The Taliban regime financed the rebuilding of Gurdwara Dashmesh Pita in Kabul, which was all but destroyed two months ago in a gun-and-bombs attack that was claimed by the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP), according to members of the Hindu and Sikh community in charge of the construction work.
“Their own people, including engineers, came here, assessed the damage, made the calculations and gave us the money,” said Ram Saran Bhasin, who heads the Hindu-Sikh society in Kabul and is supervising the work.
“The Taliban gave 40 lakh Afghani rupees…The reconstruction has almost entirely been funded by the Islamic Emirate,” he said, using the formal name for the regime in Afghanistan. “We didn’t raise any other funds.”
At the site in Karte Parwan, The Indian Express came across Afghan workers painting walls, cutting marble panels, laying floor tiles and giving finishing touches to the centrepiece in the main congregation hall — the takht — where the Guru Granth Sahib will be placed.
The gurdwara, located on a slip street off the main road, is now guarded by the Taliban.
On June 18, as fire engines doused flames at the gurdwara soon after the attack, the Sikh holy book was retrieved without damage and taken safely to the home of a Sikh family in the neighbourhood.
“This is the No.1 gurdwara in Kabul, and it is our priority to have it up and running as soon as possible,” said Bhasin, as he pointed to the scars on the massive iron gate and the walls outside the assembly hall. The gurdwara will be ready by the end of August, he said.
According to Bhasin, a large portion of the premises, including the gurdwara offices, went up in flames during the gunbattle between the IS attacker and a Taliban group that reached the spot.
Bhasin and several members of the Sikh community, who lived behind the gurdwara and were heading towards the complex for the morning “ardas” (prayer), “panicked” when they heard the sounds of gunfire and explosion from inside”. They started running towards the gurdwara but were stopped by Taliban guards as a suspicious vehicle was parked outside. Minutes later, the vehicle exploded.
“About 40 people would have died if we had not been stopped,” said Bhasin. In the end, two people were killed — the guard who opened the gate and a Ghazni resident, Surinder Singh, who was trying to find work in Kabul and send money to his family who he had sent to Delhi. Three people were injured, including sewadar Tarlok Singh who lost his passport among other personal belongings in the fire that engulfed a large part of the complex.
The pockmarks on the tall, sturdy iron gate indicate that it took the brunt of the explosion. The gate was installed in 2020 after the IS attack on Gurdwara Har Rai Sahib in Kabul’s Shor Bazar that killed 25 people. In 2018, a suicide bombing in the eastern city of Jalalabad killed 19 people, including Avtar Singh, who was a candidate in the Parliamentary elections that year.
Since the Taliban took over Afghanistan a year ago, India has evacuated all but 100 members of the Sikh community. Three batches of Sikhs were evacuated until December 2021, and three more batches were flown out after the Karte Parwan attack.
Until 2020, the Sikhs and Hindu population was estimated to be around 650. About 400 of them migrated to India after the Shor Bazar attack. Some members of the community still travelled to Kabul from Delhi to look after their businesses, mostly in unani and other traditional medicines. But after the Karte Parwan incident, many requested Afghan friends to look after their businesses. Those with resources moved further away to Europe or Canada.
Bhasin belongs to one of about 15 Hindu families who remain in Afghanistan. “In this country, the two communities, Hindu and Sikh, are the same,” said the septuagenarian, who was made the acting pradhan of the Karte Parwan gurdwara after several Sikh community leaders left for India.
Bhasin’s family has lived in the Afghan capital for four generations but recently, he sent his sons and their families to India. Only he and his wife now remain in Kabul.
“The Taliban have not troubled us, but these are tough times for us,” said Sukhbir Singh Khalsa, who is waiting for his Indian visa. “We have been told it will come in two weeks,” he said.
Manjeet Singh Lamba, who lost a brother, a cousin and two brothers-in-law in the Shor Bazar attack, said that “after suffering so much, it is difficult to stay on”.
“The Taliban have told us not to leave, they are telling us that we are Afghani, this is where we were born, this is where our businesses are. They really want us to stay but these are difficult times, life has become unpredictable,” said Lamba, who is helping Bhasin at the gurdwara.
Most of Lamba’s family members are now in Delhi. “Even if we stay, what are we going to do by ourselves? Dukh-sukh kiske saath karein (who will we share our joys and sorrows with)? My Indian visa will come soon, but I will first fulfill my responsibilities here, at the gurdwara, before departing,” said Lamba, as he opened a thick register and prepared to pay the workers for the day.