The Message of Sikh Killings in Afghanistan
| Virendra Kumar Gaur, Former IG, BSF - 30 Mar 2020

The recent killing of Sikhs in Kabul has terrified the minority communities in Afghanistan again. The attack on a Gurudwara in Kabul on March 25 that killed at least 25 people, mostly members of Afghanistan’s persecuted Sikh minority, is a barefaced attempt by the Islamic State (IS) to revive its fortunes in the country at a time when it is politically divided and the peace process is hamstrung by the Taliban’s continuing violence and a message to the Afghan authorities that it remains a potent security threat. Here is an in-depth analysis of the incident and the status of Sikhs and other minorities in Afghanistan by Shri VK Gaur, a former IG, BSF and a known expert on security and strategic affairs. - Onkareshwar Pandey,  Editor in Chief, Indian Observer post.

By V K Gaur

On March 25, 2020, Gunmen and suicide bombers raided a Sikh religious complex in the Afghan capital of Kabul, killing 25 people before security forces killed all of the attackers, reports Daily Times.

Afghanistan is, of course, no stranger to violence, but the killings demonstrate that unless various contenders for power in the country get their act together, IS, Al Quida and other splinter extremist groups will exploit the absence of unified of leadership in Afghanistan. IS has claimed the responsibility for the savage act.

In an editorial comment, the DT says,” While the self-proclaimed caliphate has largely been routed in Syria and Iraq — where it initially emerged — it is now trying to establish itself in other ungoverned spaces, and Afghanistan offers a prime location unless a workable peace deal takes effect and all parties abide by it.”

In Afghanistan, there is feud between the aspirants of power. Both Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah blocs, as well as the Afghan government and the Taliban — IS and other militant groups that do not believe in the political process. It will be free for violence. A lasting peace agreement between various Afghan factions is essential. 

Mr Ghani was declared the winner of last September’s presidential election, his chief rival Mr Abdullah dismissed the results and has proclaimed himself the leader of the country.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently visited Kabul to work out a compromise between the two factions, but his attempts proved futile.

Mike announced a cut of $1bn in aid to cash-strapped Afghanistan as ‘punishment’. Under such situation minority communities of Indian linkage are bound to feel unsafe.

Gunmen and suicide bombers have killed at least 25 worshippers, including women and children, and injured many others in an early morning attack on a Sikh Gurudwara in the heart of Kabul.

The attack lasted hours as the gunmen held hostages on 25 March (Wednesday) while Afghan Special Forces and international troops tried to end the siege in a complex that is home to many families, as well as a place of worship.

Now, a welfare society for Afghan Sikhs urged the Central government on Thursday to bring to India those injured in the Gurudwara attack in Kabul and also facilitate the homecoming of the Sikhs living there as they were undergoing trauma. Khajinder Khurana, president of the Afghan Hindu-Sikh Welfare Society, said the attack was against humanity.

Narender Singh Khalsa, a member of parliament who represents the Sikh community, told Reuters that there were three attackers, who arrived when the buildings were full of worshippers. Islamic State, which has targeted Sikhs in Afghanistan before, said it carried out the attack.

Up to 200 people were trapped inside the Gurudwara when the attack began at about 7am, interrupting worship that had started an hour earlier. The attackers reportedly threw grenades, and after bursting into the complex, started shooting indiscriminately.

The attack was condemned internationally and across much of Afghan society.

Afghanistan’s tiny Sikh community is one of few religious minorities in the country, protected by law but frequently targeted by extremists and subject to discrimination.

Thirty years ago Sikhs were 500,000 strong, but after decades of conflict and the rise of the Taliban – who ordered Sikhs to wear yellow armbands – many migrated and sought asylum in India. The Sikh community is now reduced to about 700.

In 2018 a convoy of Sikhs and Hindus traveling to meet the president, Ashraf Ghani, was targeted by an Islamic suicide bomber. The massacre on Wednesday was the second ISIS attack on a religious minority in March; a gathering of the predominantly Shia Hazara ethnic minority was also attacked earlier on March 20. More than 30 people were killed.

There are fears that a coronavirus outbreak could be gathering force, as tens of thousands of Afghans have returned from badly hit Iran this year without any quarantine or testing. It could shake health system of Afghanistan. The UN has called for a ceasefire to help prepare for the looming crisis.

Sikhs in Afghanistan are primarily based in major cities, with the largest numbers of Afghan Sikhs living in Jalalabad, Ghazani, Kabul, and to a lesser extent Kandahar.

