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India and Afghanistan's Time-Tested Friendship in the Shadow of History

Afghanistan is a key state from a geopolitical and geostrategic perspective. "Central Asia, the Middle East, and South Asia" may all be reached through Afghanistan. The world powers attempted to expand their sphere of influence in Afghanistan in order to gain more sway over this region, but their efforts failed, as history attests. It has been established that Afghanistan is the resting place of invaders.

India made every effort to grow its influence in Afghanistan. Afghanistan has occasionally been identified as the hub of Indian civilization. India and Afghanistan have a close bond, and based on shared history and culture, India has been and will continue to be a dependable partner in Afghanistan's development and reconstruction endeavors.

The main goals of India's development assistance have been to improve the institutions and people of Afghanistan's ability to govern themselves, provide public services, construct socio-economic infrastructure, ensure people's safety, and support their ability to earn a living. Afghanistan's connectivity and free and open access to transit for all goods have been reaffirmed, and India and Afghanistan have also agreed to identify goods and methods to improve bilateral commerce.

The study employed a normative approach and examined the relationship between India and Afghanistan which relied on historical and cultural ties. The study is a glance that highlighted the contribution of India toward the reconstruction of Afghanistan for two decades.

Prologue:
Afghanistan for more than 2000 years, has served as a pivotal crossroads for trade and crafts connecting the civilizations of Persia, Central Asia, and India.[1] India and Afghanistan historically have shared close cultural and political ties, and the complexity of their diplomatic history reflects this fact. India was among the first non-Communist states to recognize the government installed by the Soviet Union after its 1979 invasion of Afghanistan.[2]

New Delhi supported successive governments in Kabul until the rise of the Taliban in the 1990s. But like most countries, India never recognized the Taliban's assumption of power in 1996 (only Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates recognized the Taliban regime).[3] Following the 9/11 attacks and the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan that resulted, ties between India and Afghanistan grew strong once again.

India has restored full diplomatic relations and has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in aid for Afghanistan's reconstruction and development. But Pakistan views India's growing influence in Afghanistan as a threat to its interests in the region.

Afghanistan's largest task now is to preserve and restore its old architecture and art, as well as to combat the illegal opium trade and give and rural residents. In the areas of music, the arts, architecture, language, and food, India and Afghanistan have long-standing cultural ties.

Most Afghan musicians received their training in the Patiala Gharana in the past, especially in the realm of music.[4] The widespread popularity of Indian movies, songs, and TV shows among the general public today has greatly helped to popularise Hindi and familiarise the general public with the socio-cultural values of India. Dari language dubbing has been done for TV shows like Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, Kasauti Jindagi Ki, Kum Kum, Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki, Saare-ga-ma-pa, Pratigya, and Utran.

They receive the most viewers overall and are broadcast at prime time on both public and commercial TV channels. India has sought to undertake projects that will make Afghanistan's cultural heritage viable as part of its plans for Afghanistan's reconstruction.[5]

In addition to being a gateway to energy-rich Central Asian nations like Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, Afghanistan is strategically significant to India as New Delhi looks for allies in the region. According to J. Alexander Their, an expert on Afghanistan at the United States Institute of Peace, "India is seeking to ensure that other nations in the region favor or at least are neutral on its dispute with Pakistan" (USIP).[6]

On the other side, he claims that India is seen by Afghanistan as "a potential counterweight in its relationship with Pakistan." After the Pakistan-backed Taliban gained control of Afghanistan in the 1990s, India's influence there began to decline. The anti-Taliban opposition group, the Northern Alliance, which was primarily made up of Tajik and other non-Pashtun ethnic groups, received support from New Delhi during this time.

Fostering Relationships

In the post-Taliban 1.0 regime, Afghanistan, India has adopted a "soft power" strategy by taking charge of various development and rehabilitation projects. India has supported the construction of the Afghan-India Friendship Dam and the Afghan Parliament Building, to mention only two extremely well-known development initiatives.[7]

In addition to reconstructing air linkages and power facilities, India is also investing in the health and education sectors in Afghanistan. India assists Afghanistan in training its civil officials, diplomats, and police officers. Taking advantage of their long-standing ties, India has been welcoming to the Afghan people, fostering collaboration in a variety of areas. Each year, thousands of Afghans used to travel to India for tourism, healthcare, and education.

