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Source: VOA News

Afghan Hindu and Sikh families wait for lunch inside a Gurudwara, or a Sikh temple, during a religious ceremony in Kabul, Afghanistan June 8, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

SLAMABAD – Following a militant attack in late March that killed 25 Sikhs in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, a dwindling community of Sikhs and Hindus is now weighing whether or not it is safe to stay in the war-torn country where the minority group is subject to constant threats by militants and discrimination by others. 

The March 25th gunman attack on a Sikh temple in Kabul’s Shor Bazar Gurdwara area was claimed by the Islamic State terror group. Many Sikh and Hindu activists have since appealed for international assistance to help relocate them to outside of Afghanistan. 

“If you stop a Sikh child and ask him what he wishes, he will say that he wants to leave Afghanistan,” said Singh, a 22-year-old Sikh who was among nearly 150 people trapped in the religious complex assailed by a group of IS militants. “Who is not happy to live in peace?”   

Singh requested anonymity over concerns for his safety for speaking openly.

Recalling the horrific incident that ended after about six hours of fire exchange between IS militants and Afghan security forces, he told VOA that he considers his survival a miracle.    

“We went to a room and locked the door from inside. I saw the shadow of him [an IS fighter].” 

Singh’s father, nephew, and sister-in-law were among the 25 people killed in the IS attack. Heartbroken by the loss, he says he is now committed to leave Afghanistan with his family “to have a better future, where there is no fear.”Activists Concerned About Safety of Hindus, Sikhs in Afghanistan Concerned About Safety of Hindus, Sikhs in Afghanistan

Activists Concerned About Safety of Hindus, Sikhs in Afghanistan | Voice of America – English

The two minority groups were once thriving with a substantial involvement in Afghanistan’s trade and business. But, since the 1978 conflict, Sikhs and Hindus have found themselves increasingly targeted.  The population of both minorities has shrunk from about 250,000 to less than a thousand. 

Deepak Ahluwalia, a California-based immigration attorney and Sikh rights activists, said that he believed Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan were facing religious persecution and “are being threatened with genocide.”

Broad Discrimination  

The Taliban in the past have ordered the Sikhs to wear yellow armbands so they could be easily distinguished from the Muslim majority. A more extremist Sunni group, IS, considers both Hindus and Sikhs to be pagans.   

According to Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), the two minorities also face institutional and cultural discrimination.

 Zabihullah Farhang, a spokesperson for AIHRC, told VOA that Hindus and Sikhs “face a lot of discrimination in the public places, with their children in schools, with employment and work opportunities.”

Farhang said that Hindus and Sikhs were not given the same rights as Afghan Muslims, and the minority groups felt increasingly targeted. 

“One of the main reasons that they are leaving their country, without doubt, is cultural issues,” he added. 

Illegal property seizure

The country’s constitution and government have further deepened the isolation, charged Rajdeep Jolly, a Sikh rights attorney in Washington, DC. He said Article 62 of the Afghan constitution that states only a Muslim can run for president shows religious minorities are looked down upon.

“Even in the absence of genocidal violence, the Afghan legal system has relegated Sikhs and Hindus to second-class citizenship,” said Jolly, adding that the two communities face obstacles from basic religious rituals such as cremation to judicial bias and illegal property seizures.  

Afghan government says they are doing their best to protect them from militant attacks.

“The Afghan Security Council has started some measures and they will take serious actions for their security,” Dawa Khan Menapal, a spokesman for the Afghan president, told VOA.

Menapal said the country in the past few years under President Ashraf Ghani has made significant progress to address the issues these communities face. He said Hindus and Sikhs have two members in the Afghan parliament “who raise the voices and concerns of their constituencies.”

Some Stay

Some members of the minority groups say they are not willing to give in despite continued terror attacks and discrimination. 

Commenting on whether Hindus and Sikhs in recent weeks have begun to flee to the West, Narinder Singh Khalsa, a lawmaker representing Hindus and Sikhs in Wolesi Jirga or the lower house of Afghanistan’s parliament, told VOA that the two communities “have not made such a decision yet.” 

“Reports published by media outlets outside Afghanistan saying that Hindus and Sikhs of Afghanistan are trying to seek asylum are all baseless,” he said.

