Monday, October 25, 2004
PTI, Kabul, Oct 24: The Afghan Sikhs, slowly trickling back to their
homeland after the ouster of the fundamentalist Taliban regime, have
appealed to the Indian government to allow them travel between the two
countries overland via Pakistan.
Mr Ravinder Singh, a member of the Afghan Gurdwara Prabhandak
Committee, complained to visiting Indian newsmen here recently that most of the
Sikh families could not afford direct air travel to India.
“We appeal to the Indian government to allow us entry overland via
Pakistan,” he said.
The Indian government had imposed a ban on overland entry of Afghan
Sikhs following warning from intelligence agencies that Pakistani agencies
were trying to infiltrate Sikh extremists in the garb of Afghan Sikhs.
Restrictions had also been enforced as after the fall of the Taliban
regime in 2001, Afghan security agencies had come across tell-tale evidence of
some Sikh youths undergoing arms training in ISI-run camps near Kabul and in
While, not ruling out reports of ‘few misguided youths’ undergoing
training in such camps, the Afghan Sikh leaders said these were Sikh expatriates
living in Europe and Australia and not the Afghan Sikhs.
Mr Ravinder Singh said Sikhs and Hindus, who once constituted a
population of over 500,000 in Afghanistan, now account for only a hundred families
that had come back after the ouster of the Taliban regime, still faced
hardships in getting back their homes, shops and other assets.
Most of the Sikh and Hindu families, who have been living in
Afghanistan for over a 1,000 years, have settled, besides capital Kabul, in the Pushtu
heartland of southern Afghanistan with a fair sprinkling in Jalalabad,
Khost, Kandahar, Ghazni and few in Mazar-i-Sharif and Kunduz in
Afghan Sikhs and Hindus were predominant in Afghanistan’s unique ‘money
market’ working as commission money changers, while others had shops
and trading establishments.
However, after the fall of Najibullah regime, the Sikhs and Hindus fell
prey to bloody inter-Mujaheddin warfare.
“For the past few years we have been trickling back and trying to
reclaim our properties. We are facing lot of hardships,” the Sikh leaders said.
“But we are upbeat. The recent events taking place in the country are
very positive,” said Mr Avtar Singh, another prominent Sikh leader.
Sikh leaders in the provincial capital of Ghazni said they had turned
out enmass to vote in the recent first ever Afghan elections. An election
meeting addressed by interim leader, Mr Hamid Karzai had witnessed a
turnout of almost over 40,000 people, he said.
“It would have been unthinkable in the country just a few years back.
There are also other changes, the girls are going back to schools and
reconstruction work is at its peak,” Mr Singh said as he painted a
positive picture of the return of other Sikh and Hindu families back to