Unidentified gunmen opened fire at one of the main gurdwaras in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday, killing two persons and injuring at least three. The attack comes weeks after an Indian government delegation went to Kabul and met key leaders of the Taliban government — its first official visit to the country since August last year.
Sources said nearly 25-30 Afghan Sikhs and Hindus had gathered at Gurdwara Dashmesh Pita Guru Gobind Singh Karte Parwan, the central gurdwara of the Afghan Sikh community in Kabul, for the ‘Sukhmani Sahib’ or morning prayers when a group of gunmen, believed to be around four in number, stormed the gurdwara and opened fire.
Speaking to The Sunday Express from Kabul, Ram Saran Bhasin, president of the Afghan Hindu Sikh Minority Council, said the two victims had been identified as Ahmad, a local security guard of the gurdwara, and Sawinder Singh, 60, a resident of Ghazni in southeast Afghanistan. Sawinder Singh’s family lives in Delhi.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed shock at the incident as he tweeted, “Shocked by the cowardly terrorist attack against the Karte Parwan Gurudwara in Kabul. I condemn this barbaric attack, and pray for the safety and well-being of the devotees.”
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar too condemned the attacks. “We have been closely monitoring developments since the news of the attack was received. Our first and foremost concern is for the welfare of the community,” he said.
On Saturday, as the gunmen stormed the gurdwara, people reported hearing multiple explosions from inside the building. With Taliban fighters also reaching the spot, the crossfire between the militants and the Taliban continued for hours. Several people who were inside the gurdwara managed to come out before the Taliban arrived. After hours of fighting, the Taliban finally took control of the gurdwara.
While local Sikhs said both the militants and the Taliban fighters suffered casualties, the numbers are still not clear.
Bhasin said after the gunmen first killed Ahmad at the gate, they entered the gurdwara and opened fire in the main hall. Sawinder Singh, who was shot twice in the chest, died. “His family is in Delhi. He was hoping to soon get a visa and go to Delhi,” said Saran. “The guard Ahmad belongs to a very poor family. He has been working with us for 5-6 years,” he added.
The three Afghan Sikhs who were injured in the attack have been identified as Raghbir Singh, Trilok Singh and Rachpal Singh. “They were injured while trying to escape. They suffered minor burns and other injuries,” said Bhasin.
As the gurdwara building suffered extensive damage in the attack, people from the community managed to safely take out the saroop or the physical copy of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib. “There was just one saroop of the Guru Granth Sahib inside the gurdwara and it has been taken out safely. Karte Parwan is our biggest gurdwara in Afghanistan and nearly 80 per cent of the building has been damaged in the attack,” gurdwara president Gurnam Singh said on phone. Amid the attack, Gurnam Singh had taken out the saroop and carried it to safety.
The gurdwara had come in for attack on October 5 last year when unidentified gunmen had stormed the premises and vandalised it. However, there was no loss of lives.
As of March 2020, there were around 650-700 Afghan Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan. However, since the attack on Gurdwara Har Rai Sahib in Kabul on March 25 that year, when 25 Afghan Sikhs were killed, most members of the community have been evacuating to India in batches.
After the Taliban took over Kabul in August last year, three batches of Afghan Sikhs had arrived in Delhi, including former Sikh MPs Narinder Singh Khalsa and Anarkali Kaur Honoryar.
Around 160 Afghan Sikhs and Hindus remain in Afghanistan now and they have been demanding an immediate visa for evacuation to India.
On July 1, 2018, a suicide bomb attack in Jalalabad killed at least 19 Sikhs and Hindus, including Awtar Singh Khalsa, father of former Sikh MP Narinder Singh Khalsa. Awtar was then running for parliamentary polls in Afghanistan.