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Giani Maskeen Singh talks about Afghan Sikh history, Guru Nanak’s trip to Kandahar, Baba Sri Chand’s trip to Afghanistan and Nanak Panthis

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Mehr Chand Kapoor

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Source: International Affairs Review

It is wrong to assume that Hindus and Sikhs are recent migrants to Afghanistan. Diwan Niranjan Das, an Afghan Hindu, negortiatedindependence of Afghanistan with the British government in India in 1920.

Inderjeet Singh is the author of the recently published ‘Afghan Hindus and Sikhs: A History of a Thousand Years’. In the wake of the March 25th 2020 attacks on the 400 years old Guru Har Rai Sahib Gurdwara in Kabul, IAR spoke to him on the history and future of the Hindu and Sikh community of Afghanistan.

Can you tell us how Sikhs came to be in Afghanistan? And what is their ethnicity? Are they originally from the Punjab or are they ethnic Pathans/Tajiks/Hazaras?

An Afghan manuscript Hudud Al Alam compiled in 982-83 CE puts a number of regions in Eastern Afghanistan, like Laghman and Parwan provinces, as part of Hindustan (India). It mentions [the existence] a number of idol temples in various cities of Afghanistan, including [in] Kandahar and Kabul. It was around this time that the Hindu Shahi dynasty lost Kabul to the Turkic ruler Sabuktigin, father of Mahmud Ghaznavi. It is wrong to assume that Hindus totally vanished from Afghanistan at that point and Hindus and Sikhs are recent migrants to the country.

Author Inderjeet Singh

Guru Nanak visited Afghanistan in 1521 and the some of the Hindus who were living there become his followers or Nanakpanthis. Later his son, Sri Chand who started the Udasi sect also visited Afghanistan in 1540. Guru Amardas (1552-74) established number of missionary seats known as Manjis and one of them was in Kabul. Sikh chroniclers record the visit of Sikhs from Kabul and Afghanistan to Punjab during the 17th  and 18thcenturies. Hence, we have historical Gurdwaras in Kabul, Sultanpur, Jalalabad, Kandahar and other cities. In terms of gotras, the Sikhs and Hindus of Afghanistan are mostly Khatris and Aroras.

Are there more Sikhs than Hindus today in Afghanistan, and if yes, why?

There are about 800-850 Sikhs and about 50-60 Hindus in Afghanistan. More than half are in Kabul and rest are in Jalalabad and Ghazni. Some other cities do have Sikhs and Hindus, but they are likely only a handful of about 4 to 8 persons, with families shifted to India.

The Soviet invasion of the country in 1979 led to a resistance supported by the USA, Pakistan and other countries. The Soviets left Afghanistan in 1989 and in the next 2-3 years the Mujahedeen who fought the Soviets were able to capture the country. About ninety per cent of Afghan Sikhs and almost all Hindus left Afghanistan in 1992 just before the Mujahedeen captured the last bastion, Kabul from Dr Najibullah’s government. At that juncture, Dr Najibullah informed the Indian government that he was unable to protect the Sikhs and Hindus. The Indian embassy in Kabul issued them speedy visas even as Kabul city was being bombed by the Mujahedeen. Both the governments showed urgency and 2-3 people (and in some cases even 4 people) were given visas on one passport.

Before 1992, relations between the Afghan and the Sikh and Hindu communities were good. Diwan Niranjan Das, an Afghan Hindu, was the Minister of Finance and Commerce under Amir Amanullah Khan (1919-29). He is particularly remembered for negotiating the independence of Afghanistan with the British government in India in 1920. Subsequently there has been a Sikh MP in Afghanistan till date including Jai Singh Faani who was directly elected as an independent candidate in 1969.

The Afghan Hindu-Sikh community in 1960s. Most are wearing the traditional Afghan turban or karakul

The Afghan government recognised economic contribution that the Sikhs and Hindus had made in Afghanistan local [Afghans] treated them very well. People trusted them with their money more than they did the banks. Most of them were into money lending, local banking, or owned businesses.

Let me share an incident. In 1954, the local government decided to widen the road and Gurdwara Guru Nanak Darbar at Jalalabad came under that modernisation plan. This meant that the gurdwara had to be demolished and the local government would give land [for the gurdwara] elsewhere. When the Sikhs failed to convince the local authorities not to demolish the gurdwara, a petition was made to the Emperor Zahir Shah in Kabul who issued a royal edict and the gurdwara was handed back to the Sikhs. The road widening plan was changed. After 1960s Afghan Hindus and Sikhs took more interest in modern education. I personally know doctors from amongst the Afghan Hindu and Sikh community. Dr Joginder Singh Tej Khurana who is former member of the Afghan Grand Assembly (1990-92) is writing biographies of about 40 doctors/physicians among the community.