‘It is our country’

Gornam Singh,24, is determined to stay in Afghanistan. He told VOA that Afghanistan has issues at all levels, but this is his country. 

 “The whole Afghanistan has concerns. All are worried, from the president to a vender but this is Afghanistan. It is our country,” Singh said.  

Balbeer Singh Pahwa, the vice president of an Afghan-Sikh Gurdwara in New York, who was born and raised in Kabul said he does not remember an intolerant Afghanistan when he lived in it and regretted the path Afghanistan has since taken.    

 “Afghanistan was very different then. Kabul was like living in a European country, we had no problem of religion at that time,” he said. 

Pahwa left Afghanistan in 1983 due to the Soviet Union’s invasion of the country.He said that they were able to freely perform their religious rituals when he lived in Kabul.   

 “Every year for Basakhi, Sikhs families would all travel to Sultanpur and Jalalabad. There were maybe 2000 people, about 500-600 families at the time. We would set up tents and stay there for a week. Sikhs believe that Guru Nanak was there,” he added.

Major loss of culture

Some minority activists see the end of Sikh and Hindu minorities in Afghanistan as a major loss for the country’s rich culture. A more diverse and tolerant Afghan society, they argue, could play a major role in developing the country.    

Manmeet Singh, a U.S.-based activist and filmmaker, said the remaining Hindus and Sikhs in the county were “the last descendants of a pre-Islamic civilization dating back thousands of years.”  

He warned “their exodus from Afghanistan will be a triumph for fanatics and a tragedy for the world.”

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Source: Catch News

The Afghan Sikh community living in the United States has urged the Indian Government to help in the resettlement of the Sikhs living in Afghanistan, terming it to be the only ‘viable’ option for less than 650 families that are hard hit by the violence in the country.

Worried for the lives of the Sikh minorities living in Kabul, Jalalabad and Ghazi in Afghanistan, this minuscule Sikh community is seeking refuge in India.

Encouraged by the steps taken in the past by the Indian government, the Afghan Sikh community leaders have made an appeal to India to accommodate the Sikhs and Hindus from Afghanistan and grant them legal entry and political asylum with long term residency multiple entry visas.

The community leaders living in the United States said it is imperative to alleviate the dire situation of religious minorities in Afghanistan who look to India as the only safe haven in the region.

Speaking to ANI, Afghan American Paramjit Singh Bedi, Chairman of Afghanistan Committee for Global Sikh Council, said, “At a time when the attention is focused on the coronavirus pandemic and India is under lockdown, we understand India’s worry but I still urge GoI to take quick action as we fear the safety of the Sikhs living in Afghanistan.”

“We further request the Modi government to arrange a special flight from Kabul and request India to intervene as soon as possible on their (Sikhs in Afghanistan) behalf before it’s too late,” Bedi said.

Bedi laid out his concerns, highlighting the terror attack by ISIS March 25 that killed 25 Sikhs at their gurdwara in Kabul. “The victims included women, the elderly, and a four-year-old girl. They had gathered to pray that morning for the health and recovery of people afflicted with COVID-19, but their lives were cut short by religious bigotry,” Bedi recounted the tragic terror attack.

Indian Ambassador to the US, Taranjit Singh Sandhu has expressed solidarity with Sikh community of Afghanistan. “India has always stood in solidarity with the Sikh and Hindu community in Afghanistan and extended help and refuge in difficult circumstances,” he tweeted on Friday.

Meanwhile, ANI reached out to the US Department of State to understand US’ commitment of bringing the persecuted Afghan Sikh and Hindu group to safety. A Department spokesperson told ANI that its leadership, including ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Samuel Brownback, are aware of the gravity of the Sikh community’s situation in Afghanistan.

“I met last week with a number of members of the Sikh community in the United States about trying to help out with the resolution of the crisis for the Sikhs in Afghanistan. Those discussions are ongoing. I think they’re ongoing with a number of branches within the U.S. Government,” Ambassador Brownback told ANI

“I don’t know of any decisions that have been reached at this time, but it is a dire situation for the Sikhs in Afghanistan, and many of them, if not the entire community, seeks to leave Afghanistan to get to a safer place for their community after these attacks have taken place. We will continue to work with them, but I don’t have any announcements at this time,” he added.

