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Archive for March, 2020

Source: Asia Samachar

ANGUISHED: A child after the attack on Gurdwara Guru Har Rai in Shor Bazaar, Kabul, on 25 March 2020 – Photo: Reuters
A Sikh organisation har urged the Canadian government to absorb the last remaining Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan after the latest terror attack upon a Sikh gurdwara in central Kabul on Wednesday that killed 25 men, women and children.

The World Sikh Organization of Canada has written to Canadian Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Marco Mendicino to highlight the desperate plight of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus.

It highlighted the need for a direct sponsorship program to get them out safely before more die at the hands of ISIS.

For many amongst the 2,000 odd Sikhs and Hindus, the senseless attack upon the Gurdwara Guru Har Rai in Shor Bazaar was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back as far as their dreams of continuing to live in Afghanistan. The gunmen stormed the gurdwara, shot discriminately and held 80 hostages.

After the first attack on 25 March, the next day, an explosive went off just outside the crematorium as the Sikhs were cremating their dead. And the next day, yet another attack.

In a tweet yesterday, US-based Sikh activist Harinder Singh from Sikhri noted: “3rd attack in 3 days on Sikh-Afghanis. Kabul Gurduara President Gurnam Singh: Sikhs must stay at home in Kabul … Attacks happening while 200 policemen are present … Sikhs are finished in Afghanistan … Appeals globally for immediate help & intervention. #SaveAfghanSikhs”

Indeed, the plight of the small band of Sikhs – born and bred in the Afghanistan – is probably at the end of the line.

“Without internal flight options, or prospects of meaningful integration in neighbouring countries, international resettlement has become the only viable solution for Afghan Sikh and Hindu asylum seekers,” WSO Canada said in a statement the day after the incident.

The Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan claimed responsibility for the attack on the group’s Amaq media arm, according to SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks militant postings and groups. The gunmen was identified as Indian national Abu Khalid al-Hindi, AP report.

In the past, Canada has opened its border to the needy citizens of the world. In December 2015, the first of many government-arranged flights arrived with Syrian refugees. From then till February 2016, slightly more than 26,000 Syrian refugees were resettled in Canada, under the government led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

In the statement, WSO Canada said: “Kabul is home to the last remaining Sikhs in Afghanistan. Sikh and Hindu Afghans currently face a difficult, if not unliveable, situation in many parts of Afghanistan. The Sikh and Hindu communities that have lived in Afghanistan for hundreds of years now number approximately 1,000. Prior to 1992, their population numbered over 200,000, however due to persecution and discrimination, most have been forced to flee to other countries. The Afghan Sikh and Hindus remaining in Afghanistan are the most vulnerable who do not have the resources or ability to relocate.”

The WSO said it, along with the Manmeet Singh Bhullar Foundation and the Canadian Sikh community, have consistently called for measures to address the plight of Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan, as Afghan authorities have been unable to offer meaningful protection of their basic human rights.

It said it continues to assist the efforts to resettle some of these Afghan Sikh and Hindu families to Canada, which were begun by Alberta MLA Manmeet Singh Bhullar before his tragic death in 2015. While 15 refugee families have now settled in Canada, many others continue to await the processing of their files.

WSO president Tejinder Singh Sidhu said, the attack on Gurdwara Guru Har Rai and the brutal murder of so many Sikhs was a horrific act of terror, but sadly not one that was unexpected.

The Sikhs of Afghanistan are a persecuted minority that has been subject to ethnic cleansing for many years, the World Sikh Parliament (WSP) said in a statement after the attack.

In the early 1990s there were as many as 200,000 Sikhs spread across Afghanistan, but as a result of over 30 years of unabated attacks, the community has been reduced to under 300 families.

After the July 2018 incident when at least 10 Sikhs were killed in a targeted suicide bombing in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, WSP noted that the Canadian Sikh community again lobbied hard for the Canadian government to step-in and help bring these people to safety.

“Unfortunately the disappointing response from our elected officials was that there was no proof that the attack was ethnically motivated, despite the fact that Sikhs were primarily killed in the attack – and the Canadian government did not act, despite the pleas of Sikh Canadians. Since then, Sikhs have continued to be attacked, kidnapped and killed in Afghanistan,” it said.

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Source: The Hindu

Sikh community leader says the latest attack on a gurdwara will prompt more of them to flee

A brutal attack on Wednesday targeting a 400-year-old gurdwara in Kabul claimed 25 lives, including two minors and three women, further terrorising Afghanistan’s already dwindling minority Sikh community. 

