A delegation of Afghan refugees living in Delhi called on Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj and sought her intervention to facilitate the return of those Sikhs who want to leave Afghanistan following the latest terrorist attack in Jalalabad. The delegation included representatives of DGPC and SGPC.
While there were once 2,00,000 Sikhs in Afghanistan, their number has dwindled to just about a thousand. And while Afghanistan’s Ambassador to India Dr Shaida Abdali told NH that though Sikhs did face a threat, they were an integral part of the Afghan society and were held in esteem. The Afghan Government, he said, would cooperate with Government of India in whatever was needed to be done.
A suicide bomber owing allegiance to the Islamic State had blown himself up and killed several Sikh religious and community leaders who were on their way to meet the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Jalalabad.
"I am in touch with my relatives there. The fidayeen attack on Sikhs in Jalababad was the deadliest in thirty years. They are scared for their lives and say they want to return if the Indian government provides adequate arrangements. I took this up with Swaraj ji," Khajinder Singh, an Afghan Sikh refugee living in Delhi for almost 20 years, told National Herald.
The Afghan Sikhs were accompanied by leaders from the Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee and the Shiromani Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), who have demanded that the government must also make adequate security arrangements for the Sikh community in Afghanistan, which has faced decades of persecution under the Taliban and number just 1,000 now, from 20,000 in 1988.
Parminder Singh, the spokesperson of the Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee told National Herald that a fresh wave of exodus of Afghan Sikhs to India was expected following the Jalalabad attack.
Talking to reporters after the meeting with Swaraj, Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee chairman and Shiromani Akali Dal leader Manjit Singh GK said that Swaraj seemed receptive to many of the demands, including providing compensation to the victims, providing free education to Afghan Sikh students who want to settle in India and granting citizenship to the Afghan Sikh refugee community who have fled persecution from Afghanistan.
"Swaraj also said that she would check with the Prime Minister and the Afghanistan government if it was possible to provide compensation to families of victims of the terror attack in Jalalabad," said GK from Shiromani Akali Dal.
GK said that the Sikh delegation also asked for bodies of the victims to be flown back to India.
Khajinder Singh said that he still had to apply for a visa. "But she told us that passports of Afghan Sikhs would be made once the Citizenship Bill is passed in Rajya Sabha," said Khajinder.
"We also asked her to send a delegation of Indian MPs to Afghanistan at the earliest to assess the condition of the Sikhs living there. She has assured us that the government would work out the modalities at the earliest," added Khajinder.
Hundreds of Sikhs, including several MPs, also staged a demonstration at the Afghanistan Embassy in Delhi on Tuesday to protest the persecution of the community members in the country.
“We had around two lakh Sikhs living in Afghanistan. But they have been persecuted, which especially got bad at the time of Taliban. They were being intentionally threatened to leave Afghanistan during the Taliban era. Now, we just have a 1,000 left. We know what the motivations behind such attempts are,” Afghanistan’s Ambassador to India, Dr Shaida Abdali, told NH
Afghanistan's Ambassador to India, Dr Shaida Abdali, told National Herald that his government would fully cooperate with India in ensuring that the Sikh community and gurudwaras in Afghanistan were protected. "We welcome cooperation and support from India, as has always been the case. We are also open to any arrangement to ensure that future attacks do not take place," said Abdali.
Abdali also assured that if families of the victims wanted their bodies to be flown to India for last rites, the two governments would work out a way.
He, however, stressed on the fact that Sikhs were an integral part of Afghanistan's multicultural fabric, which he said was an eyesore to militants backed by "foreign powers."
"I tell you from the core of my heart that we look at the Hindu and Sikh community as part of our unified national fabric. They are respected in Afghanistan more than ordinary Afghans because they have proven themselves to be genuine and patriotic Afghans," he said.
He noted during his conversation that Afghan Sikhs had been facing an existential threat in Afghanistan.
"I would like to acknowledge that they are under threat, since they are the symbol of Afghan diversity. They are the symbol of India-Afghanistan friendship. So, certainly there would be threats and there are threats," he said.
"The Afghanistan government is doing all it can to protect the Sikh people," stated the envoy, adding though that the number of Sikhs in Afghanistan had drastically reduced over the years.
"We had around two lakh Sikhs living in Afghanistan. But they have been persecuted, which especially got bad at the time of Taliban. They were being intentionally threatened to leave Afghanistan during the Taliban era. Now, we just have a 1,000 left. We know what the motivations behind such attempts are," he said.
"We have Sikhs living in Jalalabad, Kabul, Ghazni and Kandahar. They are scattered across the country," he said.
Calling for convergence of national priorties on terrorism, Abdali noted that ISIS, Jaish-e-Mohammad or the Taliban, "were all creation of a system that must be opposed by every country.
"At present, there is an unfortunate division among the world players when it comes to the issue of terrorism. We suspect one another. We are turning a blind eye to a country or an actor. That is blatantly using terrorism against another country," he noted.