India is the greatest regional donor to Afghanistan, contributing $1.2 billion since 2001 towards the country's rehabilitation.[8] Afghanistan is another potential pathway for India to access Central Asian energy. India, a Shanghai Cooperation Organization observer, has been working to improve relations with Central Asian countries. To cooperate on energy issues, it signed a memorandum of understanding with Turkmenistan for a natural gas pipeline that will travel through Afghanistan and Pakistan, and it provided a $17 million grant for the upgrade of a hydropower facility in Tajikistan.[9]

India has handed the Afghan government access to its satellite network for communication. Even while New Delhi insists that the purpose of its financial support for Kabul is to create effectively and enhance infrastructure, India's geopolitical objectives in Afghanistan are what motivate it.

The Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA)

India and Afghanistan are Historically and culturally connected and enjoy a close bond. India has played a significant role in maintaining Afghanistan's stability and peace. It has already contributed $3 billion to the nation's aid and rehabilitation efforts.[10] The engagements and connections that the two have had throughout the years are the basis of their friendship. The Strategic Partnership Agreement, which was signed between India and Afghanistan in October 2011, has recently enhanced the relationship between the two countries.

The Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) between the two-state provides for support for an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, multifaceted, and inclusive process of peace and reconciliation as well as aid to help rebuild Afghanistan's institutions and infrastructure.[11] It also calls for education and technical support to help develop Afghan competence in various sectors. There is a great deal of interest in cultural exchange activities on both sides of the border due to the strong cultural ties between Afghanistan and India. Over the past several years, there have been a number of exchanges between musical ensembles and performers.

A special scholarship program (proceeded by ICCR) that awards 1,000 scholarships to Afghan nationals annually sees 100% use most of the time.[12] Every year, India provides Afghanistan with more than 1,000 positions under its ITEC program (Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation). The ITEC training is envisaged to address Afghanistan's need to strengthen national, province, and district-level governance and administration, including through exchanging experiences and providing technical support to develop civil administration and project implementation skills.[13]

India's engagement has therefore been a manifestation of its cultural diplomacy. Since 2001, New Delhi has committed more than $3 billion to Afghanistan's development. India has also agreed to "provide more aid for the Afghan national defense and security forces in tackling the scourge of terrorism, organized crime, trafficking of drugs, and money laundering." It appears extremely plausible to suggest that India's relationship with Afghanistan will have a major security component as both India has learned that no magnitude of workflow is viable without sturdy foreign military support to Kabul government.

Pre-Taliban 2.0 Regime India's engagement in Afghanistan

  1. A Direct Air Freight Corridor was built between India and Afghanistan
    With the arrival of the first cargo flight carrying 60 tonnes of cargo from Kabul to Delhi on June 19, 2017, India and Afghanistan created a direct air freight corridor. President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani flagged off the maiden flight in Kabul, while External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj welcomed it in New Delhi in the presence of the Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju and Minister of State for External Affairs M.J. Akbar. In September 2016, during the visit of the Afghan President to India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghan President Ghani met and decided to construct an air freight corridor between Afghanistan and India.[14]

    Afghanistan is a landlocked country and will have greater access to Indian markets thanks to the connectivity established through the Air Freight Corridor, which has now been extended to include the Kandahar-New Delhi sector as well. Afghan businessmen will be able to take advantage of India's economic expansion and trade networks for their advantage. For their perishable produce, it would give Afghan farmers speedy and direct access to the Indian markets.


