Tolo News – Britain to almost double troops in Afghanistan

Theresa May made the announcement on the eve of NATO’s heads of state summit in Brussels, where a meeting on Afghanistan will be held.

London UK, 11 July 2018. The British government is planning to almost double the number of its troops in Afghanistan after a request from US President Donald Trump for reinforcements to help tackle the fragile security situation.

Prime Minister Theresa May announced her government will send an extra 440 troops, which would bring Britain’s total to about 1,100, to help Afghan troops fighting Taliban and Daesh insurgents.

The extra troops will be taking part in NATO-led Resolute Support, to train, advise and assist Afghan forces. They will be based in Kabul.

The announcement comes the day before a NATO summit in Belgium that could turn contentious over US President Donald Trump’s insistence that allies pay more for their defense.

Trump, who announced the United States would send thousands more troops to Afghanistan last year, has asked Britain and other NATO countries to send more reinforcements to the country.

“In committing additional troops to the Train Advise Assist operation in Afghanistan we have underlined once again that when NATO calls the UK is among the first to answer,” May said.

“NATO is as vital today as it ever has been and our commitment to it remains steadfast. The Alliance can rely on the UK to lead by example.”

The increase in British troops comes ahead of parliamentary elections in Afghanistan in October.

The extra British troops will initially come from the Welsh Guards, with around half arriving in August and the rest in February next year.

Hundreds of civilians have been killed and wounded in attacks in Kabul this year. At least 57 people were killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a voter registration booth in April and about 100 people were killed in January by a bomb in an ambulance.

Thousands more US troops have been sent to Afghanistan to help train the army, and commanders have been given greater authority to carry out air strikes against the militants in a major reversal of the previous policy of phased withdrawal of American forces.

May’s announcement came on the eve of NATO’s two-day heads of state summit in Brussels.

Speaking ahead of the start of the summit on Tuesday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said at a press conference that NATO would close the summit with a meeting on Afghanistan, joined by Resolute Support partners.

“We will continue our presence in Afghanistan to put pressure on Taliban so they join the peace process.”

“Our presence in Afghanistan is vital to ensuring the country never again becomes a safe haven for international terrorism.

“And Allies are increasing their commitment, both in forces and funding. We have added around 3,000 more trainers to our mission,” he said.

Stoltenberg also said: “I expect we will also agree to extend funding for the Afghan forces beyond 2020. And we’ll express our full support for President Ghani’s bold peace initiative. And his government’s reforms.”


The Tribune – Afghan Sikhs see land mafia’s role in blast

Varinder Singh, Tribune News Service

Jalandhar – Panjab – India, 09 July 2018. Afghanistan’s land mafia eying hundreds of acres of precious land with Sikh gurdwaras may have carried out the July 1 Jalalabad blast that killed 17 Sikh leaders on way to meet the President.

There were reports that the attack may have been carried out by the Taliban or Daish (Islamic State). But both organisations have through emissaries conveyed to the community their concern over the killings.

While a government investigation is yet to ascertain the identity of the attackers, the Sikh community in Kabul has little doubt the powerful land mafia did it, pointing out it has already usurped gurdwara land, assets and properties in villages on the outskirts of Kabul, Jalalabad, Ghazni, Herat and Kandahar.

The announcement by Afghanistan Prime Minister Mohammad Ashraf Ghani eight months ago on transfer of government land worth USD 7,00,000 for Gurdwara Guru Nanak Darbar in Jalalabad for setting up a school for Sikh children may have triggered the July 1 blast, say local Sikhs.

“The mafia paid USD 4,00,000 as bribe to officials for usurping the land allotted to the Sikhs,” claims Narinder Singh Khalsa, who is contesting the parliamentary elections scheduled for October in place of his father Avtar Singh Khalsa, who was among those killed in the Jalalabad blast.

He says the Sikh delegation was attacked while on way to meet the PM in Jalalabad for government aid for the proposed school.

“Our acquaintances and friends in Ghazni tell us that the Taliban and DAISH have expressed their sympathy for the Sikh victims. They say they have no animosity for the Sikh community,” claims Narinder Singh.

