As many as 19 civilians, mostly from the minority Sikh community, were killed and nearly 20 others injured when a suicide bomber blew himself up near a gathering in Jalalabad in Afghanistan. Police said the attack took place when they were in travelling in a vehicle to meet Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who was visiting Nangarhar province on July 1. A few shops around the place and a building were also damaged in the attack. According to the report, the Islamic State (IS) has claimed responsibility for the ghastly attack.
Among those killed was 52-year-old Avtar Singh Khalsa, the only Sikh candidate in the upcoming parliamentary elections in October. According to Nangarhar health director Najibullah Kamawal, 17 of the dead were Sikhs and Hindus.
The violence and instability caused by the civil war of the 1990s and the US-led invasion in 2001 have severely impacted the country’s minorities. In the early 1990s, Afghanistan was home to around 250,000 Sikhs and Hindus, around 99% of whom have left the country. The flaring up of violence, discrimination and diminishing economic prospects for the Sikhs and Hindus, once an active business and trading community, has forced them to leave. According to a survey by Afghanistan-based Tolonews, only 1,350 Hindus and Sikhs today remain in the country.
Earlier, in an interview, Khasla had vowed to fight against the persecution of minorities. “I sacrifice myself for those of my brothers who have been through all kinds of pain and suffering. I don’t care if I lose my whole family and I get killed for this cause. I will struggle until I get their rights…” Khalsa said.
“We used to be a huge community but most of us have left,” one of the mourners from Afghanistan’s Sikh community who lost a relative in the Jalalabad attack, said. “Most of members of the Sikh community have now moved to India,” he added.
Last month, government forces and the Taliban agreed to a 10-day ceasefire during the festival of Eid. However, attacks by the Islamic State militants continued and in the Nangarhar province on June 16 a blast killed 25 people, which included both civilians and members of the Taliban. On June 30, armed assailants killed three workers after barging into a school in Khogyani district and setting the entire structure on fire.