On March 25, four assailants who identified themselves as members of the Islamic State (ISIS) attacked Gurduara Harirai Sahib in Kabul's Shorbazar neighbourhood, murdering 25 Sikhs. There were two further strikes in the two subsequent days, so this horrible attack was not the only blow. The fate of the few hundred Sikhs who still live in Afghanistan, almost all of whom reside in Kabul, is now in jeopardy.

Sikh community in need of help 

These atrocities have been witnessed by the Sikh community globally, and many have expressed a desire to make donations. In the spirit of Sikhi, a permanent solution must be found. Despite well-publicized campaigns by diaspora organisations, there are no such groups now operating locally. Since there is no local organisation set up to receive donations, it is unclear how the funds will get to those in need. The Sikh-Afghan community is calling for long-term resettlement in a country that can provide safety and support, rather than short-term monetary assistance.

Sikhs in Afghanistan

The Sikhs of Afghanistan are an indigenous group with many historical accounts tracing the community's origins. The common view is that the community descended from Hindus and Buddhists who were driven underground by the institutionalization of Islam by the  Ghaznavid dynasty. When Guru Nanak Sahib travelled through Afghanistan in the early 1500s, he presented Sabad (Divine Word), which prompted the formation of dharamsalas, or principle-centred sanctuaries for non-Muslims. A large number of these newly liberated people were motivated to follow the path of Sikhism.

The Jalalabad incident - Atrocities against Sikhs

In Jalalabad on June 30, 2018, ISIS ambushed and murdered 19 Sikhs who were waiting for President Ashraf Ghani to arrive for a scheduled political meeting. Avtar Singh, the then-president of Afghanistan's National Committee of Hindus and Sikhs, was slain in the attack as he prepared to reclaim a minority seat in the country's parliament. His son, Narender Singh, then ran for the position and was elected to the House of Representatives. Following the incident, the locals deliberated whether to remain in Afghanistan or relocate.

Post-Jalalabad dilemma 

Although President Ashraf Ghani and Narender Singh persuaded the Sikhs to stay, no formal agreement or survival strategy was developed or put into action. Narender Singh, the current member of parliament, and Dr Anarkali Kaur Honaryar, the current member of the upper house, both need to do more to use their positions to provide direct assistance to the surviving Sikhs.

Violence against Sikhs in Afghanistan is not new, but the last two years have brought up painful memories. Since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the exile of Sikhs from the country has taken place over a span of 40 years. Most of them left during Mujahideen's rule from 1992 to 1996. From 1996 to 2001, when the Taliban were in power, there was a lot of social and economic isolation, but there was less violence. By 1996, more than 90% of Sikh Afghans lived somewhere else. Today, the Sikh population is made up of people who don't have many friends or connections abroad. In the post-Taliban era, there was hope for a more stable future, shattered by an attack on Sikh and Hindu political leaders.

What are the options for relocation?

The overwhelming majority of people agree that either Europe or North America should be given priority as the first choice. The majority of Sikhs who left Afghanistan 20 to 30 years ago and relocated ended up in Europe and were able to do so only due to their financial capabilities. To this point, relocating to Canada through private sponsorship has been a viable option; however, this concept needs to be expanded before it can be taken into serious consideration. This endeavour is being spearheaded by the Manmeet Singh Bhullar Foundation in collaboration with the World Sikh Organization of Canada.

Due to the intricate geopolitical ties between Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan, India is the second choice because it offers a relatively simple initial admission. However, because India is not a member of the UN's 1951 Refugee Convention or the 1967 Protocol, there are no official channels for naturalisation or welfare provisions. In the past few decades, India has been the primary destination for many Sikhs who fled Afghanistan. If one does not already possess significant resources or an established company, India does not present very favourable opportunities.

For stability, almost every family that relocated to India has since sent their subsequent generations to Europe or North America. Prior to recent attacks, the remnant Sikh community in Afghanistan stated unequivocally that they did not wish to fend for themselves in India, but this sentiment is shifting owing to the need for quick aid. However, these families would not be eligible for the naturalisation pathway provided by the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which grants expedited citizenship to non-Muslims from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh for arrivals before 2014.

Guru Nanak Sahib witnessed the harrowing suffering of people in Saidpur (Eminabad), Punjab, in 1521. The Guru specifies whom to interrogate while receiving the Command of the Creative and All-Pervasive Force, which says, 

saktaa seehu maaray pai vagai khasmai saa pursaa-ee.

ratan vigaarh vigo-ay kuteeN mu-i-aa saar na kaa-ee.

aapay jorh vichhorhay aapay vaykh tayree vadi-aa-ee. ||2||.

But if a powerful tiger attacks a flock of sheep and kills them, then its master must answer for it.

This priceless country has been laid waste and defiled by dogs, and no one pays any attention to the dead.

You Yourself unite, and You Yourself separate; I gaze upon Your Glorious Greatness. ||2||

- Guru Granth Sahib 360

Sikh Afghans await a suitable and promising response from the world. Governments across the globe need to support humanity, and it is time to seek an eternal resolution to save those suffering the atrocities in the name of religion. 

Once again, Sikhs are reminded to emulate Guru Nanak Sahib:

sach kee banee naanak aakhai sach sunaa-isee sach kee baylaa. ||2||3||5||

Nanak speaks the Word of Truth; he proclaims the Truth at this, the right time. ||2||3||5||

-Guru Granth Sahib 723

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