At least 72 Afghan Sikhs and Hindus, including two Members of Parliament representing the minority community, were stopped by the Taliban from boarding an IAF aircraft, and returned from the Kabul airport Saturday.
Vikramjit Singh Sahney, president of the World Punjabi Organization (WPO), told The Sunday Express that this batch of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus, hoping to be evacuated to India along with 80 Indian nationals, had been waiting outside the airport for over 12 hours since Friday.
The WPO, together with the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC), has been coordinating with the Government of India for evacuation of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus who are Afghan nationals and carry their country’s passports.
“Taliban fighters stopped them from boarding the IAF plane and said since they are Afghans, they must go back. Now the group has safely returned to Gurdwara Dashmesh Pita Guru Gobind Singhji Karte Parwan in Kabul,” Sahney said.
Two minority MPs, Narinder Singh Khalsa and Anarkali Kaur Honaryar, were part of the group that was made to return from the airport by the Taliban. “Both our MPs have threats to their lives since they are pro-government. They have been taken to a safe place,” a Sikh community member from Kabul said.
“Now the only way that seems possible to evacuate the Afghan Sikhs and Hindus is to negotiate with the Taliban, and tell them that Sikhs need to visit India for the ongoing 400th birth anniversary celebrations of Guru Tegh Bahadurji,” Sahney said.
A leader of the Sikh community, speaking from Kabul, too said: “We don’t know what lies ahead. Maybe, we will now negotiate with the Taliban to let us go to India for the 400th birth anniversary celebrations of Guru Tegh Bahadur.”
A senior official of the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee said that a lot happened all of Friday night before the Taliban turned away the group from the airport.
“We tried our best, coordinated with the government, and the group sat outside the airport the entire night but they were sent back to the gurdwara,” he said.
From the time the Taliban took over, a group of 280 Afghan Sikhs and 30-40 Hindus have taken shelter at the Karte Parwan Gurdwara in Kabul. They have held two meetings with Taliban representatives who assured them of “peace and safety” and told them that they need not leave the country.
Ever since March 25, 2020, when at least 25 Sikhs were killed after an Islamic State gunman allegedly stormed the Gurdwara Guru Har Rai Sahib in Kabul and opened fire, Afghan Sikhs and Hindus have been urging the governments of India, Canada and others to evacuate them from Afghanistan.
Carrying Afghan passports, they come to India on Long Term Visas but families financially weak prefer to remain in Afghanistan where many run chemist shops and depend on other sources of livelihood, mainly in Kabul, Jalalabad and Ghazni.
There were less than 700 Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan at the time of the 2020 gurdwara attack. Since then, at least 400 of them have migrated to India in batches. Once a country with over one lakh Sikhs and Hindus, Afghanistan saw an exodus after the mujahideen took over in 1992.