“They had gathered for the morning prayers organised specifically for the nation that was hit by the coronavirus outbreak. They made mannat from god to help the nation pass through the coronavirus crisis with as little difficulties as possible,” says Charan Singh Khalsa, an Afghan Sikh, who lost many relatives in this week’s attack. Two insurgents stormed the historical temple, detonated bombs and opened fire on the worshippers and residents. About 40 families lived on the compound of the gurdwara. 

The massacre was claimed by the Islamic State, but authorities believe it to be the work of the Haqqani Network. Either way, for many in the small congregation, this attack was the final straw that broke the camel’s back. “There are less than 100 families of Hindus and Sikhs combined living in Afghanistan. And if you slaughter 25 members of an already small community, what makes you think the rest will want to stay?” asks Mr. Khalsa.

But for Mr. Khalsa, the push was long time coming, with growing number of threats and intimidation. “The Afghan Sikhs have faced a lot of humiliation and persecution over the recent years. Many incidences in the last few years have targeted the Hindus and Sikhs,” he says. “My own brother was kidnapped last year and murdered. We found his body in a grave two months later. More recently, a Sikh home in Kabul was attacked and robbed; an old lady in the house was killed. And earlier this month, on Holi, a Sikh shop was attacked, and its owner was injured,” he narrates incidents after incidents, the frustration evident in his voice.

Living in fear 

Historically, the Sikhs and Hindus of Afghanistan have a rich history intertwined strongly with the local cultures. Prior to the start of the Afghan civil war in the 1990s, the population was estimated to be around 3,00,000. Many of them were forced to leave, much like their Muslim compatriots, by the growing violence. 

While many returned to Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban in 2001, the country they called home was not the one they had left behind. “Today, the Sikhs are afraid to even go to the gurdwaras. In the last 24 hours (after the Kabul attack) alone, there have been three other explosions close to the community, although no one was hurt. We are living in fear,” Mr. Khalsa says.

While Mr. Khalsa’s frustration was echoed among many in Afghanistan, there was also an outpour of grief and solidarity for the endangered community.

“At a time when the entire world is facing a pandemic, Afghanistan faces the usual killing of innocents by terrorists and evil soldiers,” says Lima Ahmad, an Afghan academic. “Yesterday (Wednesday) Harundar Singh lost seven members of his family, including his child, mother, and wife, not to coronavirus, but to the virus called terrorism that has been killing innocent people in Afghanistan for many years,” she points out, referring to one of the survivors of the attack.

“In such an uncertain time where most of us are suffering from lockdown and the unknown future, many people such as Harundar Singh are left with no family members,” Ms. Ahmad says. Afghanistan is currently dealing with 110 cases of COVID-19 and threats of a possible medical emergency, which has resulted in the lockdown of two major cities, including the capital and the western city of Herat that borders Iran.

But despite the solidarity, Mr. Khalsa is certain that the gurdwara attack will trigger another exodus of the Sikhs. “This incident will ensure that the remaining few of us will also leave the country. There will be hardly any Sikhs or Hindus remaining in Afghanistan in the coming weeks,” he adds, urging government and international organisations to step in and help the Sikhs. “I hope the government and international organisations will at least protect our historical and religious sites here once the community has all left.” 

Mr. Khalsa clarifies that his appeal does not mean that he doesn’t love his country. “I am proud to be Afghan. No matter where we go, we will wear that identity with pride. We will not forget our country, but we have sacrificed so much already. But if something brings you pain, there is only so much you can tolerate,” he explains, adding a common Hindi-phrase altered to fit the situation, “Agar jaan hai, toh Afghan hai— If I am alive, I am an Afghan.” 

(Ruchi Kumar is a journalist based in Kabul)

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Source: Business Standard

Asylum rights must be respected for Sikhs and Hindus who may be fleeing religious persecution in Afghanistan where a gurdwara was bombed this week killing at least 25 people, according to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric.

Asked at his briefing on Thursday specifically if Sikhs and Hindus who are are under attack there should be given asylum in India, he said, “The asylum regime, the refugee regime must be respected the world over.”

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has opposed the Indian Citizenship (Amendment) Act that seeks to help religious minorities fleeing persecution in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh by providing expedited citizenship to Sikhs, Hindus and other non-Muslim minorities from those countries.

