Washington, DC; Kabul, Afghanistan; New Delhi, India; London, UK – The latest terrorist attack in the heart of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, against a minority place of worship, not only drew a sharp condemnation globally but also sent shock-waves to the fragile peace negotiations between the Taliban and other stakeholders.
The Afghan Ministry of Interior said in a statement, “At least 25 people were killed and 8 others were wounded in the attack at Dharamshala, a Sikh worship place in Kabul.”
The Islamic State (IS) group claimed responsibility for the attack while the country’s main militant group, the Taliban, denied any involvement.
“As so often,” commented Justice Integrity Project’s Washington, DC-based editor Andrew Kreig, “this horrid terror attack prompts sympathy for the innocent victims as well questions about cause and prevention. It baffles understanding why terrorism’s opponents are not more effective in using high-tech to track down perpetrators and soft-power to reduce root causes.”
Noting that “for many years, Sikhs were relatively safe in Afghanistan,” C. Christine Fair, an expert on the region said, “Life is increasingly difficult for Sikhs in Afghanistan. And there are too few of them to mount meaningful political demands or even self-protection.”
Christine Fair, Associate Professor in the Security Studies Program within Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, elaborated on the slow but steady rise of these unfavorable living conditions saying, “The Taliban required them to wear identifying insignia but it didn’t use that insignia to signal them out for violence. Sikhs in Kabul have traditionally run medical supply shops and other mercantile activities. While life was not terrific–they suffered as other Afghans did–they were not targets. In recent years, this has begun to change.”
“This is also true in Pakistan where for many years Sikhs lived peacefully,” said Fair. “Part of the problem has been the introduction of the Islamic State’s ideology which is vehemently opposed to non-Muslims but also other kinds of Muslims such as Barelvis, Shias and of course Ahmedis.” Professor Fair added, “It’s time for western countries to join India in offering amnesty to this ever-more imperiled minority in Afghanistan but also in Pakistan.”
Rajesh Sundaram, New Delhi- based international journalist, author and IAT Editorial Consultant, cautioned about the upcoming challenges in Afghanistan. “The attack on the Gurudwara sahib in Kabul is an ominous sign of things to come, after the departure of foreign troops from Afghanistan. The most vulnerable groups in this volatile situation would be religious and ethnic minorities.”
“The Afghan security forces have their hands full right now. Such attacks will only grow in the days to come. Sikhs in Afghanistan have faced persecution for centuries and continue to do so. Many have fled as refugees to Europe and India. The handful of families that remain may now be forced to make tough choices,” added Sundaram.
Across the Globe, Sikhs
Express Sadness, Anger
Speaking on behalf of Maryland based organization Sikhs of America, Chairman Jasdip Singh Jesse, paid tribute to the martyred Sikhs and extended a hand of compassion to all Sikhs in Afghanistan, promising help in all forms. Going down memory lane, Singh recalled an earlier July 2018 incident when IS had bombed a gathering of Sikhs and Hindus in the eastern city of Jalalabad, killing 19 people and injuring 20. Singh felt the time has come for Afghan Sikhs to get together and decide a destiny, based on pragmatism and offered full support of Sikhs of America in shaping a peaceful life for the Afghan Sikh community.
Mejindarpal Kaur, International Legal Director of UNITED SIKHS commented in a statement to IAT, “We are at a loss for words against the dastardly act by men of terror who killed 25 Sikhs in Kabul today, whilst the world is under a lockdown to counter a deadly virus.” Echoing the sentiments expressed by Professor Christine Fair, Kaur asked Western governments to consider giving shelter to minorities from war-torn Afghanistan. Kaur had highlighted the plight of Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan during the 39th session of the Human Rights Council in 2018, following the suicide bombing in Jallalabad.
“We condemn the barbaric murderous attack on Sikhs in a place of worship in Kabul, Afghanistan,” said Lord Rami Ranger, Chairman, The British Sikh Association, in a statement to IAT, adding, “By attacking unarmed innocent people the perpetrators have shown their cowardice. The world must unite against such twisted ideology which promotes hatred and violence against humanity.”