Canada urged to give asylum

Toronto – The Canada India Foundation (CIF) has urged the country to accept Sikh and Hindu minority communities from Afghanistan as refugees following the killing of 19 Sikhs by an IS suicide bomber in Jalalabad.

CIF chair Ajit Someshwar said Canada should help alleviate the plight of Sikh and Hindu minorities in Afghanistan and Pakistan the same way it helped Syrian refugees by giving them asylum in the country.

WIO News – Sikh migrants from Afghanistan living in deplorable condition in India: Report

New Delhi – India, 09 July 2018. Many Sikh families who have migrated from war-ravaged Afghanistan to India’s northern state of Punjab are facing many hardships.

Muslim-majority Afghanistan is home to minorities like Hindus and Sikhs who have been known to work for the overall development of the country. But the minorities are often treated as second-class citizens and their numbers have gone down tremendously in the last decade.

A Sikh migrant Shami Singh, who lives in India, said they were treated and looked down upon like sinners. They were tortured and were asked to convert to Islam.

He further said that whenever someone died they were not allowed to perform the last rites and this was not only with the Sikhs but Hindus living in Afghanistan too faced similar situations.

Speaking of the recent blast in Afghanistan’s Jalalabad that killed 19 people including Sikhs and Hindus, Singh said that he would have also been killed if he was still living in the war-torn country.

Another Sikh migrant, Kalwant Kaur, who had move to India after her husband was killed by militants in Afghanistan, said all she wants was the federal government to provide her with a safe haven as well as Indian citizenship.

The 11,000-plus Afghan refugees in India fare better than some other poor communities, but many still live hand to mouth.

The Eurasia Review – Anticipated extinction of Afghan Hindu and Sikh minorities: can Afghanistan stop it?

Dr. Bawa Singh and Dr. Jaspal Kaur

Amritsar – Panjab – India, 08 July 2018. The safety and security of minorities have always been remained in question, particularly in the war-torn and highly terrorism infested countries.

Recently, Afghan minorities such as Hindus and Sikhs had undergone the horrible experience of a terrorist attack in which 19 people were killed and about 20 injured.

The responsibility of the same was claimed by the Islamic State. Given this terrorist threat, the population of these communities has been decreasing substantially (from estimated seven lac to only a few hundred families).

The recent terrorist attack (1 July 2018), in which Awtar Singh Khalsa (only one candidate of these communities running for the parliamentary election 2018) was killed. It has further created panic in the community.

Seeing the exponentially declining the population of such communities, perhaps make us convinced that these people are on the brink of extinction.

Many media reports indicated that they used to feel at sea and one question is pestering them how to face/come out of this challenge? In this dire straits, how Afghanistan can assure the safety and security of the affected minority, is a major question to be taken into account?

Despite the civilizational and geo-cultural relations of Hindus and Sikhs with Afghanistan, these minorities had been remained eclipsed and invisible for the scholarly attention for a long time.

However, when these communities had come under security threats, then only the communities started getting the attention of the media, scholars and policy makers etc.

The beginning of the Afghanistan and Punjab relations started with the visits of Sikhs’ first Guru Nanak Dev Ji in the 15th century way from Mecca to Jalalabad and Ghazni.

However, all the Sikhs have not been of the Panjabi origin, rather a small number of locals, whose ancestors adopted Sikhism during Guru Nanak’s visits to Afghan cities, had become part of the same.

Sikhs and Hindus were sent by Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839) as part of missions (the 1820s) to promote trade, who in due course of time had settled in Jalalabad and Ghazni provincial towns.

As per the study of anthropologist Ballard (2011) the Hindu Khatri merchants settled in Afghanistan, and since then they have been enjoying a substantial share in the regional trade.

The Taliban rule (1996–2001) had spelled doom for the lives of minorities. Afghanistan’s economy and infrastructure have been devastated.

But Bansal (2012, 4 March) had contested this argument who was of the opinion that during the Taliban regime, the Sikhs and Hindus had not been suffered any discrimination, rather their businesses grown by leaps and bounds.

This community used to share good terms with the Taliban and many members of the same used to make frequent visits to Sikh shrines as well. Rather, with the outbreak of civil war in the post-9/11, the Hindu and Sikh have been caught in the crossfire of violence.