     
  2. Chabahar Port
    In order to improve sea-land connectivity with Afghanistan and the Central Asian region, India and Iran are currently working together on an important infrastructure development project at Chabahar Port, which is located in the Iranian province of Sistan-Baluchistan.[15] Two terminals are being built as part of the Chabahar Port Project: a regular container terminal and a 600-meter-long multipurpose terminal (640 meters long). In order to establish a trustworthy legal framework that will guarantee a seamless movement of products and vehicles between Chabahar port and Afghanistan through Iran, a trilateral transit and transport agreement between India, Afghanistan, and Iran is planned.[16]
     
  3. The first shipment of wheat from India to Afghanistan
    The first cargo of wheat from India to Afghanistan that would be routed through the Chabahar port in Iran was flagged off on October 29, 2017, via a joint video conference between the foreign ministers of India and Afghanistan. The delivery is a component of the Indian government's pledge to donate 1.1 million tonnes of wheat to the people of Afghanistan.[17] The delivery of wheat marks a significant turning point since it will enable the operationalization of the Chabahar port as a reliable, robust, and alternative connectivity for Afghanistan. It will increase trade and business between the three nations and Afghanistan, as well as provide new chances for transit via and to Afghanistan.
     
  4. Road from Zaranj to Delaram
    In order to facilitate the passage of goods and services to the Iranian border, a 218 km route from Zaranj to Delaram was built. The road will link Iran to the Garland Highway, which connects Mazar-e-Sharif Herat, Kunduz, Kabul, and Kandahar.[18]
     
  5. Afghanistan Parliament Building
    The Afghan Parliament, which spans 86 acres and was constructed over 28,370 square meters, is a gift from India to the Afghan people. The project involved creating the House of Representatives, a service facility with parking, and a welcome area. On December 25, 2015, the Afghan President and Indian Prime Minister jointly inaugurated the Afghan Parliament. The new structure is now where the Lower House (Wolesi Jirga) and Upper House (Meshrano Jirga) sessions are held.[19]
     
  6. Afghan India Friendship Dam
    The multifaceted Afghan-India Friendship Dam has been built as the most significant symbol of India's support in the development of Afghanistan (AIFD). There were a number of difficulties with the project's implementation, including logistical and security issues. On June 4, 2016, the project was officially launched by the Prime Ministers of India and Afghanistan.[20] The Dam supplies water to irrigate 75,000 hectares of land and has an installed capacity of 42 MW. Since then, the plant has been pumping water for irrigation and producing electricity.

    1. Small Development Project
      On August 28, 2005, India and Afghanistan signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in the fields of agriculture, education, labour, rural development, and public health. Local entities, non-governmental organisations, charity trusts, and educational and vocational institutions are all used to carry out the initiatives. The Small Development Projects were implemented in three phases: 50 project proposals were submitted in July 2006, 51 proposals were submitted in June 2008, and 303 project proposals were submitted in November 2012.[21]
       
    2. India-Afghanistan: New Development Partnership
      The following aid initiatives have been launched under the auspices of the India-Afghanistan New Development Partnership:[22]
      • 116 new "High Impact Community Development Projects" in 31 Afghan provinces, covering infrastructure for sports, administration, irrigation, agriculture, drinking water, renewable energy, flood control, and 116 new "High Impact Community Development Projects" in the fields of education and health.
      • Building the Shahtoot Dam would provide Kabul with drinking water and make irrigation easier.
      • A low-cost housing project in Nangarhar Province for refugees who are returning from Afghanistan to encourage relocation
      • A road connection to Band-eAmir in the province of Bamyan would encourage economic growth and tourism to the national park.
      • The city of Charikar's water supply network in the Parwan Province.
      • The construction of a Gypsum board manufacturing facility in Kabul to support value-added business.
      • In Mazar-e-Sharif, a polyclinic is being built.
      • Support for Afghanistan's use of remote sensing technology, notably in resource management and agriculture.
      • The ICCR begin implementing a scholarship programme for 500 children and dependents of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) in the 201819 school year.
      • Training, including to Afghan civil servants, defence and police personnel in Indian institutions.
         
  7.  India-Afghanistan Scholarships Programme [23]
    Following the repair and rebuilding of the Habibia School in Kabul, India is providing help for training and upkeep of the school:
    • Human resource development and capacity-building projects make up a significant portion of India's assistance portfolio in Afghanistan.
    • India provides 500 Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) slots to Afghanistan each year, and this programme has been exceedingly effective with 100% use of its 1000 yearly scholarships for Afghan nationals.
    • Through sharing of experiences and technical help in enhancing civil administration and project implementation capacities, the ITEC training is anticipated to address Afghanistan's need to develop its administration and governance at the national, province, and district levels.
    • The Government of Afghanistan established the Afghanistan National Agricultural Sciences and Technology University (ANASTU).
       