However, 40 years of civil war has made the community bitter. Some Afghans have also become [religiously] more fundamentalist but even today an Indian gets a nice welcome in Afghanistan.

What is the current economical and political status of the Sikhs in Afghanistan today? Are they economically strong? Politically powerful? 

The 40 years of civil war have made Afghans bitter and, in some cases, more fundamentalist. Sikhs boys are bullied in school and at times Sikhs are taunted and asked to convert but others are fine. Many of the houses of Sikhs had been illegally captured by warlords and powerful neighbours during the Mujahideen era.

The current regime of President Ashraf Ghani is sympathetic to Sikhs and has allotted 5 million Afghanis for repair of gurdwaras and temples. The government is currently renovating the premises of Gurdwara Guru Nanak Darbar in Jalalabad, but no government has done anything to free the illegal occupation of the houses of Afghan Sikhs in Kabul.

Narinder Pal Singh Khalsa is the nominated member of the Afghan Parliament and his brother is the Adviser to the President. They are doing their best under difficult circumstances. More than 10,000 civilians have been killed each year in the past five years. In 2019, half of the civilian casualties were due to attacks by the Taliban and they were fellow Sunni Muslims, killed to gain negotiating power with the Americans.Afghanistan is a dangerous place to live in but minorities are more vulnerable.

Why do you think this specific attack by IS-K took place? Do you think Pakistan is behind it? What could be the motivation?

In some quarters India has also been blamed but we must look at the wider picture to understand the situation. ISKP (Islamic State – Khorasan Province)/Daesh has claimed the responsibility for the attack.  ISIS has declared an unofficial war against Shias in Afghanistan. Their places of worship, weddings, tuition centre, and gatherings have been targeted numerous times over the past five years. Sikhs are also infidels in their eyes. This is a continuation of their war on infidels. The whole world knows their carnage of Yezidis in Iraq.

Do all or most Sikhs from Afghanistan want to migrate from Afghanistan?

I cannot speak for all 850 people, but the Indian Express [recently] reported that they have made a petition to the Indian Embassy in Kabul and to the Indian Government through Delhi Gurdwara Management Committee. Some prefer to migrate to a western country like Canada as it is easier to build a future there, even from scratch. However, as it seems less likely now, many them want to come to India purely from a security angle. There are anumber of widows who have never stepped outside their houses which is on the gurdwara premises in most cases. It will be very difficult for them to work and earn enough to live on.

What should India do?

Afghan Sikhs and Hindus who want to come to India should be evacuated and the same kind of urgency which was 

demonstrated in 1992 [by both governments] is required. And then they should be given citizenship quickly.

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A Remembrance…

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REMEMBERING – AFGHAN SIKHS KILLED IN AFGHANISTAN SINCE 1988 Every year during Vaisakhi, the Afghan Sikh community remembers the Afghan Sikhs (male, female & children) who lost their lives in 1988, 1989 & 2018. Last year it was decided that this remembrance event will be held on 29th March every year. This got missed due to ongoing Coronavirus and recent killings of the Sikhs in Kabul. Let’s remember them and revisit these ghastly events. 13 April 1988 – A gunman entered the Gurdwara Guru Nanak Darbar, Jalalabad when the place was full of devotees. He killed 13 Sikhs and 4 Muslims security guards. Dalair Singh Arora and Harwinder Singh Batra confronted him and managed to kill the terrorist. Dalair Singh lost his life and is remembered for his bravery. Harwinder Singh lives in London now. March – Oct 1989 – The Mujahideen attacked Jalalabad with intention to capture the city. The local tribal chief impressed upon Mujahideen for peace, but latter said they had to attack, and the chief gave them the map of old township and marked that area where Mujahideen could bomb. And this area was where Sikhs lived in Jalalabad. For 6 months the missiles were fired on the area and 102 Afghan Sikhs died and over 500 were injured in these attacks. 1 July 2018 – During a gathering of Afghan Sikhs in Jalalabad waiting to meet the President, a suicide bomber blew himself and killed 17 Sikhs and three Hindus including community leaders Avtar Singh Khalsa and Rawail Singh. 25 March 2020 – The gunmen entered Gurdwara Guru Har Rai Sahib Ji in Kabul and killed 27 Afghan Sikhs including many women and young children.