The Department of State’s spokesperson also told ANI that it is deeply concerned about the violence perpetrated and threatened against Sikhs and other religious minorities in Afghanistan.

The spokesperson also added that Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has condemned the recent attacks against the Sikh community in Kabul and has urged all Afghans to come together to negotiate a political settlement to help confront the militant group that is threatening the safety of that community and others.

The spokesperson also informed ANI that the US Embassy in Kabul is in regular contact with the Sikh community and Afghan government regarding the Sikh community’s concerns in Afghanistan.

“Sikhs constitute an important part of the fabric of Afghan society. We encourage and welcome outreach by the Government of Afghanistan to reassure the Sikh community of the importance attached to their safety and continued contribution to Afghanistan,” the spokesperson further told ANI.

In the wake of the terror attack on a 400-year-old Gurdwara in Shor Bazar in Kabul on March 25, the United States had expressed concerns about the safety of the Sikh community in Afghanistan.

“I remain deeply concerned about the safety of the Sikh community in Afghanistan. Afghan Sikhs have long been an integral part of the multicultural tapestry of Afghanistan and Afghans must come together now to ensure the security of religious minorities,” senior Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Alice Wells tweeted.

US’ House Foreign Affairs Committee has also urged Trump Administration to consider Afghan Sikhs and Hindus for emergency refugee protection under the Fiscal Year 2020 US Refugee Admissions Program.

“Concerned for the safety of the Sikh community in Afghanistan, recently targeted by ISIS, and urge the administration to consider Afghan Sikhs and Hindus for emergency refugee protection under the Fiscal Year 2020 U.S. Refugee Admissions Program,” House Foreign Affairs Committee tweeted.

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Source: The Economic Times

Pakistan had requested his custody for further investigation as the leader of leader of the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP), an affiliate of the Islamic State. The Afghan foreign ministry said as Farooqi was involved in the killing of hundreds of Afghans, he should be tried under the law of the country.

By Dipanjan Roy Chaudhury 

NEW DELHI: Afghanistan in a key decision turned down Pakistan’s request to hand over Aslam Farooqi, the Islamic State regional head who according to Afghan government was captured in connection with a recent bombing at a Sikh gurdwara and several other terrorist attacks. 

Pakistan had requested his custody for further investigation as the leader of leader of the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP), an affiliate of the Islamic State. 

The Afghan foreign ministry said as Farooqi was involved in the killing of hundreds of Afghans, he should be tried under the law of the country. 

Afghanistan and Pakistan had no extradition treaty. 

On April 4, Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), announced that they had arrested Farooqi, whose real name is Abdullah Orakzai, in Kandahar province. 

Pakistan had formally asked the neighbouring country to hand over terrorist. 

Atif Mashal, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan, was summoned to the Pakistani foreign ministry to convey the request. 

“The ambassador of Afghanistan to Pakistan was called to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and conveyed Pakistan’s views about the arrest of IS-Khorasan leader, Aslam Farooqi, by the Afghan authorities,” read a statement issued by the Foreign Office. 

The group took the responsibility of a recent attack targeting a Sikh gurdwara in Kabul, leaving scores dead. 

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Source: Youth Ki Awaaz

Al Jazeera: Gunmen storm Sikh religious complex in Kabul

The distressing news of the fidayeen attack on a Sikh Gurudwara in Afghanistan’s Kabul raised severe questions over the vulnerability of minorities in the Islamic Republic of Afganistan and the region’s impending de-stability post the exit of the U.S troops. The attack took place at a critical juncture when the entire global community is confronting a deadly pandemic. 25 Sikhs including women and children lost their lives in the attack leaving 8 injured.

Global leaders were quick to express their condolences but spoke little more than their habitual jabberwocky. In the background of this terrorist strike, the article is an attempt to analyze the necessity of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the possible repercussions of the U.S-Taliban peace deal.

The attack took place on the morning of 25th March inside Gurudwara Har Rai Sahib in Kabul, where 150 members of the Sikh community had gathered for prayers. Investigation agencies claim that a group of four terrorists opened fire at the devotees and all the fidayeen were gunned down in a six-hour-long tussle with the security forces. Islamic State (IS) was quick to claim responsibility for the carnage through their propaganda magazine Al Naba on 26th March.

