Following a host of terror attacks against minorities in Afghanistan, the Ministry of Home Affairs in India has decided to provide shelter to Afghan Sikhs and Hindus facing persecution in the neighbouring country, top sources in the government told this author.
“Ministry of Home Affairs has given its approval for providing a long term visa to Afghan Sikhs and Hindus which we usually give to persecuted minorities from the region,” said a top official from the Government of India.
"“To begin with, over 700 such individuals have been identified and the required formalities are underway to bring them to India before 15 August.”" - A top government official
In a ghastly terror attack in Kabul’s Hari Rai Sahib Gurudwara in Shortchanged Bazar, over 25 Sikh men, women and children were brutally killed on 25 March 2020. The innocent civilians were killed when they were holding special prayers to fight the coronavirus pandemic across the globe.
Abduction of Sikh Man Led to MHA’S Decision?
Ever since the carnage, over 600 applications made by members of the Sikh community have been pending before the Indian Embassy in Kabul, which in turn, had been waiting for an approval from the Government of India.
While the community has sought shelter in the Gurudwara of Kabul ever since the killings, it has been a struggle to survive within the four walls as fear psychoses continues.
Indian government sources indicate that the delay in processing the request for an asylum for Hindu and Sikh minorities of Afghanistan was due to the coronavirus pandemic.
However, many believe that the trigger has been the abduction of Afghan Sikh Nidan Singh Sachdeva by Pakistan’s ISI and Taliban-linked land mafia near Chamkani of Paktia province in Afghanistan.
Sixty-year-old Sachdeva was kidnapped on 17 June 2020 when he was visiting the historically important Tala Sahib Gurudwara in Chamkani for voluntary work, better known as Sewa. The said Gurudwara has an emotional attachment for the Sikh community since Guru Nanak Dev visited the place during his journey across the globe.
Intelligence sources reveal that Afghanistan’s primary intelligence agency National Directorate of Security (NDS) and India’s external intelligence agency Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) immediately swung into action.
It was suspected that the local land mafia which wanted to grab the Gurudwara land abducted him and handed him over to the Haqqani Network.
Sources reveal that the Haqqani Network took Sachdeva across the border to Baggan of Khurram Agency in erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) of Pakistan, which is now inside Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Meanwhile, on 24 June, Nidan Singh’s Facebook account was taken over by those who had abducted him. They posted several news clips and videos of his abduction and asked people to share them widely.
The family members of Nidan Singh were sent several audio clips in Pashto asking for ransom and threatening the family with consequences. A photograph of Nidan Singh with his hands tied was also shared with the family members over WhatsApp.
How Nidan Singh Was Rescued
On 25 June, Nidan Singh’s wife Mahrwanti wrote a letter as an SOS appeal to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for assistance of the Government of India in securing the safe release of Nidan Singh from ‘armed disgruntled elements’ and repatriating him back to New Delhi at the earliest. The Quint has accessed the two-page letter.
“As per facts, Paktia is an epicentre of Taliban insurgency and in the past has been a safe haven for militants from Haqqani Network, therefore considering the same we apprehend that he may have been abducted by a militant organisation,” his wife wrote in the letter.
In her letter to the PM, Mahrwanti said that minorities living in Afghanistan continue to face “severe atrocities and do not have any sort of guarantee for their safety.” She then requested the Government of India “to provide us appropriate assistance and take appropriate action as deemed fit.”
Urging the Indian government to ensure the release of her husband, Mahrwanti requested PM Modi to “repatriate him back to New Delhi immediately after his release and grant us Indian citizenship at the earliest.”
On the morning of 18 July, Nidan Singh was rescued in an operation of the Afghan NDS and other security forces. It was believed that the abductors pulled him back from Baggan in Pakistan to Chamkani in Afghanistan, after Pakistan-backed Haqqani Network couldn’t establish his Indian identity or any other connection with the Indian government.
In a minute-long video released by the NDS, Nidan was seen thanking the Paktia governor, tribal elders and friends of the Hindu and Sikh communities across the world who helped and prayed for his rescue.
In yet another video that was released shortly after, Nidan could be seen erecting the sacred Nishan Sahib (Sikh holy flag) at the Tala Sahib Gurudwara along with the help of Afghan security personnel. While Nidan appeared weak, he could be seen offering prayers with folded hands at the Sikh holy shrine.
‘CAA is Very Much Necessary’: BJP
The Ministry of External Affairs in a statement on Saturday, 18July, said, “We convey our appreciation to the Government of Afghanistan and tribal elders from the area, whose efforts secured the return of Mr Nidan Singh. The targeting and persecution of minority community members by terrorists at the behest of their external supporters remains a matter of grave concern.”
“In a recent decision, India has decided to facilitate the return of Afghan Hindu and Sikh community members facing security threats in Afghanistan to India,” the statement further read.
The decision comes months after the Government of India introduced the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, which cleared the path for religious minorities of Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian who have fled persecution in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan before December 2014 to obtain Indian Citizenship.
The amendment had led to widespread protests in India. Critiquing ‘liberals’ and ‘Khalistani elements’ for remaining silent on attacks against Sikh minorities in Afghanistan, BJP National Secretary RP Singh said incidents like these show why the CAA is required.
"“This is why the Citizenship (Amendment) Act is very much required. This incident (Nidan Singh’s abduction) is a mirror for those who oppose citizenship to the persecuted minorities. CAA is being put into action by Home Minister Amit Shah.”" - RP Singh, National Secretary of the BJP to this journalist
Back in India, the Sikh community has welcomed the move, which they say will ensure their safety and security.
“Today India reiterated a decision to facilitate the travel of Hindu and Sikh community members, those who have been facing security threats in Afghanistan. I personally appreciate India’s move on it. Afghanistan is one of the closest neighbours for India which has assured safety of sacred places of worship of Hindus and Afghans and also safety of the community members but as India said they continue to face persecution by terrorists at the behest of their external supporters. India did not name any country but the entire world knows who are the supporters of terrorism in the region,” Sikh Affairs Expert and senior journalist Ravinder Singh Robin told this journalist.
“Moreover, most of the Afghan Hindu and Sikh families have relatives who have already shifted to India and are settled here. India has now made preparations to help bring these families and give them a safe shelter from the continuous cycle of violence, bloodshed and threat of terror,” he added.
Intelligence sources also reveal that a Khalistan network funded by Pakistan’s ISI was actively pursuing these families in Kabul to seek shelter in Pakistan instead of India.
The effort was to radicalise and give arms training to Sikh youth against India in the name of Khalistan indoctrination. For now, Pakistan ISI’s attempt to trap the Sikh community has failed, as the persecuted Sikh have chosen to seek refuge in India. The systematic persecution and terror against the minorities, however, is far from over.
(Aditya Raj Kaul has a decade-long experience in covering conflict, internal security and foreign policy for various national media outlets. He tweets at @AdityaRajKaul.)
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