan and the international community, especially regional countries. Furthermore, we fear that the fires of terrorism, religious strife and regional turmoil could reach India if peace and stability elude Afghanistan.

We therefore make the following appeal.

Our appeal to Taliban and other political forces in Afghanistan:

Afghanistan needs an inclusive government that facilitates national reconciliation after
four long decades of wars and violence. Therefore, we appeal to the Taliban (which are in near-total control of the country) and other political forces to begin an intra-Afghan peace process leading to a democratic governing establishment that —

a) Ensures that no terrorist organisation has a sanctuary in Afghanistan and that its territory is not used for terrorist and extremist activities targeting any country in the world, near or far.

b) Guarantees the safety and security of every Afghan citizen regardless of their ethnicity, ideology or past political background;

c) Guarantees the safety, dignity and rights of women;

d) Protects Hindus, Sikhs and other non-Muslim minorities, and facilitates the dignified return of those who were forced to leave their country.

e) Safeguards and continues the developmental projects undertaken by India in Afghanistan.

Our appeal to the International Community:

a) No country in the region should be excluded from, nor isolate itself from, collaborative efforts to bring peace in Afghanistan and promote national reconciliation and national reconstruction. This requires India, Pakistan, China, Russia, Iran and other countries to evolve and implement a common strategy, in cooperation with the United Nations, USA, EU and other members of the international community.

b) Providing humanitarian aid and assistance to Afghanistan is an immediate and common responsibility of the international community.

c) All members of the international community should together shoulder the responsibility of rebuilding Afghanistan’s war-damaged economy and creating livelihoods for its people.

d) Multilateral regional forums such as SCO (in which both India and Pakistan are members) and SAARC (of which Afghanistan is also a member) should actively work for peace in Afghanistan and stability in South Asia and Central Asia.

Our appeal to the Government of India:

a) India should continue to engage with the Taliban to achieve the objectives set out in this appeal. We welcome the government’s first official acknowledgement of its engagement with the Taliban in Doha and the positive assurances given by the latter.

b) There should be no discrimination on grounds of religion in providing shelter to Afghans who have been forced to leave their country.

c) India should permit temporary stay to Afghan journalists, artists and civil society leaders who are feeling threatened by the conditions in their country.

d) No political party should be allowed to use the developments in Afghanistan to communally polarise Indian society for electoral gains and any such attempts should be dealt with sternly.

This Appeal has been issued by the following on ...September 2021:

1. K. Natwar Singh
Distinguished diplomat, former External Affairs Minister

2. Yashwant Sinha

Former Union Finance and External Affairs Minister;
Founder, Rashtra Manch

3. Mani Shankar Aiyar
Former Union Minister and Consul General in Karachi

4. Julio Rebeiro
Distinguished Police Officer

5. Najeeb Jung
Former Lt. Governor of Delhi

6. Dr Vedpratap Vaidik
Distinguished writer, well-known Afghan expert

7. Saeed Naqvi
Distinguished writer having a longstanding association with
Afghanistan and Asian affairs

8. K.C. Singh
India’s former ambassador to Iran and UAE

9. Sandeep Pandey
Gandhian social activist and Ramon Magsaysay award winner

10.Majeed Memon
Senior Supreme Court lawyer and former MP (Rajya Sabha)

11.Sudheendra Kulkarni
Aide to the late Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and
Founder, Forum for a New South Asia