Expressing condolences to the suffering families, Gurmit Singh Randhawa, President, Sikh Gurdwara Cardiff and Chairman, UK Sikh Council of Wales called the barbaric attack as “a clear example of fanaticism at work whilst the world is becoming one to tackle the Coronavirus.”
The Sikh Coalition, an American voluntary Sikh organization expressed sadness and anger at the terrible attack, saying “our prayers are with the families and community affected by the senseless loss of life.” Applauding the “noble work of groups like the Manmeet Singh Bhullar Foundation, which worked with the Canadian government to welcome several of these families to Canada in 2019,” the Coalition statement called on the US government “to play a critical role in protecting religious minorities in Afghanistan.”
Appealing to the government of Afghanistan “to protect minorities and take action against all those involved and responsible for this heinous and despicable crime,” Baljinder (Shammi) Singh, President, National Council of Asian Indian Association (NCAIA) called “upon everyone to keep the victims and their families in our prayers.”
Anju Bhargava, Founder of Hindu American Seva Communities, told IAT, “My heart goes out not only to the families of those affected but to the entire Sikh family, the entire Dharmic family.” Noting that “innocent worshippers – men, women and children – were massacred in their venerated place of worship, the sacred Gurdwara,” Bhargava added, “We are all Sikh today and stand in solidarity in their grief and beyond. Let us stand in solidarity against visible and invisible enemies and work together to strengthen our humanity with love and kindness.”
The United States, which is in delicate peace negotiations with the Taliban and Afghan government, reacted with its top diplomat addressing the issue immediately. US Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo spoke to journalists in the press briefing room, the Foggy Bottom building. Calling it a “ISIS-K claimed attack in Afghanistan, Pompeo said, “The United States condemns the horrific ISIS-K claimed attack on a Sikh temple and community center in Kabul this morning which took the lives of more than two dozen innocent people. The Afghan people deserve a future free from ISIS-K and other terrorist activity.”
Highlighting the ongoing peace talks, the US Secretary added, “Despite the country’s political challenges, the ongoing Afghan peace process remains the primary opportunity for Afghans to come together to negotiate a political settlement and build a unified front against the menace of ISIS-K. We encourage all Afghans to embrace this opportunity.”
In a tweet attributed to Alice G. Wells (AGW), Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South And Central Asian Affairs, the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA) said: “The US condemns in the strongest possible terms the horrific ISIS-claimed attack on a Sikh temple and community center in Kabul today. We mourn the deceased and will hold the wounded, their families, and their community close to our hearts. AGW.”
India Expresses Shock
India reacted from the highest offices with the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar tweeting shock and condolences.
Additionally, a detailed statement from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) read: “We convey our sincerest condolences to the immediate family members of the deceased and wish speedy recovery to the injured. India stands ready to extend all possible assistance to the affected families of the Hindu and Sikh community of Afghanistan.”
Terming the attacks as “cowardly” on the places of religious worship of the minority community, especially at this time of the COVID 19 pandemic,” the statement called it as “reflective of the diabolical mindset of the perpetrators and their backers.”
Attorney Ravi Batra
Writes to President Trump
Ravi Batra, Chair, National Advisory Council South Asian Affairs, expressed “grief for the innocent worshipers, the dead, the wounded, and fractured families, including the human family across the world.”
In an open letter dated March 25, to the US President Donald Trump and others, Attorney Batra from New York, shared his trying times as he with his family in New Rochelle, is “Covid19 positive and in quarantine and individual isolation. Today is Day 12 of my Fever War.” (All of us at IAT wish Ravi Batra and his family a speedy recovery)
Batra in his letter urged President Trump “to identify all ISIS Centers, mark them for immediate destruction, and if there be a main one, for that mother load of evil, we go back to WWII decision-making, and for even better reasons now, roll out our Nano Nuke and eviscerate this evil,” adding, “We can then continue to fight and beat Covid. It is a liberal lunacy to think compassionately about terrorists who have none.”