This article is not about Afghan Hindus and Sikhs but I thought some Afghan Sikhs might find it interesting as it relates to Sikhs in neighboring country sharing the same language.
Punjabi Diaspora and Amritsar International Airport
May 11, 2010 by Harjap Singh Aujla – Source: Sikhnet.com
Prior to the 1947 division of the Province of Punjab, the air force bases in Lahore and Amritsar were used occasionally for landing of VIP planes, but they hardly handled any commercial flights.
After 1947, Pakistan developed the nation’s second professionally planned civilian airport in Lahore for domestic and external flights. The first airport of Pakistan was the Karachi International Airport.
On the other hand Amritsar kept serving the military needs of the country only. During the nineteen fifties some commercial traffic started from Amritsar Airport.
There was a three hundred thousand strong Punjabi Sikh diaspora living in Afghanistan. If not by blood, they were emotionally and spiritually related to Amritsar. On their persistent demand, the Government of India started Amritsar Kabul Amritsar flights, which became financially quite viable. Amritsar had also been handling domestic flights linking the state of Jammu and Kashmir with New Delhi. Passenger traffic between New Delhi and Amritsar had always been good. The Golden Temple served as a catalyst for the success of these flights.
During the late nineteen seventies, the Punjabis raised the demand for connecting Amritsar Airport with Bermingham in the United Kingdom. The areas in and around Bermingham are the home to the largest expatriate Sikh population numbering about four hundred thousand during those days. That was enough to fill one plane daily. The demand was conceded and Amritsar got connected to Bermingham. But the governments are known to do things with a tentative non business mindset. A direct Boeing Jet flight from Amritsar to Bermingham would have completed the first part from Amritsar to Bermingham in less than ten hours. Due to strong tail winds, the return journey would have taken a little more than nine hours. Thus the round trip would have been completed in much less than twenty hours. But the government originated the flights from New Delhi, which increased the flying time to more than twelve hours. In order to make the matters worse, Kabul was added as another intervening destination, which made half way journey fifteen hours long. Thus the advantage of completing the round trip journey in less than twenty four hours was lost. In spite of these follies of planning, the flights continued till the mid nineteen eighties. The militancy in Punjab from 1983 to 1996, killed this flight.
During the tenure of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, as the prime minister, two airlines from the smaller nations of former Soviet Union, the Turkmenistan Airlines and the Uzbekistan Airlines, started flying to Dushanbe and Tashkent respectively. From these two cities, there were connecting flights for some of the European cities, including London. The flights by these airlines became successful due to active cooperation of the Punjabi diaspora in Great Britain.
After Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh took over, Amritsar airport got really developed as an international air transportation hub. Several other airlines started operating from Amritsar. Air India connected Amritsar with several cities in the United Arab Emirates. Air India also started flying first on Amritsar Bermingham Toronto Bermingham Amritsar route, which again due to poor planning was altered to Amritsar London Toronto London Amritsar. The government did not stop at this folly alone, they diverted three out of seven flights to fly on New Delhi London Toronto London New Delhi route, which is less profitable.
Mahan Airlines has filled the vacuum on the Amritsar Bermingham route, by flying from Amritsar to Teheran and from Teheran to Bermingham and vice versa. It started flying thrice a week and has plans to increase the frequency.
Far reaching connectivity to Amritsar International Airport has been provided by the Persian Gulf based Qatar Airways. It is currently flying four times a week between Amritsar and Doha in Qatar. From Doha it is flying to most of the European capitals and large cities including Paris, Frankfurt, London and Rome. Qatar Airways flies also to Houston, Washington D.C., New York and Toronto in North America. It flies to Nairobi and South Africa. In Australia, it connects Melbourne and Sydney. By far Qatar Airways has provided the most extensive connectivity to Amritsar. Qatar Airways has plans to fly to a number of new cities all over the world.
Amritsar’s connectivity with the Punjabi diaspora shall not be adequate unless it is connected to Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton in Canada and Los Angeles and San Francisco on the West Coast of America. There is extensive Punjabi and Sikh diaspora based in and around these cities. Serious efforts are already afoot for getting flights started between Amritsar and Vancouver. If Vancouver is connected with Amritsar, it will initially serve as a hub for the Punjabi diaspora living in Calgary, Edmonton, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Amritsar International Airport is doing quite well, but a lot more is needed to for it to become the main transportation hub for the Punjabi and Sikh diaspora based in the Western World.
By Prabhjot Singh – Tribune News Service
He [Paramjit Singh Sarna] said the issue regarding the grant of citizenship to those who had come from Afghanistan was also raised at the meeting with the Law Minister. A memorandum and factual position would be submitted soon.
Earlier a delegation of the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee and the Shiromani Akali Dal, Delhi, had met Sonia Gandhi to put across four major demands of the Sikh community before her. She gave an assurance that three of the demands would be implemented in the near future. So far as the issue of Afghan Sikhs was concerned, an effort would be made to see that they got citizenship in terms of the Citizenship Act, 1955, and the Constitution of India, Sarna said.