Earlier, Dujarric had issued a statement that Guterres condemned the attacks on the gurdwara.

“He expresses his deepest sympathies to the families of the victims and wishes a speedy recovery to those injured. The Secretary-General reiterates that attacks against civilians are unacceptable and those who carry out such crimes must be held accountable,” Dujarric added.

The Islamic State terrorist organisation has stated that it carried out the attack on gurdwara in Kabul on Wednesday killing at least 25 people and injuring several people.

The hours-long attacked several hours.

No room for any religious terrorism, says Morgan Ortagus on Kabul Gurudwara terror attack

Talking on the recent Kabul Gurudwara terror attack, US State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus on Thursday said that there is no room for any religious terrorism and the US are trying to work towards peaceful resolutions in Afghanistan.”There’s just no room for this type of religious discrimination and terrorism. This is why I think what we are trying to work towards peaceful resolutions in Afghanistan. We don’t know that ISIS claimed responsibility to attack,” Ortagus told ANI.”We will continue to work around the world to beat ISIS about where they may exist, these are horrible ideologies or murderous ideologies. 

We condemn this and will work to kill and defeat ISIS anywhere they,” she added. 

Bring Afghan Sikhs to India: welfare body urges govt after gurdwara attack

A welfare society for Afghan Sikhs urged the Central government on Thursday to bring to India those injured in the gurdwara attack in Kabul and also facilitate the homecoming of the Sikhs living there as they were undergoing trauma.

At least 25 worshippers were killed and eight others injured when a heavily armed suicide bomber on Wednesday stormed his way into a prominent gurdwara in the heart of Afghanistan’s capital, in one of the deadliest attacks on the minority Sikh community in the strife-torn country.

Khajinder Khurana, president of the Afghan Hindu-Sikh Welfare Society, said the attack was against humanity.”It is very tragic. Nothing could have more cruel than this. We urge the government to bring back those who were injured. Those willing to return home should be helped and the government should ensure that those staying there be provided security,” he told PTI here.

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Source: The Jakarta News

Security personnel inspect a damaged Sikh-Hindu Temple alongside with media representatives following a gun attack in Kabul on Wednesday. At least 25 people were killed in an attack on a Sikh-Hindu temple in Afghanistan’s capital where worshippers were offering morning prayers, the latest brutal assault claimed by the Islamic State group. (AFP/STR)

At least 25 people were killed Wednesday in an attack on a Sikh-Hindu temple in Afghanistan’s capital where worshippers were offering morning prayers, the latest brutal assault claimed by the Islamic State group.

The incident, highlighting the country’s ongoing violence, came several hours before Afghanistan’s National Security Council announced that the Taliban and government officials would hold a historic meeting face-to-face over a prisoner exchange.

Along with a raging insurgency, impoverished Afghanistan is reeling from a massive cut in US aid while it struggles with political deadlock and rising coronavirus cases.

The Taliban denied any involvement in the latest attack, for which the Islamic State (IS) group claimed responsibility, according to the SITE intelligence group. 

Witness Raju Singh Sonny told AFP a man in a police uniform burst into the temple in central Kabul, shot a guard and started attacking worshippers in the main hall.

“Several other attackers also entered the building and they were going from room to room shooting people,” Sonny said.

Only a few thousand Sikhs and Hindus are estimated to reside in what is an overwhelmingly Muslim nation.

There were conflicting accounts about how many gunmen were involved, with security sources giving differing numbers, between one and four. 

At least one attacker was subsequently killed by security forces in an hours-long clearing operation. 

Anarkali Kaur Honaryar, a Sikh member of the Afghan parliament, told AFP about 150 people had been inside the temple, where several families also live and worshippers gather for morning prayers. 

“Some people inside the temple are hiding and their phones are off,” Honaryar said while the attack was ongoing.

Interior ministry spokesman Tariq Arian said 25 civilians had been killed and eight others wounded, while 80 people had been rescued. Graphic images posted online showed several bodies as well as terrified people who appeared to be Sikhs running from the scene.

“Such cowardly attacks on the places of religious worship of the minority community, especially at this time of [the coronavirus] pandemic, is reflective of the diabolical mindset of the perpetrators and their backers,” the Indian foreign ministry said in a statement. 

Sikhism and Hinduism are rooted in India.

Afghan leaders’ ‘failure’ 

IS has a history of targeting Afghan Sikhs and Hindus.