Their gurdwaras and temples have been destroyed. Most of the remaining Gurdwaras (65) and temples (21) have been taken over by the local authorities given their misuse by the terrorists as ammunition warehouses.

Currently, these communities are passing through the cycle of violence and many other serious challenges haunting their lives in Afghanistan. Protection of ethnic identity has become a major question for these minorities given the compulsion of paying Jizya, (a religious tax), generally imposed on the non-Muslims.

These people have been asked to put on the yellow bands by the individuals on their arms and have to hoist yellow flags on the rooftops of their homes and businesses shops for public identification purposes. They lost the meaning of freedom due to some restrictions on their religious practices as well.

The forced conversion, the imposition of strict Islamic laws, staged public executions, forbade the practice of cremation, harassment, atrocities, violence, beating, looting, land grabbing, and banning girls from schools etc. are part and parcel of their day to day lives.

The prevailing hostile environment had forced these people to leave Afghanistan. As per the report of Ehsan Shayegan (Afghan Researcher with Porsesh Research and Studies Organization-Kabul), which is studying minority religions, is of the opinion that, “In the 70s, there were around 700,000 Hindus and Sikhs and now they are estimated to be less than 7,000.”

During the Karzai administration (2004-14), these communities had felt more ostracized than ever. As per the report of UK Border Agency Report COI (16 November 2009), “There were approximately 500 Sikhs and Hindus in the country.
Although those communities were allowed to practice their faith publicly, they reportedly continued to face discrimination, including intimidation; discrimination when seeking government jobs….”

The minority leaders of Sikhs and Hindus communities have also been expressing their concerns over declining their population.

Dr. Anarkali Kaur (Honorary Senator in the Afghan Parliament) said, “The number of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus has dwindled over the years with only about 1000 Sikhs remaining in the country as they migrated, leaving their successful businesses in Kabul, Kandahar and other cities, to safer places in India, Europe, and Canada.”

Awtar Singh Khalsa, Head of the Afghan Sikh and Hindu Council (recently killed in the attack), has also substantiated the same argument by saying that given the decades of war, instability, and intolerance, our community had just reduced from lacs to 372 families nationwide.

It means once the thriving community, is on the brink of extinction in Afghanistan, raising a serious question for the host country and government, Indian government, international human rights protecting organizations in general and the countries which are engaged in fighting against Taliban in particular.

On the unfortunate day of July 1, 2018, a suicide bomber attacked the convoy of Awtar Singh Khalsa (An Afghan Sikh Politician from Jalalabad), who was going to meet President Ashraf Ghani, the latter was going to speak in the governor’s residence in the eastern city of Jalalabad.

Avtar Singh Khalsa was about to be elected unopposed for the lower house of Afghanistan Parliament in the coming election (October 2018). He had made a very special and important place in the hearts of not only Sikhs and Hindus given his selfless service, rather of the local people as well.

During his interview with BBC Punjabi, he expressed his dreams how he would love to work for Afghanistan where, each one of the Afghans either Sikhs, Hindus, Uzbek could enjoy a peaceful and respectful life.

Along with Avatar Singh Khalsa, about 19 other people including the activist Ravail Singh, Sikh Community spokesman Iqbal Singh and peace activist Anup Singh was killed. As per the report of public health officials, about 20 people were wounded in the same attack.

Since the launch of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), these communities have frequently been exposed to life threat vulnerabilities. Once these communities are believed to be the most prosperous but now the spurt of the violence and discriminations against them, made their lives bad to worse.

In the 1970s, the share of the Afghan population stood at estimated seven lac, which is currently declined to 350 families only. In this backdrop, the extinction of such minorities in Afghanistan seems within the realm of possibility.

In the dire straits, how these minorities could be kept safe in the highly terrorism infested country like Afghanistan, has been worrying not only the stakeholders rather the humanistic thinkers and scholars as well?

Since the end of the WW II, several human rights protective mechanisms at the international level have been put in place to protect and promote the same. The Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities (18 December 1992) is one of them.

Its article 1 says that “ the states shall protect the existence and the national or ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic identity of minorities within their respective territories and shall encourage conditions for the promotion of that identity.”

