After attack, Afghan Sikhs see ‘no future’

Published June 21, 2022
AN Afghan Sikh, Ragbir Singh, (left) who was injured in the recent temple attack, speaks during an interview in Kabul on Monday.—AFP
AN Afghan Sikh, Ragbir Singh, (left) who was injured in the recent temple attack, speaks during an interview in Kabul on Monday.—AFP

KABUL: A dozen Afghan Sikhs gathered on Monday in a room behind the charred ruins of their gurdwara in Kabul, hoping to be swiftly evacuated having finally given up on the country of their birth.

“There is no future for us here. I have lost all hope,” said Ragbir Singh, who was wounded when gunmen stormed the gurdwara on Saturday in an attack claimed by the militant Islamic State group. “Everywhere we are under threat.”

When the Taliban seized power in August, many Sikhs sought refuge at the complex, living communally or in family groups scattered around the building.

The Sikh community had been a target before. In March 2020, at least 25 people were killed when gunmen stormed a different gurdwara in Kabul.

And in 2018 at least 19 people, most of them Sikhs, were killed by a suicide bombing in the eastern city of Jalalabad.

Both attacks were claimed by the IS. The number of Sikhs and Hindus living in Afghanistan had dwindled to around 200 by late last year, compared with about half a million in the 1970s.

Most of those who remained were traders involved in selling herbal medicines and electronic goods brought from India and Pakistan.

For Manmohan Singh Sethi, who was born in Afghanistan, the gurdwara was not just a place of worship, but home to the entire Sikh community.

“This used to be the main gurdwara where we all used to meet as a family,” said Sethi, who is in his 70s.

But the peace was shattered on Saturday with one member of the community killed and seven others — including Singh — wounded in the early-morning raid. A Tali­ban fighter also died, in a counter-operation launched soon after.

Now, several rooms and the main prayer hall of the complex are heavily damaged by bullets, grenades and a fire that engulfed a section during the raid.

Indian government sources in Delhi said emergency visas had been given to around 100 Afghan Hindus and Sikhs, but Sethi said none in the frightened community were aware of the offer. He said the community was now unsure where even to pray for their future.

“If we all gather to perform rituals at a specific place we might face another such incident,” he said. “We have been attacked thrice already... We can’t be careless. The latest incident has impacted us in a big way,” said Sethi. “Afghanistan is my homeland and I never wanted to leave... but now I am leaving.”

Attack on market

The UN mission to Afghanistan reported scores of people were killed and wounded in an attack on a busy market in eastern Nangarhar province on Monday, although Taliban officials said they could only confirm 10 people had been wounded.

“UNAMA condemns this morning’s attack in a crowded bazaar in Nangarhar province which killed and wounded scores of civilians, among them some children,” the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said on its Twitter account.

“Continuing attacks targeting civilians across Afghanistan must cease immediately.”

Quraishi Badloun, the Taliban administration’s head of media and information for Nangarhar, confirmed a blast had taken place, but said the target wasn’t clear.

“We confirm 10 injuries, we are not confirming deaths,” Badloun said.

Published in Dawn, June 21st, 2022

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