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Afghan student Jalal hoped to return to Afghanistan next month after completing his studies at a university in India.
But his dreams of a bright and prosperous life in his home country have been shattered by Kabul's dramatic fall to Taliban fighters, with concerns growing over Afghanistan's future under the hardline Islamist group.
“I can’t go back. Once we go back, our lives will be threatened under Taliban control because living under them would mean slavery – our freedom would be taken away,” said Jalal, who for security reasons gave only his first name.
“My education, my degree would mean nothing in Afghanistan any more. I have lost my country,” he told The National.
The 25-year-old from Kabul initially self-funded his graduation programme at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University in 2016, but stayed on to pursue a master’s degree in development studies.
Jalal’s aim was to finish his studies and return to his family in the Afghan capital and work to rebuild the country after more than two decades of war.
But with the Taliban takeover, his family is urging him not to return to the country, leaving him “hopeless and helpless”.
“I can only stay here if I apply for a PhD, but that is very expensive and I have no means to finance my studies,” Jalal said.
Like Jalal, thousands of Afghan students in India are gripped by similar feelings of despair and despondency after the fall of the US-backed Ashraf Ghani government.
Many are left in limbo, with their student visas soon to expire, financial difficulty on the horizon and concerns over the safety of their families in Afghanistan mounting.
India has been running several programmes to boost bilateral ties between the two countries for the past decade, including providing educational scholarships to get 1,000 Afghan students into Indian universities each year.
Some students were self funding their education so that they could one day return to Afghanistan and serve their nation or use that as a stepping-stone for better opportunities in western countries. This was a hope particularly for Afghan women, who suffered badly under Taliban rule between 1996 and 2001.
Atifa Bahmani, an ethnic Hazara, came to India in 2019 to take a bachelor’s degree in business studies.
One of 10 siblings, Ms Bahmani, 21, had hoped to return to her country and find a decent job after after graduating next year.
But after the Taliban took over Kabul, she fears for her own and her family’s safety in Kabul.
“I wanted to have a job and help my two brothers run our large family. My father is disabled,” said Ms Bahmani, a final-year student at a college in Visakhapatnam in southern Andhra Pradesh state.
Ms Bahmani told The National that going back to Afghanistan has become a distant dream because of her gender, which means the chances of being able to work or even enjoy basic freedoms under the Taliban regime are slim.
“I will never be able to work there. Going back would mean dying and becoming a victim of the Taliban,” Ms Bahmani said.
“My two sisters who worked at a beauty parlour were sent back home yesterday. My family is asking me to extend my stay in India. I am helpless. I don’t know what I will do.”
The situation is no different for those Afghans who have taken refuge in India and who fear for their families still living in the war-ravaged country.
Hayat Amiree, 29, a conflict-resolution trainer in New Delhi, said a Taliban armoured vehicle was stationed outside his sister's home in Mazar-I-Sharif.
“She has five children, two of them are young daughters. The Taliban doesn’t see women as humans. It is a grave situation for them. They are trying to escape the city but do not have the passports and visas,” Mr Amiree told The National.
Mr Amiree, a Hazara from Parwan valley, came to India in 2013 on a student visa and later applied for UNHCR refuge in the country.
While he gradually succeeded in bringing his parents and four siblings to India, his eldest sister was living with her husband and he was unable to get them to India because of financial constraints.
“They are scared to death. It brings back memories of violence and massacre that we experienced in the 1990s. It is very risky for them. We are traumatised,” Mr Amiree said.