Despite given several such mechanisms in place, still, the lives of these minorities have been exposed to the vulnerabilities. Declining of the population along with always hanging the sword of Damocles have been putting them in panic, how to face violence, discrimination and life threats at the moment.

Under Article 1 of the Declaration(1992), it is obligatory for Afghanistan to take some steps to ensure their safety and security. However, given its limited capacity particularly from defence forces side, it seems to be very difficult for Afghanistan to take care of these communities.

India has been sharing good terms with Afghanistan. Using its good office and influence, it may urge Afghanistan to take some strong steps and cooperate with the latter to find out some ways/means to ensure the safety and security of these communities.

The future of peace-building also seems very bleak given the divergent interests of the geopolitical players engaged in Afghanistan. Trump’s South Asia Policy did not show any concrete results. Along with the safety and security of such communities, peacebuilding would remain major strategic concerns.

If these people are not protected and left them to leave the country, it would emerge as a major set back for Afghanistan. It would also prove as a major set back for Trump’s South Asia policy, by exposing its hollowness.

Violence and use of military are not the means to sort out any ethnic issues. Dialogue is only can become a pathfinder. The Taliban should understand that they are killing only their own innocent people, which is of no use and would take them nowhere.

Afghans people including these minority communities would be on their side provided they should become part of the mainstream national/international social and political norms along with the shunning of violence. Being in the mainstream, world, Afghanistan and its people would become yours.

Going by such means, only Afghanistan and Taliban could check the role/intervention of the external powers. Until Afghanistan remains under the control of external powers, the same situation would remain prevailed. In this background, the minority communities likely to suffer extinction, which further torn the country.

Therefore, the constructive role of Afghans including Taliban and other minorities only could turn Afghanistan into one of the best countries, peaceful and progressive provided the Taliban could part of the mainstream.

No other countries/financial aids are the solutions of any ethnic/social/political problems, if it comes, it always comes with a lot of strings.

In this way, only Afghans could sort out their political and ethnic problems and check the anticipated extinction of these communities. Alas! peace and prosperity should prevail in Afghanistan. The pluralistic fabric of Afghan society may remain intact!!

Dr Bawa Singh is teaching at the Centre for South and Central Asian Studies, School of Global Relations, Central University of Punjab, Bathinda, India and Dr.Jaspal Kaur (AP), teaches in the Department of Law, Regional Campus Jalandhar, Guru Nank Dev University (Amritsar). – Pakistani Sikhs Stage Protest against Killings of Afghan Sikh Leaders in Jalalabad

Sikh24 Editors

Nankana Sahib – Panjab – Pakistan, 07 July 2018. In protest of the targeted killings of Afghan Sikh leaders in a suicide bomb attack in Jalalabad, the Pakistan resident Sikhs held a demonstration at Gurdwara Janam Asthan Sri Nankana Sahib under the leadership of the former PSGPC president S. Bishan Singh.

The peaceful demonstration was held following the culmination of a religious program organized for the spiritual peace of the departed Afghan Sikh leaders.

The Sikh protesters were carrying placards having slogans like “Deliver Justice to Afghan Sikh Leaders”, “Stop Target Killings”, “Stop Committing Atrocities on Afghan Sikhs”, “Deliver justice to the families of deceased Sikh Leaders” etc. The slogans were written on the placards in Gurmukhi and Shahmukhi script.

Interacting with media, the former PSGPC president S. Bishan Singh strongly criticized the suicide bomb attack carried out on Afghan Sikh leaders in Jalalabad.

He informed that S. Narinder Singh, son of deceased Sikh leader S. Avtar Singh Khalsa, has been appointed as new leader Sikh and Hindu minorities in Pakistan and the Sikh masses of Pakistan will support him in every possible way.

Meanwhile, it is learnt that the Sikh masses of Pakistan have laid Sri Akhand Path Sahib at Gurdwara Sri Panja Sahib (Hasan Abdal) and Gurdwara Bhai Joga Singh (Peshawar) of Pakistan for the spiritual peace of departed Afghan Sikh leaders.

