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‘Wait of an eternity’: Afghan Sikhs, Hindus wait in fear after Taliban gunfire, explosions delay evacuation attempts

Speaking to The Indian Express, one of the Afghan Sikhs said that they had to return to gurdwara around 2 am on Thursday morning after the Taliban opened fire outside the airport.

Written by Divya Goyal | Ludhiana |
Updated: August 27, 2021 10:24:59 am
Wounded Afghans lie on a bed at a hospital after a deadly explosion outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021. (AP)

The fate of around 210 Afghan Sikhs and Hindus, who were scheduled to be airlifted to India, hung in balance on Thursday after two powerful explosions were reported near Kabul’s airport on Thursday.

The Pentagon has so far said that some civilians and US service members are among casualties, even as a Taliban official said that at least 13 people were killed in the blast, including children, and many Taliban guards were wounded.

Speaking to The Indian Express over phone, Kulwinder Singh, who along with other Afghan Sikhs and Hindus have taken shelter at Gurdwara Dashmesh Pita Guru Gobind Singh Karte Parwan in Kabul, confirmed that all of them were safe. “None of us were on the way to the airport or at the spot when the explosions happened,” he said.

Since Wednesday, a batch of at least 140 Afghan Sikhs and Hindus, have been trying to reach Kabul airport in order to be evacuated to Delhi by air. The group, however, had to return back to the gurdwara at around 2 am on Thursday morning after one bus ferrying them came under gunfire near the airport. Luckily, no one was injured in the incident and all the members of the group returned back to the gurdwara safely.

With explosions killing people outside the airport now, the group members said that their wait to return to India may become more prolonged now. Despite being merely 10km from the airport, their journey back to India felt like an ‘eternity’ in waiting, they said.

Speaking to The Indian Express, one of the Afghan Sikhs said that they had to return to gurdwara around 2 am on Thursday morning after the Taliban opened fire outside the airport.

“We were traveling in seven buses and also carrying two saroops of Sri Guru Granth Sahib. We had to board an evacuation plane to India. There were long queues outside the airport and then suddenly the firing started. We also had women and children in the group. Hence we decided to return back to the gurdwara after trying in vain to get to the airport for 12 hours. Now with the explosions happening near the airport, there is no information if there will be any evacuation flight for us or not by the Indian government. We do not even know if we will be evacuated at all since August 31 is the deadline for the US troops to withdraw from Afghanistan and after that, even the airport will be under Taliban control,” he said.

In a statement, the US-based United Sikhs, said, “Earlier today (Wednesday), with assistance from teams on the ground, an attempt was made by a caravan of nine mini-buses to make their way to the north gate of the Kabul International Airport, which is under the control of the American forces. The initial attempt was unsuccessful due to skirmishes between American forces and the Taliban fighters. The caravan retreated to a temporary safe location. A second attempt was made late in the evening and early morning hours to reach the North Gate. The caravan, that was ferrying dozens of women and children, came under gunfire as it approached the airport.”

“At least one vehicle was hit, but thankfully no one was injured. Unfortunately, the caravan had to retreat to Gurudwara Karte Parwan around 2:00 am on Thursday morning after 18 grueling hours on the streets of Kabul. The Taliban leadership has made pronouncements of not allowing Afghan citizens to enter the airport which adds to the desperate and life-threatening situation. The local community is also in touch with the Indian government and other humanitarian agencies,” added the statement.

“With the blast happening at Kabul airport the situation now is very fluid. It is uncertain when the next batch of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus will be evacuated now,” said Manjinder Singh Sirsa, former president, Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC).

Till now, at least 70 Afghan Sikhs and Hindus (all Afghan nationals)—in two batches of 24 and 46, have been evacuated to India since the Taliban takeover. Nearly 210 Afghan Sikhs and Hindus still wait to catch a flight out.

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