In recent months, the jihadist group has suffered mounting setbacks after being hunted by US and Afghan forces as well as Taliban offensives targeting their fighters, but it still retains the ability to launch major assaults on urban centers.

To add to Afghanistan’s woes, Washington slashed the amount of aid to the country this week after President Ashraf Ghani and his rival Abdullah Abdullah, who has also proclaimed himself president, failed to resolve their standoff.

Following a visit to Kabul, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US would immediately cut $1 billion and was prepared to pull another $1 billion in 2021.

The US and the Taliban signed a deal last month that was supposed to pave the way for talks between the Afghan leadership and the insurgents, but with Kabul unable to agree who is in government, the talks stalled.

The issue of the prisoners has been a major sticking point in the weeks since the signing.

But on Wednesday Afghanistan’s National Security Council said the Taliban and Ghani’s government would meet to discuss an initial release of 100 insurgent prisoners by March 31. 

It is believed that it will be the first time ever that the Islamist extremist Taliban and Ghani’s government have met in an official capacity.

“To carry out these further discussions, a Taliban team will meet with the government face-to-face in Afghanistan in the coming days,” the NSC said.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the US negotiator who brokered the US-Taliban deal, confirmed on Twitter that “prisoner releases by both sides will start March 31.”

“This is a positive development,” he said.

The United States, hoping to pull its thousands of remaining troops out of Afghanistan to end 18 years of involvement, has said the coronavirus pandemic makes prisoner releases urgent.

In Washington on Wednesday, Pompeo called the temple attack “horrific” and reiterated his frustration at the failure to bridge the divide between Ghani and Abdullah.

But he said both — plus Taliban negotiator Mullah Baradar — were committed to a peaceful solution to end Afghanistan’s years of war.

Pompeo said it’s time for the political process to begin “with all the Afghans coming together around the table.” 

He added: “I’m still optimistic that we can get there.”

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By Asia Samachar TeamAGFHANISTAN 

Kabul gurdwara attacked – Photo: Ramesh Singh Khalsa

The small Sikh minority community in Afghanistan once again came under fire when their place of worship in Kabul was attacked by unidentified gunmen and suicide bombers today.

Some 200 Sikhs were believed to be in the the Sikh gurdwara in the Shorbazar area when the attack happened around 07:45 (03:15 GMT).

Afghan security forces had blocked off the area and were battling the attackers, and had killed two of them, Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian said in a message to journalists.

“The majority of people were rescued, unfortunately there are casualties,” he was quoted by Reuters, adding that defence forces would take some time to entirely secure the area as they were moving slowly to prevent civilian casualties.

It was not immediately clear how many attackers there were or who they were, the report added.

A Ministry of Health spokesman said one child had been killed and 15 people wounded but the toll could rise.

Sikhs have been the target of attack by Islamist militants before in South Asia. A Taliban spokesman, in a message on Twitter, denied responsibility for the attack.

Narender Singh Khalsa, a member of parliament who represents the tiny Sikh community, was also quoted as saying he had reports that four people had been killed and up to 200 people trapped inside the temple in the early morning attack.

“Three suicide bombers entered a dharamsala,” he said, referring to a sanctuary area in a temple compound.

In 2018, a suicide bombing targeting the Sikh community and claimed by the Islamic State militant group killed more than a dozen people in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad.

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Source: Beaumont Enterprise

Kabul, Afghanistan

A lone Islamic State gunman rampaged through a Sikh house of worship in the heart of the Afghan capital Wednesday, killing 25 worshippers and wounding eight, Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry said.

The gunman held many worshippers hostage for several hours while Afghan special forces, helped by international troops, tried to clear the building. At least one of the dead was a child.

Within hours, the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack.

The Afghan special forces rescued at least 80 worshippers who had been trapped inside the Sikh house of worship, known as a Gurdwara, as the gunman lobbed grenades and fired his automatic rifle into the crowd, the ministry said.

Earlier, Afghan lawmaker Narindra Singh Khalsa said he rushed over to help after receiving a call from a person inside the Gurdwara telling him of the attack. There were about 150 people inside at the time, he said.

The SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks militant postings and groups, said IS claimed responsibility for the attack on the group’s Aamaq media arm. The communique identified the gunman as Indian national Abu Khalid al-Hindi, who carried out the attack to avenge the plight of Muslims living under severe restrictions in Indian-ruled Kashmir, Hindu India’s only Muslim dominated state.

