CHANDIGARH: Once a thriving and influential minority in Afghanistan, now only a handful of Sikh and Hindu families remain in the Islamic country. It all changed for them once the Taliban took over the country. A 2.5-lakh strong community prior to 1990, the Sikhs were at the forefront of business and trade and even had a say in the affairs of the country. Some of them had also joined the Afghan army and police. But many of them chose to leave Afghanistan, their birthplace, because of rising discrimination and intolerance.
Says Surpal Singh Khalsa, “Now there are just 20 gurudwaras left in the whole of Afghanistan; earlier, there were more than 64. Most of them have been destroyed in the long-drawn war and conflict and the reaming have been taken over by Muslims and converted into sports clubs. During the Taliban rule, we were forced to wear a yellow band around our hands so that one knows we are from minority community.”
The Sikhs started coming to Afghanistan in the 15th century after Guru Nanak visited Kabul. They prospered during the rule of last Afghan king Mohammed Zahir Shah during 1933-1973 and also during the Soviet rule.
“The Sikhs mainly went to Afghanistan in the 16th and 17th centuries, during Akbar’s rule. Most of them were in trade and were eminent and influential during the Mughal rule. They migrated from Peshwar in Pakistan. Then, during Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s tenure, they went to Afghanistan as it was connected to Central Asia and was an important trade route. Also they were culturally connected,” historian Sukhdev Singh Sohal told The Sunday Standard.
“During that period many Afghans also became Sikhs. They prospered in business and trade and became a powerful minority community. But when the Taliban took over, their decline started and now the ISIS is targeting them. By killing the Sikhs, the ISIS is sending a message to the Indian government,” Sohal said.
“Sikhs in Afghanistan are sitting ducks. They have no future there. This is due to the unclear foreign policy of the Indian government towards them, but no political party is talking about it,” he added.
Bhagwan Singh, an Afghan Sikh who came to India in 1992, says, “We have been living there for generations. Once upon a time, Sikhs and Hindus controlled more than 80 per cent business in Afghanistan. Slowly, as the country became a conflict zone and the Taliban took over, our decline started.”