These Sikhs are Afghan nationals who speak Dari, Hindi and in their native Punjabi.Their total population is around 70 to 80 families who are left in all over Afghanistan, which makes the population no more than 700.

There were over 20,000 Sikhs in Kabul in the 1980s, but after the start of the Civil War in 1992, most had fled. Seven of Kabul's eight Gurudwaras were destroyed during the civil war. Only Gurduwara Karte Parwan, located in the Karte Parwan section of Kabul, remains. They are centred today in Karte Parwan and some parts of the old city.

The older of the Gurudwaras was built to commemorate the visit of Guru Nanak Dev. On July 1, 2018, at least 10 Sikhs were killed in a targeted suicide bombing at the PD1 market. The local branch of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant claimed responsibility.

 Some early Khatri Sikhs established and maintained colonies in Afghanistan for trading purposes.  Sikhs also served in the British Empire's military during several operations in Afghanistan in the 19th century. 

During the 1980s Soviet–Afghan War, many Afghan Sikhs fled to India, where 90% of global Sikh population lives; a second, much larger wave followed following the 1992 fall of the Najibullah regime. Sikh gurdwaras (temples) throughout the country were destroyed in the Afghan Civil War of the 1990s, leaving only the Gurdwara Karte Parwan in Kabul.

Under the Taliban, the Sikh custom of cremation of the dead was prohibited by the Taliban, and cremation grounds vandalized. In addition, Sikhs were required to wear yellow patches or veils to identify themselves.

Cremation has become a major issue. Cremation grounds have been appropriated by Muslims, particularly in the Qalacha area of Kabul, which Sikhs and Hindus had used for over a century.

Sikhs in Afghanistan continue to face problems, with the issue of the Sikh custom of cremation figuring prominently. City development also threatens to destroy the Gurudwara Karte Parwan and adjoining shrine.

In recent years the Chittisinghpura massacre of Sikhs was worst. It happened in Kashmir of India. It was executed by Muslim terrorists in 35 villages of the Sikhs on 20 March 2000 in the Chittisinghpora village of Anantnag district, Jammu and Kashmir, on the eve of the US president Bill Clinton's state visit to India. It is believed that the massacre was conducted by the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

The massacre was a turning point in the Kashmir issue, where Sikhs had usually been spared from militant violence. After the massacre, hundreds of Kashmiri Sikhs gathered n Jammu shouting anti-Pakistan and anti -Muslim slogans.

Pakistan was in news for repeated attacks on the Sikh community by Muslims. The minority lives largely in Punjab, Sind, KP and Baluchistan.

While the correct population data of the Sikh community is unavailable, the approx population there is anything between 20000 to 5000.

The 1947 partitions had seen massive attacks on Sikhs and total casualties were roughly between 1 to 5 lakhs. During 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pak wars there were numerous attacks on minority residents and their Gurudwaras. Sporadic mob attacks on Sikhs in Pakistan are countless.

In the first week of Jan 2020 hundreds of angry Muslim residents of Nankana Sahib pelted stones on Gurudwara Nankana Sahib on Friday. The mob was being led by the family of Mohammad Hassan, the boy who allegedly abducted and converted Sikh girl.

The mob of angry Muslims gheraoed the holy shrine on Friday afternoon, leaving many devotees stranded inside.

The protesters threatened to destroy the Gurudwara and build a mosque in its place. Addressing a mob at the gates of the holy shrine, Hassan's brother said that he will ensure that no Sikh is left in the city and that it is renamed from Nankana Sahib to Ghulaman-e-Mustafa.

Kartarpur corridor was lately offered by PM Imran Khan to win over Sikh community. Incidentally in 1980s Pakistan had promoted, nurtured and actively supported violent Sikh militant movement of Khalistan in Punjab.

Image Courtesy – Gulf News / AFP via Deccan Herald/ Reuters via-Channelnewsasia / AP via Deccan Herald

(The writer Mr. VK Gaur is former IG, BSF and has written more than 50 books on the issues related to Defence, Strategy and Internal security.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinion of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Indian Observer Post and Indian Observer Post does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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(Onkareshwar Pandey is Founder, Editor in Chief & CEO, Indian Observer Post and former Senior Group Editor- Rashtriya Sahara (Hindi & Urdu) and also former Editor, (News), ANI. http://bit.ly/2mh7hih Email - SMS- 9910150119)


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