One among the four was an Indian national called Abu Khalid Al-Hindi and is identified as a Keralite named Muhammad Muhsin. But to make things worse, another bomb blast took place at the funeral venue. Even though no one was injured in the blast, deep hate towards the religious minorities in Afghanistan has been continuously shown by the radical factions. In July 2018, IS had similarly targeted a gathering of Hindus and Sikhs killing 19 people and injuring 20.

It is a genuine concern of the Indian security agencies that with the Taliban in power, Pakistan can further mobilize their resources to create further troubles in Jammu and Kashmir. During the short period of their regime in Afghanistan, the Taliban was brutal to religious minorities and women and imposed strict laws for blasphemy and adultery. People were publically executed and in most cases brutally stoned to death. Hence, a shift in Afghan polity will be against India’s strategic interests and power politics in the region.

As an answer to the central question, minorities account for just 0.2% in the total population of Afghanistan which is around 35 million. Even if the Taliban assures security to the Hindu and Sikh minorities under the peace deal, Islamic State which fights the Taliban for supremacy in the region won’t spare the ‘infidels’. Quitting Afghanistan was a poll promise of Trump and it seems that he is desperate to pull off from ground zero in the election year itself.

The idea of India’s military intervention in Afghanistan Post-U.S troop withdrawal has received mixed feedback from military experts. Feasibility and its sustenance have been debating points. Both the ways, the Afghan problem is all set to open a Pandora’s Box before the Indian government. The government, in due course of time, has to work with the government of Afghanistan and ensure its civilizational responsibility of assuring protection to the minorities of Afghanistan.

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Source: Outlook India

By Lalit K Jha

Washington, Apr 11 (PTI) A Hindu American group has urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to grant asylum to the persecuted Sikhs and Hindus from Afghanistan.

In a letter dated April 9 to Modi, Hindu American Foundation said it is imperative to alleviate the dire situation of religious minorities in Afghanistan who look to the secular Republic of India as the only safe haven in the region.

“On March 25, 2020, a terrorist attack on the prominent Dharamshala Temple in the Shor Bazar area of Kabul, Afghanistan tragically killed 25 people and injured at least 8 others. About 150 worshipers were inside the temple at the time of the attack including women and children,” said the HAF.

Noting that this is just the latest example of religious minorities being persecuted in Afghanistan, HAF said in July 2018, a suicide bomber attacked a convoy of Sikhs and Hindus en route to meet Afghan President Ashraf Gani, resulting in the deaths of 19 people and injuring 20 others.

“Today, there are only an estimated 200 Sikh and Hindu families left in Afghanistan,” it said.

Encouraged by the recent steps taken by the Indian government, HAF urged Modi to take further action to alleviate the dire situation of religious minorities in Afghanistan “who look to the secular Republic of India as the only safe haven in the region”.

HAF urged the prime minister to grant legal entry and political asylum to Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, and other persecuted religious minorities currently fleeing Afghanistan with residency visas that last no less than five years and with the option of applying for expedited citizenship.

Seeking temporary housing to refugees, HAF urged Prime Minister Modi to ensure that these religious minorities are eligible for government benefits such as physical and mental healthcare, education, economic or business loans, grants and other employment opportunities.

“Hindu Americans are right in believing that the Indian government, granting citizenship to the most vulnerable communities in the region seeking safe haven in India, is a genuine humanitarian gesture that makes right at least some of the wrongs that exist in that part of the world,” stated HAF executive director Suhag Shukla. PTI LKJ

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Source: MENAFN

KABUL: Hundreds of Afghan Sikhs have signed a letter to Indian Embassy to Kabul in which they have called for New Delhi’s help to leave their motherland after a Daesh-claimed deadly attack targeted their temple in Kabul.

An attacker stormed a Sikh temple (Gurdwara) on March 25 in the old part of Kabul, opening at the worshippers held hostage.

At least 26 worshippers were killed in the attack and another eight wounded.

Some 700 Sikhs signed the letter addressed to Indian embassy and called for an immediate leave of their country. The signatories have said they would want to live in Afghanistan.

The letter published in the Indian Express, calls Daesh terrorist group a potential threat against Afghan Sikhs and tries to wipe them out.