    1. Restoration of Stor Palace
      In 2016, India helped to restore the historic Stor Palace, which is a century old and is located inside the Afghan Foreign Office buildings in Kabul, to its former splendour. On August 22, 2016, the Indian Prime Minister and the Afghan President opened the Stor Palace.[24]
       
    2. Doshi Charikar Substations
      Two more power sub-stations at Doshi and Charikar were set up at the request of the Afghan government to service the earlier constructed 220kV Transmission Line from Pul-e-Khumri to Kabul. To accommodate the growing demands of Doshi Town, the transformer capacity at Doshi was increased, and an additional bay was agreed upon for a third 16 MVA transformer at the Charikar sub-station. In 2016, both substations were finished and put into service.[25]
       
    3. Indira Gandhi Institute of Child Health
      The biggest hospital in Afghanistan that cares for the health of kids from all across the country is the Indira Gandhi Institute of Child Health (IGICH), which has 400 beds. Each year, IGICH treats about 3 lakh children (2,5 lakh OPD and 50,000 IPD). In the 1970s, it was established with Indian aid.

      With financial and technical support from the Government of India, IGICH has established a diagnostic centre that includes the provision and installation of all the diagnostic center's equipment, including a CT scanner, HVAC and gas manifold systems, digital X-ray machines, ICU equipment, OT equipment, imaging equipment, ophthalmology equipment, hospital furniture, Central Sterile and Supplies Department (CSSD) equipment, and EPABX.[26]
       

Post-August 15, 2021.[27]
Afghanistan is heading extremely challenging and turbulent period in its history. In addition to having strategic partnership agreements for aid in helping Afghanistan restore its infrastructure and higher education institutions, India and Afghanistan have a strong and long-standing bilateral connection. When it comes to higher education, India has always been a great destination for Afghan nationals. After Nepal, India considers the second-highest influx of foreign students from Afghanistan.

India has donated 500,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to Afghanistan. and India has promised to get further doses of the vaccine as well as food grain in the future. According to the World Food Program, about 23 million Afghans, or more than half the nation's population, are experiencing severe food shortages. Over 3 million children are at risk of malnutrition, and nine million people are on the verge of hunger.

Following the Taliban takeover in August, New Delhi sent Kabul the second shipment of humanitarian aid. India sent the nation 1.6 tonnes of pharmaceuticals. The Indian government has promised to supply food aid, one million doses of the COVID vaccine, and decisive life-saving medications.[28]

India is endeavoring to aid Afghanistan with humanitarian aid as part of a diplomatic initiative to engage with the country, which has been marginalized in the years after the Taliban takeover.

India has spent billions on development initiatives over the past 20 years to establish "soft power" in Afghanistan, but with the withdrawal of American forces last year, its standing took a severe hit.

India continued to provide humanitarian aid to the Afghan people by sending the fourth consignment of 2,000 metric tonnes of wheat to Afghanistan via Pakistan. On February 22, India sent the first shipment of 2,500 metric tonnes of wheat to Afghanistan via Pakistan, and on February 26, 2022.

ICCR has offered Special Scholarship Schemes for Afghan Nationals in Intensive Quality education from Afghanistan as part of a spectacular and philanthropic educational project. This program was intended to refer to the daunting political situation in the country and the requirement that Afghan students have credible education opportunities to pursue their academic dreams.

In addition to working closely with the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, ICCR offers exceptional opportunities for selected Afghan students to pursue their Bachelor's, Master's, and Ph.D. degrees at any universities or Institutes that offer the courses. This allows them to fathom and appreciate the intricacies of higher education. With the support of this scholarship, Afghan students will be equipped to diversify their cognitive capabilities and research skills as well as to pave the road for a secured career.