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𝘼 𝙩𝙧𝙞𝙗𝙪𝙩𝙚 𝙩𝙤 𝙈𝙧 𝙂𝙖𝙟𝙞𝙣𝙙𝙚𝙧 𝙎𝙞𝙣𝙜𝙝, 𝙛𝙤𝙧𝙢𝙚𝙧 𝙈𝙋 𝙞𝙣 𝘼𝙛𝙜𝙝𝙖𝙣𝙞𝙨𝙩𝙖𝙣 محترم سردار گجندر سینگ وکیل اسبق شورای ملی( ولسی جرگه ) افغانستان از سال ۱۳۶۷ الی۱۳۷۱ بتاریخ ۲۰/۰۱/۱۲ در شهر لندن چشم از جهان پوشید 𝘽𝙚𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙥𝙖𝙧𝙩 𝙤𝙛 𝙖 𝙢𝙞𝙣𝙤𝙧𝙞𝙩𝙮 𝙘𝙤𝙢𝙢𝙪𝙣𝙞𝙩𝙮 𝙞𝙣 𝘼𝙛𝙜𝙝𝙖𝙣𝙞𝙨𝙩𝙖𝙣 𝙝𝙚 𝙬𝙖𝙨 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙛𝙧𝙤𝙣𝙩𝙡𝙞𝙣𝙚 𝙨𝙥𝙚𝙖𝙠𝙚𝙧 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙪𝙨𝙚𝙙 𝙩𝙤 𝙜𝙞𝙫𝙚 𝙞𝙣𝙩𝙚𝙧𝙫𝙞𝙚𝙬𝙨 𝙩𝙤 𝙙𝙞𝙛𝙛𝙚𝙧𝙚𝙣𝙩 𝙢𝙚𝙙𝙞𝙖 𝙨𝙤𝙪𝙧𝙘𝙚𝙨 𝙨𝙪𝙘𝙝 𝙖𝙨 𝙍𝙖𝙙𝙞𝙤, 𝙏𝙑 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙣𝙚𝙬𝙨𝙥𝙖𝙥𝙚𝙧𝙨 𝙩𝙤 𝙗𝙧𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙖𝙬𝙖𝙧𝙚𝙣𝙚𝙨𝙨 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙪𝙣𝙞𝙩𝙮 𝙞𝙣 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙘𝙤𝙢𝙢𝙪𝙣𝙞𝙩𝙮. 𝙃𝙚 𝙖𝙡𝙬𝙖𝙮𝙨 𝙚𝙣𝙘𝙤𝙪𝙧𝙖𝙜𝙚𝙙 𝙃𝙞𝙣𝙙𝙪 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙎𝙞𝙠𝙝 𝙘𝙤𝙢𝙢𝙪𝙣𝙞𝙩𝙞𝙚𝙨 𝙩𝙤 𝙘𝙤𝙢𝙚 𝙛𝙤𝙧𝙬𝙖𝙧𝙙 𝙞𝙣 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙢𝙖𝙞𝙣𝙨𝙩𝙧𝙚𝙖𝙢 𝙨𝙤𝙘𝙞𝙖𝙡 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙘𝙪𝙡𝙩𝙪𝙧𝙖𝙡 𝙖𝙘𝙩𝙞𝙫𝙞𝙩𝙞𝙚𝙨. 𝙃𝙚 𝙬𝙖𝙨 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙨𝙩𝙞𝙡𝙡 𝙞𝙨 𝙢𝙮 𝙞𝙣𝙨𝙥𝙞𝙧𝙖𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣. 𝙏𝙤 𝙡𝙚𝙖𝙧𝙣 𝙢𝙤𝙧𝙚 𝙖𝙗𝙤𝙪𝙩 𝙈𝙧 𝙎𝙞𝙣𝙜𝙝'𝙨 𝙡𝙞𝙛𝙚 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙝𝙞𝙨 𝙘𝙤𝙣𝙩𝙧𝙞𝙗𝙪𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣 𝙩𝙤 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙨𝙤𝙘𝙞𝙚𝙩𝙮, 𝙗𝙤𝙩𝙝 𝙞𝙣 𝘼𝙛𝙜𝙝𝙖𝙣𝙞𝙨𝙩𝙖𝙣 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙞𝙣 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙐𝙆, 𝙬𝙖𝙩𝙘𝙝 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙛𝙪𝙡𝙡 𝙙𝙤𝙘𝙪𝙢𝙚𝙣𝙩𝙖𝙧𝙮 𝙛𝙞𝙡𝙢 𝙤𝙣 𝙔𝙤𝙪𝙏𝙪𝙗𝙚: https://youtu.be/usmOTLiWQTw

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