Targeted attacks force Sikh minority to flee from Afghanistan

At least 111 Sikhs have been granted emergency visas in neighboring India after a Sikh gurdwara was stormed by extremists in Kabul on June 18, killing two and injuring seven others

June 21, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
Sikhs flee Afghanistan
(Photo: Sikh Press Association/Twitter)

Kabul’s main gurdwara (Sikh temple), was targeted by ISIS extremists on June 18 in an attack that killed at least two people and injured several others. Members of the Sikh community in Afghanistan have since been fleeing the country, fearing more targeted attacks against minorities including Hazaras and Hindus. 

At least 111 Sikhs have been granted emergency visas in neighboring India, as per the Indian Ministry of External Affairs. The number of Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan has seen a drastic decline over the years.

The attack that targeted the Sikh gurdwara in the Karte Parwan area of Kabul has been linked to the Taliban government’s failure to provide security and limit militant attacks. The Taliban has condemned the attack and pledged justice to the victims. According to Interior Ministry spokesperson Abdul Nafi Takor, one Taliban security personnel lost his life while stopping the assailant who tried to storm inside the gurdwara.

The attack is not considered to be an isolated incident as minority groups have been selectively targeted in Afghanistan.

In March 2020, a similar militant attack targeted Gurdwara Har Rai Sahib in Shor Bazar, resulting in at least 25 deaths. In July 2018, at least 19 people were killed in the eastern city of Jalalabad after ISIS militants bombed a gathering of Sikhs and Hindus.

Once a thriving community in Afghanistan in the 1970s, especially in Shor Bazar which used to be the former enclave for a large number of Sikhs, the community’s size has been reduced to a handful over the years. As per locals, not more than 20 families are currently living in Ghazni, Nangarhar and Kabul. This limited number is also planning to flee amidst the series of targeted attacks and political violence.

In December 2013, the Afghan parliament had rejected a decree to reserve a seat in the lower house of the legislature for the country’s Hindu and Sikh communities. Under the previous Taliban rule, Sikhs were reportedly made to wear yellow arm bands as an identification sign. “We were forced to hang yellow flags over their homes and businesses while the government posts were restricted to them,” one local, Awtar Singh Khalsa, told Al Jazeera in 2014

Gurnam Singh, the chief of the gurdwara that was attacked, admitted to local media that this could be the final nail in the coffin for the community and may push the few remaining Sikh families in Afghanistan to flee to neighboring India, which implies there would no Sikhs left in Afghanistan: “We are feeling despondent. What are we going to do here?” he said.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan also condemned the attack targeting the Sikh temple in Kabul and stressed that these attacks must cease immediately.