This is an effort on the part of ICCR to show the support and devotion for the transformation of higher education prospects for Afghan students. The government of India is keen to support Afghan nationals whose pursuit of higher education may have been impeded by the region's ongoing volatility and offer them permutations. Along with the Embassies of Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the European Union, Indonesia, and four Central Asian nations, the Indian Embassy in Kabul became the 15th mission to have personnel stationed there throughout the Taliban government.[29]

"In order to closely monitor and coordinate the efforts of various stakeholders for the effective delivery of humanitarian assistance and in continuation of our engagement with the Afghan people, an Indian technical team has reached Kabul today and has been deployed in our Embassy there," the MEA said in an announcement, citing India's "historical and civilizational relationship with the Afghan people" as the reason for the decision.[30]

However, Thousands of Afghan students are waiting for Indian visas after receiving scholarships from the Indian government for higher studies. The Indian government canceled all Afghan visas last August including those of students and set up an online system for visa applications as the Indian embassy suspended its operations in Kabul. Hence, it is appropriate to mention that, Indian support is unconditional to Afghanistan. Afghan people greatly value the friendly ties with India, and this relationship is the people-to-people bond, hope that the Indian government issue visa for the stranded students who are waiting in Kabul for an uncertain future.[31]

In nutshell, Afghanistan and India have long shared a common history and culture. It seems more likely that the Indus Valley Civilization was the first point of contact between the people of India and Afghanistan. Prior to the entrance of Islam in the seventh century A.D., Afghanistan was a part of an undivided India and was supported by Buddhist, Hindu, and Zoroastrian cultures. Following that, both nations have been neighbors for many centuries.

From King Zahir Shah to the current Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani, India has consistently

supported numerous Afghan leaders. India was the only nation from South Asia to recognize and support the Soviet-backed regimes in Kabul during the Soviet occupation of the country. India's strategy had no issues with whoever was in power in Kabul because of India's impartiality and constructive attitude to mutual reconciliation in Afghanistan's internal conflicts. Afghanistan holds such a significant role in Indian culture that India was able to reopen its embassy in early 1993, even though everything in Afghanistan had not yet returned to normal. It came at a cost to India.

It must be highlighted that India's core strategy toward that nation has been pursued since Independence, and these characteristics are likely to remain in the future. As a result, India was able to adapt quickly to the new situation in Afghanistan. India was concerned with maintaining a strong and stable Afghanistan since it firmly thought that India's security depended on that nation's geographical integrity. India has long valued good relations with Afghanistan for strategic reasons, just as it does with Iran, in addition to historical and cultural ones. finally, India has consistently respected Afghanistan's independent and non-aligned foreign policy.