The Tribune – Akal Takht seeks help for Afghan victims’ kin

Amritsar – Panjab – India, 05 July 2018. Akal Takht has appealed to the Sikh community all over the world to extend a helping hand to kin of victims killed or injured in Jalababad and those who were in trouble in terror-hit Afghanistan.

The SGPC on Thursday performed the “bhog” of “akhand path” that were instituted to pay tributes to the departed soul, at Gurdwara Manji Sahib in the Golden Temple complex.

Bhai Hira Singh, who had shifted his base to Delhi from Afghanistan, also attended the “bhog” along with his supporters.

“We show our gratitude towards the SGPC for helping the Aghan Sikh community in troubled times,” he said. Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh said though the Sikh institutions had been helping the Afghan victims, but the Sikh community living in all parts of the world should join hands to help the Sikhs stranded over there.

Ariana News – IEC takes ‘exceptional’ step to preserve seat of Sikh Afghans in parliament

Kabul – Afghanistan, 05 July 2018. The Independent Election Commission (IEC) on Thursday said that a Sikh Afghan could register themselves as candidate for the upcoming parliamentary election, resuming the drive which was ended last month.

The registration of candidates for long-delayed parliamentary and district elections begun on May 26 and ended on June 12.

Within this period the Afghan Sikh Community had registered Awtar Singh as their only candidate for parliamentary election who has been killed in suicide attack in Jalalabad City of eastern Nangarhar province.

However, as a move to preserve the seat of Afghan Sikhs in the parliament, the IEC said that it has provided an exceptional opportunity for Afghan Sikhs and Hindus to get registered as candidate for the parliamentary election, starting from 7th to 21st of July.

“We have considered an exceptional situation for them to officially register themselves from July 7th until 21.

The commission has approved the decision and interested [Sikh & Hindu] individuals could register themselves as replacement for Awtar Singh,” said Abdul Hafiz Hashimi, a member of the election commission.

Welcoming Naredra Singh from Afghan Sikh community as possible candidate for parliamentary election, President Ghani urged the election commission to take steps forward and ensure the replacement of Awtar Singh for parliament seat.

The election watchdogs, however, criticized the IEC’s move to resume Sikh candidate registration drive.

“Going into a nationwide and transparent election would be difficult under the current situation. Managing the time is also a major challenge for the commission as well as the disagreements between the commissioners and the interference of the government,” said Nayeem Ayoub Zada, head of TEFA.

This comes as last week, the IEC has divided Ghazni into three electoral zones and the commission is expected to take the initial steps in this regard until Saturday.

The Tribune – Afghan Sikh widows afraid to return for last rites

Days after Jalalabad blast, hold prayer meetings at Delhi gurdwara, seek permanent asylum

Rachna Khaira, Tribune News Service

Jalandhar – Panjab – India, 03 July 2018. Manmeet Kaur, 41, was having tea with her two young daughters at their rented house in old Mahavir Nagar in New Delhi when a phone call from her brother-in-law shattered her world.

She was told her husband Anup Singh Wadhwa (42) had died in the Jalalabad suicide attack. The body was identified by her 16-year-old son Dilpreet Singh from the gold ring and kara (bracelet) that he wore.

Terrified, Manmeet Kaur refuses to return to Afghanistan for her husband’s last rites. “Going back to Kabul would be putting ourselves in the jaws of death,” she says. Her daughter Jasmeet Kaur,15, wants the Indian Government to grant visa to her brother left alone in Afghanistan.

Another Sikh woman, who had arrived in Delhi barely a month ago with her children aged six and two, has also decided not to return for her husband’s cremation.

“I can’t endanger my children’s life,” she says.

The grieving families held 13 akhand path at a Delhi gurdwara on Tuesday.

Taramjit Singh, head of the Afghan Sikh community in India, lost his paternal uncle in the attack. He says the Indian Government must take a compassionate view and grant permanent asylum to the families.

There are more than 5,000 Afghan Sikhs residing in West Delhi areas, including Old Mahavir Nagar.

This locality houses 1984 Sikh massacre victims who have given shelter to the Afghan Sikhs.

Paramjit Kaur, whose family was wiped out in 1984, says having undergone similar agony, they have decided to support the Afghan Sikhs.