The March attack against Sikh was not the first case. A suicide bomber also a Daesh mercenary blew himself up among a group of them heading to meet President Ghani in the Jalalabad city of the eastern province of Nangarhar, killing and injuring scores of them in July 2018.

The government of Canada said it would grant asylum to all Afghan Sikhs and Hindus. But they refused the call, saying they would never leave home if the government provides them with security.

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By Asia Samachar TeamCANADA |
The aftermath: A girl cries at the coffin of a women, one of the 25 who died in the Kabul gurdwara attack on 25 March 2020. – Photo: Reuters

The Kabul attack killing 25 innocent souls have been a real shaker. The 25 March incident, followed by two consecutive days of more attacks in the Afghanistan capital have left the small band of the Sikh minority community living in heightened fear. Even before the attack, they were already almost living on egg shelfs.

What can the world community do to help the Sikh and Hindu minorities hammed by increasing attacks from the Muslim groups? At this point of time, leaving Afghanistan seems to be the only solution.

“It is too small a minority, unable to defend itself, and politically inconsequential. I’d still like to be able to help them get out, instead of having more killed,” Suneet Singh Tuli, the speaker of the Canadian branch of the World Sikh Parliament, tells Asia Samachar.

Canada is one of the options but it does not seem to be working out just as yet. Some 26,000 Syrian were resettled in Canada between December 2015 and February 2016. But the route does not seem to be open for the Afghan Sikhs.

“Although we’re trying to put pressure on the Canadian government, unfortunately it is unlikely they will act,” he said.

Suneet is the founder and owner of DataWind Ltd, a provider of wireless web access products and services. Here are excerpts from the interview.

AS: What is your view on the recent attacks on Sikhs in Kabul?

Suneet: The Afghanistan situation is really alarming as there are constant threats, and we believe that further attacks are imminent, and there is insufficient security to protect them.

Is Canada their best hope to seek refuge? 

Although we’re trying to put pressure on the Canadian government, unfortunately it is unlikely they will act — very upsetting. Most likely, they’ll have to go to Pakistan or India — where they’ll be forced to languish as ‘non-citizens’ for many years. It’s very sad and frustrating.

Canadian leaders seem silent on the plight of the Afghan Sikhs. Is that proper reading of the situation?

Yes.

What are the ground challenges in getting the Afghan Sikhs to move out?

There are logistical issues, but we can charter a plane and bring them. Unlike the 20,000 Canadians stuck in India due to the curfew, we don’t have those movement restrictions in Afghanistan.  And these people we need to move are mostly in Kabul.

Beyond logistics. Does it mean they have to leave everything they have and start afresh?

Yes, there is no choice. But, those in the Gurdwara have already been driven out of their homes — and they would congregate each night at the Gurdwara for safety.

A few  Afghan Sikh families have moved to Canada some years earlier. What are their experiences ?

Only 15 families have made it here that were originally in Helmunt province — they all have jobs and are starting to get settled in. They’re not yet as established as the Kabuli Sikhs of Southhall, but that takes a generation.

The Afghan Sikhs in London are well established. They have flourishing businesses and real estate.

The Sikh-Afghani newcomers in Canada are living on rent, mostly uneducated (hence labour jobs). But they are safe and have a future.

If we bring them to Canada, then we’ll ensure they have jobs, training, education and support — starting fresh here will be easier than the risk they face in Kabul currently. Those that got out over the last couple of decades were generally those that could afford to get out, so, had some wealth. Those left behind are the most needy.

What can Sikhs in other countries do to help the Afghan Sikhs?

If there are immigration or refugee sponsorship programs in each respective country, then we should consider those too. Alternatively, help get signatures on the various petitions that are being circulated so that this becomes a global movement and the politicians respond to the pressure. And lastly, financially help the organizations that are working on this. World Sikh Parliament is not collecting any funds, we are routing our funds through other organizations.

Is it the end of the line for Sikhs in Afghanistan?

Sadly, that’s the case. It is too small a minority, unable to defend itself, and politically inconsequential. I’d still like to be able to help them get out, instead of having more killed.

Have you personally met any of the Afghan Sikhs who moved to Canada? What was your impression?

Yes. Good folk, grateful to be in Canada. They will make good Citizens of Canada. And they are our brothers, there’s an instant kinship when you meet them.

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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 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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