At a Kabul hospital, Mohan Singh, who was in the Gurdwara when the attack began, said he first heard the sound of gunshots and ducked for cover under a table. Later he heard explosions, adding that he believes they were hand grenades. He was wounded when parts of the ceiling fell on him.

In photographs shared by the Interior Ministry, about a dozen children were seen being rushed out of the Gurdwara by Afghan special forces, many of them barefoot and crying.

As news of the attack first broke, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed tweeted that the Taliban were not involved. Earlier this month, Afghanistan’s IS affiliate struck a gathering of minority Shiite Muslims in Kabul, killing 32 people.

Afghanistan’s National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib condemned the attack in a tweet. Pakistan and India issued statements of condemnation.

“Such despicable acts have no political, religious or moral justification and must be rejected outright,” the Pakistani Foreign Ministry statement said.

India said the attack was particularly egregious coming as Afghanistan sought to deal with the growing coronavirus pandemic.

“Such cowardly attacks on the places of religious worship of the minority community,” India said, reflect the “diabolical mindset of the perpetrators and their backers.”

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the attack, reiterating that “attacks against civilians are unacceptable and those who carry out such crimes must be held accountable,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan called for a “reduction of violence leading to a cease-fire” by all combatants in Afghanistan.

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Source: Asia Samachar, The lawyer

Meeno Chawla with her parents on graduation day – Photo: Personal Facebook page

I came from Afghanistan in 1995 to England as an immigrant. The 1989 civil war in Afghanistan had a huge impact on the whole country but particularly for religious minorities. Afghanistan used to have a flourishing Afghan Sikh community but because of continuous marginalisation and discrimination, people left. My parents as well as many Afghan Sikhs left for a better life, which included opportunities and basic rights. Those who remain in Afghanistan continue to suffer and face difficulties through constant seclusion and fear.

Women in the Afghan Sikh community have traditionally been homemakers, and this was often reinforced in my childhood by members of the community. In Afghanistan there was a lack of educational and work opportunities for girls, especially those from religious minorities. I live with my parents; they have four daughters. I am the youngest and at my birth there were negative reactions from the community as sons were preferred due to passing on the family name. However, my parents have been extremely supportive with my studies and life choices; they have encouraged me to pursue a career at the Bar. My mother works in a fabric shop, where she reinforced the importance of being independent and pursuing a career despite the odds through hard work.

I chose a career in law as I want to use advocacy to engage in work that has a direct impact on the lives of others, because both my family and I personally have experienced being in a position of vulnerability and disempowerment. This is why I wish to pursue a career which involves representing people when their fundamental rights and liberties are at stake.

I wasn’t considered the brightest at school and was told by a teacher that I should ‘reconsider a career in law as I wasn’t clever enough,’ but I used this as my motivation to do well at school. During my summer holidays, I did work experience at two law firms to get an insight into the different areas of law and how law works in real-life.

I went on to study Law with Criminology at university. I went to networking events and did work experience at the Courts and mini pupillages to get a better understanding of the profession. I was a case manager on the Innocence Project at university. I worked on a case involving a potential miscarriage of justice for two years. This experience was the turning point for me, where I decided that I wanted to become a barrister and be a voice for those who don’t possess much knowledge of the legal system.

After graduation, I decided to volunteer at a charity, which helped people with their housing and debt claims. Later, I joined the Crown Prosecution Service, I was overwhelmed with the knowledge and the high pressure yet fast-paced environment, but I loved every moment of it and still enjoy my job today! I work closely with prosecution barristers in preparation of their cases and assist them in court. My work taught me how the Criminal Justice System works and that defendants need a Criminal Justice System which they can trust, and which ensures they are being represented. While working at the CPS, I was studying the Bar Professional Training Course part-time. I decided to study the course part-time because despite a scholarship from Middle Temple, I could not afford to pay the full-time fees. The late-night studying, doubts and stress were worth it because I got through it successfully.

In October 2019, I was called to the Bar of England and Wales as the first Afghan Sikh. This was a proud moment for me, my family and my community. I used to question whether I would fit in and soon realised my background is and will always be my strength. My secret weapons are perseverance, hard work and a passion to learn on this ongoing journey.

Equality and diversity are critical for the rule of law and professional legitimacy. Barristers represent everyone, and the Bar should be more representative of society. Given my background and unique life-experiences, I want to be part of that process and hope people will choose a career in law despite the odds against them.

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