Seventeen Sikhs were killed in the Jalalabad blast on July 1. Among them was poll candidate Avtar Singh Khalsa and civil society activist Rawail Singh.

More than 20 persons were injured. The attack was condemned by the UN.

The Hindu – Jalalabad gauntlet: on the growth of IS in Afghanistan

Jalalabad – Nangarhar – Afghanistan, 04 July 2018. The suicide attack in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, which left at least 19 people dead, mostly from the minority Sikh and Hindu communities, is yet another warning from the Islamic State to the war-torn country’s dilapidated political and security apparatus.

The victims were travelling in a bus to meet President Ashraf Ghani when the bomber struck. That the attack claimed the life of the only Sikh candidate running for elections this year speaks volumes of the plight of minorities in a country once celebrated for its diversity.

Over the past few months, the Afghan government has been trying to reach out to the Taliban to begin a peace process. Mr Ghani first offered the militants pardon in return for giving up weapons, which the group rejected. In the run-up to Id last month, he announced a unilateral ceasefire, which drew a truce, though shorter, from the Taliban.

But at a time when the number of Taliban-led attacks has come down, the IS, which controls some areas in the Nangarhar province, in which Jalalabad is located, has stepped up assaults. Last month it had threatened to attack schools in response to U.S. and Afghan military operations in Nangarhar.

A day before the Jalalabad attack, a boys’ school in Khogyani district of the province was attacked. Militants beheaded three workers and set fire to the school building.

The IS set up its Afghan affiliate as a South Asian outpost when its so-called caliphate in Iraq and Syria came under strain. Afghanistan is relatively easier terrain for the IS to recruit fighters from and occupy turf. When the government and the Taliban were fighting each other, the IS built a network in Nangarhar and started targeting minorities.

Most of its previous attacks were aimed at the Shia minority. Now, by attacking Sikhs and Hindus, the IS has re-emphasised its worldview and renewed its threat to any attempt to make peace in Afghanistan. Over the past two years, both Afghan and USA forces have targeted operations against the IS.

Last year the USA even used the Mother of All Bombs, the most powerful conventional bomb in its arsenal, against the IS in Nangarhar. But despite these claims the IS remains lethal and capable of striking citizens, as the latest attack suggests. The Afghan government, overstretched in the endless civil war, faces two fronts now.

On the one side, it faces the Taliban which controls almost half of Afghan territory; and on the other, the IS’s rising profile is further weakening the already fragile social equation in the country.

The war against the Taliban has slipped into a stalemate, and the government’s strategy is to find a peaceful solution to the conflict. Meanwhile, if the IS is allowed to grow, Afghanistan’s descent into total chaos will only be a matter of time. – Afghan Sikhs in dilemma over continuing stay in Afghanistan

Sikh24 Editors

Kabul – Afghanistan, 03 July 2018. After losing their long time struggling leaders in a bomb blast in Jalalabad, the Sikhs living in Afghanistan have been once again in a dilemma over continuing their stay in Afghanistan.

While some Afghan Sikhs have approached the Indian consulate in Afghanistan seeking visas, some others are still adamant to continue their lives in Afghanistan.

The war ravaged Afghanistan has witnessed dramatic downfall in the number of Sikhs and Hindus during the last three decades.

As per official reports, more than 2,50,000 Sikhs and Hindus were living in Afghanistan before 1990 but the minorities preferred to emigrate when Afghanistan became a battleground of proxy war between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Within two decades, the count reduced to 3,000 as per an official report published by the United States of America.

Presently, about 300 families comprising of 1000 Sikhs and Hindus in total are living in Afghanistan. The two minorities have only 600 votes in Afghanistan.

Interacting with media, an Afghan Sikh Baldev Singh said that they have been left with only two options, either to quit from Afghanistan or adopt Islam. However, Sikhs having well-to-do businesses in Afghanistan say they are not cowards and won’t leave their country till last breath.

Meanwhile, the Indian Envoy to Afghanistan Mr Vinay Kumar has welcomed the Afghan Sikhs willing to immigrate to India. He has said that the Afghan Sikhs could live in India as much as they want.

It is noteworthy here that the Indian consulate in Afghanistan issues long term visas to Afghan Sikhs and Hindus willing to immigrate to India.