A SIKH politician in Afghanistan, who was a candidate in the parliamentary elections scheduled for October, was among 20 people killed in a blast triggered by a suicide bomber targeting a vehicle in the eastern city of Jalalabad Sunday. Officials said at least 10 of the dead were from the minority Sikh community in the country.
Most of those killed, including the politician Avtar Singh Khalsa, were travelling to meet President Ashraf Ghani. The blast, which occurred hours after Ghani had opened a hospital in Jalalabad, damaged shops and buildings around Mukhaberat square in the city, the provincial governor’s spokesman said.
The Indian embassy in Kabul condemned the attack and said that it underlines the need for wider international efforts to eliminate terrorism.
Khalsa, 52, is survived by his wife and four children. One of his sons, Narinder Singh Khalsa, was injured in the attack.
In a recent interview published in the local media, Khalsa had said: “I don’t only want to serve my Sikh and Hindu brothers. I have to be able to serve all the Afghan people, no matter which ethnicity or group they belong to… I (will) sacrifice myself for those of my brothers who have been through all kinds of pain and suffering. I don’t care if I lose my whole family and I get killed for this cause. I will struggle until I get their rights.”
Khalsa, who headed the Afghan Sikh and Hindu Council, was allotted an election symbol on Saturday along with other candidates, said an Embassy official.
“He was a very popular leader who was set to make it to the Afghan Parliament. He had travelled from Kabul to Jalalabad to meet the Afghan President. The President had asked Khalsa and others to come. Khalsa had formally kickstarted his poll campaign today after he was alloted the election symbol,” said the official.
Among the dead was Rawel Singh, another prominent Sikh leader, the official said.
On June 21, The Indian Express had reported on a meeting that Khalsa had with the Indian Ambassador to Kabul, Vinay Kumar, seeking help to set up electric crematoriums for Hindus and Sikhs in the country.
Khalsa’s son Narinder had told The Indian Express that there had been incidents of locals pelting stones at members of the two communities while they performed the last rites. “For every cremation, we have to request for security cover. And only after pleading hard, we manage to get the security cover,” Narinder, a Unani physician in Afghanistan, had said.
On Sunday, the Indian Embassy said in a statement that it “strongly” condemns the “heinous and cowardly terrorist attack”.
“Today’s terrorist attack again underlines the need for united global fight against international terrorism without discrimination and accountability of those who support terrorists in any manner,” it said.
One seat in the Afghan parliament is reserved for a member of the country’s small Sikh and Hindu communities. But increasing numbers of Sikhs and Hindus have moved to India due to persecution and threats.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, the latest in a series to have hit Jalalabad, the provincial capital of Nangarhar, where Islamic State fighters have established a strong presence in recent years.
A spokesman for the provincial health department said 20 people were wounded in the attack. Officials said the toll might have been higher had much of the city not been blocked off for Ghani’s visit. The President was not in the area when the blast occurred.
The attack underlined the fragile security situation in Afghanistan after last month’s brief ceasefire between government forces and the Taliban. The three-day truce did not include Islamic State, which fights both government forces and the Taliban and which has shown no sign of letting up its campaign of violence. —(With agencies in Kabul)