India and Afghanistan were well acquainted with each other since ancient times despite their different society, economy, administration, culture, religion and ethnicity. By nomenclature, Indians in Afghanistan are either of Indian origin or residents with Afghan ancestors. Indians in Afghanistan enjoy the goodwill of the public and the Afghan administration because New Delhi has a clean and benevolent image in Kabul. India has invested a lot in the Afghan economy, humanitarian aid, education, development, construction and electrical development. India often described as an acting soft power is one of Afghanistan’s biggest donors and recently committed 2.3 billion dollars.

On the other hand, since 2021, about 15,806 Afghans are temporarily residing in India under a special protection and care programme of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Although, in comparison to Afghans living in  India who are safe and secured, in the last 4-5 decades, the Indian people living in Afghanistan are an easy target of extremist groups like the Taliban Haqqani network and Pakistani terror organisation, Lashkar-e-Taiba. On 15 August 2021, the arrival of Talibani rule in Afghanistan, and the fall of Kabul have posed more challenges for Indians residing in Afghanistan and the difficulties faced by them continue.

Trace of ancient relations

India and Afghanistan are both historically and ethnically linked from time immemorial, as far back as the Indus Valley Civilisation when Alexander the Great captured the region and controlled the whole area including Afghanistan.   In 305 BC, his successor transferred a part of it to Emperor Ashoka of the Maurya Empire in exchange for 500 elephants. For about 60 years after Emperor Ashoka’s rule ended, Hinduism and Buddhism influenced much of Afghanistan and it remained so till the 7th Century AD when Islam arrived there. After the arrival of Islam many of them converted to the new religion but it put no strain on the social system and adherents of both remained side by side for centuries or up to the 10th Century and in between the periods many kingdoms ruled the region like the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, Indo-Greek Kingdom, Mauryan Kingdom, Indo-Scythians and the predominance of these kingdoms remained prevalent in the Northwest while in the Southeast, it was Buddhism and Hinduism. During the 10th and 18th Century, particularly Northern India was invaded by many invaders which include Ghaznavids, Ghurids, Khaljis, Suris, Mughals, and Durranis. a large number of Afghans entered India, especially during the Mughal period (1526-1858) to live a peaceful life. Many of them like Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, and Khan Sahib played a very active role in India’s war of Independence and although part of the territory became a part of Pakistan after the country was divided, they always remained as friends of India.

Indians in Afghanistan  

It is clear from the narratives given earlier that the many Indian kings and kingdoms were well known in this area and the inscriptions of Mauryan emperors including Ashoka can be easily found in Kandahar which indicates its western limit, while Gandhara Mahajanapada spread from the west of the Kabul river to Punjab and comprised both Buddhist and Hindu dynasties. This phase of history was most famous for economic and trade relations between India and Afghanistan when the exchange of fruit and other products were sent frequently up to Central Asia. Among the people who settled in Afghanistan were those living in neighbouring kingdoms including Punjab. The Lohanis and Shikarpuri khatris ethnic groups and tribes migrated from India for commerce and over the years established their dominance in banking, finance eventually across the country. They all primarily spoke Punjabi and the language has a fair command in Central Asia, parts of Persia and even Russia. The next wave of migration of Indian Muslims to Afghanistan began during the Khilafat Movement (1920), to be free from the perceived British bondage of Islam. At the time the emigration of people was also largely encouraged by the leaders of their community. Viewing the dangers of immigration the Amir of Afghanistan blocked the borders of Afghan and the Khyber Pass and while on their way they were plundered by tribes and they began living a miserable life in Afghanistan.

Afghans in India

As of 1990, it was estimated the total population of Indians in Afghanistan was 45,000, mostly descended from the regions of Punjab, although they settled in a scattered way but the majority of them lived in Kabul and Jalalabad. As decades earlier, Afghanistan became a battleground of super power rivalry as well as a modern hub of global terrorism, lots of people fled from the country, especially after 1996 when the first regime of Taliban started – a terror group already famous for its violent and nefarious deeds. The same group has come back to  power in Afghanistan and people of the nation are bound to live under the shadow of fear and insecurity.

As per earliest records, Afghans began coming India in the late 13th Century when the Khalji dynasty formed an empire in Northern India under the leadership of Jalal ud din Firuz Khalji. It was the second Muslim dynasty to rule the Delhi sultanate, the last being the Lodi dynasty after whom the Mughal came and created a big Empire in the country, although, for a while from 1540 to 1557 the Sur Empire, founded by Sher Shah Suri, replaced Mughals. After the British Empire, a barrier was erected between India and Afghanistan because British India and the Afghan (Durrani) rulers implemented the system of visas, making the mutual exchange difficult in practice. Later in the19th Century some prominent feudal families-Nawab of Sardhana and Qizilbashi Agha family of Srinagar, Kashmir, of aristocratic background, migrated to India. In addition, around partition of India in 1947, a large number of people migrated from Afghanistan to Indian cities-Mumbai and Bangalore, while some of them became famous actors like Feroz Khan, Salim Khan and Kader Khan. The people who earlier came and settled permanently, have got Indian citizenship and are widely recognised as Indians.

After the Independence of India, the largest influx of emigration (approx. 60,000) took place with the start of the Soviet-Afghan War in 1979, although they made India their temporary home and soon shifted to Europe, North America, and Oceania, some returned to their homeland after the return of the Karzai Government in 2001. Adnan Sami, the famous singer of India, a Pashtun, took Indian citizenship on 1 January 2016, but it’s a rare case and most of the people coming from Afghanistan either move to other countries or return to their native country.


Dr. Rajkumar Singh is presently Professor and Head, Department of Political Science and Dean of Social Sciences at B.N. Mandal University, Madhepura (Bihar), India. His 19 books published in addition to 900 articles in national and international journals and daily newspapers from 25 foreign countries.

By Dr. Rajkumar Singh