End Notes:
  1. The Silk Road: Connecting People and Cultures | Smithsonian Folklife Festival, https://festival.si.edu/2002/the-silk-road/the-silk-road-connecting-peoples-and-cultures/smithsonian (last visited Jul 9, 2022).
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  3. Avinash Paliwal, New Alignments, Old Battlefield: Revisiting India's Role In Afghanistan, Diplomacy and Public Policy at SOAS University of London.
  4. Remembering Ustad Fateh Ali Khan, Patriarch of the Patiala Gharana, The Wire, https://thewire.in/culture/remembering-ustad-fateh-ali-khan-patriarch-patiala-gharana (last visited Jul 9, 2022).
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  8. Ministry of External Affairs, https://eoi.gov.in/eoisearch/MyPrint.php?0707?000/0001 (last visited Jul 9, 2022).
  9. Turkmenistan to promote implementation of stalled 1,800km TAPI gas pipeline, 800, https://newsonair.gov.in/News?title=Turkmenistan-to-promote-implementation-of-stalled-1%2C800km-TAPI-gas-pipeline&id=438386 (last visited Jul 9, 2022).
  10. India played a constructive role in Afghanistan: Pentagon - The Hindu, https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/india-played-a-constructive-role-in-afghanistan-pentagon/article35830151.ece (last visited Jul 9, 2022).
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  12. Indian Council for Cultural Relations, Government of India, http://a2ascholarships.iccr.gov.in/home/page/indian-council-for-cultural-relations-scholarship-schemes (last visited Jul 9, 2022).
  13. Scholarships  : ITEC Fellowships, https://eoi.gov.in/kabul/?0360?000 (last visited Jul 9, 2022).
  14. Maiden India-Afghanistan air freight corridor lands in Delhi, https://www.deccanchronicle.com/nation/current-affairs/190617/maiden-india-afghanistan-air-freight-corridor-carrying-afghan-goods-lands-in-delhi.html (last visited Jul 9, 2022).
  15. Chabahar Port and Iran's Strategic Balancing With China and India, https://thediplomat.com/2021/10/chabahar-port-and-irans-strategic-balancing-with-china-and-india/ (last visited Jul 9, 2022).
  16. Iran emerges as conduit for new trade route between India and Russia, https://www.freepressjournal.in/india/iran-emerges-as-conduit-for-new-trade-route-between-india-and-russia (last visited Jul 9, 2022).
  17. Kallol Bhattacherjee, India ships wheat to Afghanistan via Chabahar, The Hindu, October 29, 2017, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/india-ships-wheat-to-afghanistan-via-chabahar/article19945498.ece (last visited Jul 9, 2022).
  18. Zaranj-Delaram highway ready in Afghan: India - Oneindia News, https://www.oneindia.com/2008/08/05/india-completes-zaranj-delaram-highway-in-afghanistan-1217929584.html (last visited Jul 9, 2022).
  19. Internet Desk, Modi inaugurates Afghan parliament building, The Hindu, December 25, 2015, https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/modi-inaugurates-afghan-parliament-building/article8028735.ece (last visited Jul 9, 2022).
  20. Afghanistan, India inaugurate Friendship Dam - World - DAWN.COM, supra note 7.
  21. List of MoUs signed by India in 2022 - BankExamsToday, https://www.bankexamstoday.com/2017/03/list-of-mous-signed-between-india-and.html (last visited Jul 9, 2022).
  22. Afghanistan-India New Development Partnership - JournalsOfIndia, https://journalsofindia.com/afghanistan-india-new-development-partnership/ (last visited Jul 9, 2022).
  23. Press Release : India announces 1000 Scholarships for Afghan nationals, https://eoi.gov.in/kabul/?12617?000 (last visited Jul 9, 2022).
  24. India will always be with Afghanistan: Modi, The Hindu, August 22, 2016, https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/south-asia/Afghanistan-is-a-close-friend-says-PM-opening-Kabul%E2%80%99s-Stor-Palace/article60495624.ece (last visited Jul 9, 2022).
  25. English Releases, https://pib.gov.in/newsite/erelcontent.aspx?relid=9818 (last visited Jul 9, 2022).
  26. KABUL CHILDREN AT RISK - The Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1989/02/06/kabul-children-at-risk/ab03c0f5-2ed2-4335-9eec-d0535ae5f6c2/ (last visited Jul 9, 2022).
  27. Taliban fighters enter Kabul, India moves to safeguard diplomats, citizens | Latest News India - Hindustan Times, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/taliban-fighters-enter-kabul-india-moves-to-safeguard-diplomats-citizens-101629021319378.html (last visited Jul 9, 2022).
  28. India's humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, https://www.mea.gov.in/press-releases.htm?dtl/35381/Indias+humanitarian+assistance+to+Afghanistan (last visited Jul 9, 2022).
  29. Embassy of India Kabul, Afghanistan, https://eoi.gov.in/kabul/ (last visited Jul 9, 2022).
  30. Deployment of a technical team in Embassy of India, Kabul, https://mea.gov.in/press-releases.htm?dtl/35437/Deployment+of+a+technical+team+in+Embassy+of+India+Kabul (last visited Jul 9, 2022).
  31. Sarath Babu George, Afghan students' long wait for e-visas piles on their misery, The Hindu, January 16, 2022, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/afghan-students-long-wait-for-e-visas-piles-on-their-misery/article38278345.ece (last visited Jul 9, 2022).
Written By: Sayed Qudrat Hashimy
Email: [email protected]

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