The Islamic State (IS) has emerged as the most brutal terrorist organisation in Afghanistan, especially in the Eastern province of Nangarhar. It was in the province’s capital and most populated city Jalalabad that the IS attacked and killed 19, including 13 Sikhs and Hindus recently. Last year, in the province’s Achin district, the US had dropped ‘mother of all bombs’ and killed around 100 IS terrorists. The attack on the Sikhs has shocked Afghanistan and rest of the world. As expected, the reaction was much more visible and sharp in India. Delhi and few other cities witnessed demonstrations against the killing of Sikhs.
The Sikh community has a long history of living in Afghanistan but, over the years, the population of Sikhs dwindled sizeably. The migration of Sikh community, primarily, began after a couple of years of USSR’s aggression. As it was the period of ‘cold war,’ US and Pakistan initially helped Mujahideen to fight against the USSR backed secular, socialist Afghan regime. Then, the Taliban came to power and life became miserable for all Afghans. Obviously, it was more difficult for women and minorities.
There are only two Gurudwaras in Afghanistan i.e. Gurudwara Karte Parwan, Kabul, and Gurudwara Guru Nanak Chishma in Jalalabad. Gurudwara Guru Nanak Chishma is located about 8 km from Jalalabad. It is believed that Nanak visited this place in the 15th century. According to history, the first Sikhs in Afghanistan are those who began practising Sikhism after hearing Guru Nanak. Once upon a time, the Sikh community was prosperous and they were mainly in the business and used to control the money market. There were more than seven lakh Sikhs and Hindus till mid-seventies. However, they began leaving once Mujahideen started attacking Kabul and other places. Thousands of Sikhs and Hindus began migrating to India, US, England, Canada, etc, just little before Taliban captured Kabul and assassinated Najibullah. During the Taliban’s regime, they were required to identify themselves by wearing a yellow armband and also they had to fly yellow flags on their house and business places.
It was believed that there were around 50,000 Sikhs in Afghanistan till the late 80s but most of them left during the Afghan civil war (1989-96) and during Taliban rule (1996-2001). Now, the number is less than 1,000 and they are mainly in Kabul and Jalalabad. It was in the city of Jalalabad when the Sikhs were going to meet President Ashraf Ghani that they were attacked by a suicide bomber killing 19 instantly. It also included Avtar Singh Khalsa, a long-time leader of the Sikh community and the only Sikh candidate to contest parliamentary elections to be held in October.
Though Afghan Sikhs consider themselves as Afghans, they are scared to live here. Few of them are taking shelter at the Indian Consulate in Jalalabad and many of them are thinking of leaving Afghanistan for India.
The scenario in Afghanistan is a matter of concern for the international community. Of late, there is an increase in the militant activities. The Afghan government has been trying to reach out to the Taliban for some time to begin a peace process. The government had announced a ten-day unilateral ceasefire for Eid ul Fitr and the Taliban responded by telling their fighters to observe a three-day truce. That time, Afghan witnessed unusual scenes like militants visiting cities and meeting their friends, relatives, but, the optimism did not last long. A major blast took place at a gathering of Taliban and civilians in Nangarhar province’s Rodat district killing more than 25 people and IS claimed the responsibility for the attack. A day before Sikhs were attacked, militants allegedly of IS beheaded three employees and set fire to the school building. The IS is also against the Shia community. Afghanistan is a majority Sunni country and Shias are in a minority.
Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province is on the border of Pakistan. IS has lost most of its base in Syria and Iran and so they found Nangarhar most suited. Otherwise, in Afghanistan, Taliban controls most of the areas. President Ghani is for the dialogue with the Afghan Taliban. The strategy needs to be of liberating Nangarhar province from the IS. Also, there needs to be understanding between Afghanistan and Pakistan.