AFGHANISTAN: AN EMERGING THREAT TO THE MINORITIES

AN ENLIGHTENING ARTICLE BY A JAWAHARLAL NEHRU UNIVERSITY SCHOLAR

DESCENT OF AFGHAN MINORITIES IS IN CHAOS

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The geostrategic location of Afghanistan is such that it lies in the heart of South Asia, Central Asia and West Asia. Afghanistan is at the crossroads of major north-south and east-west trade routes. Afghanistan’s Hindus and Sikhs have a long history in the country; they came through the trading routes via Kandhar and Kabul and settled here. After the Soviet withdrawal in 1989 both the minority communities faced the worst discrimination at the hands of the majority Muslim community. This discrimination started with restrictions on their religious freedom, exclusion from government jobs, kidnappings, murder, illegal seizure of property and vandalizing their religious places. All this led to the process of migration of Hindus and Sikhs from Afghanistan to other parts of the world such as India, Germany, U.K, Canada and Australia. Before 1990 the Hindu and Sikh population was estimated to be around 50,000 (UNHCR, 2010). The process of mobility started from 1989 onwards after the Soviet withdrawal.

The overwhelming majority of Afghan Hindus and Sikhs identified themselves with the Indian subcontinent and mostly were of Indian origin. Afghanistan’s Hindus and Sikhs came to Afghanistan as traders and later settled down there. During Zahir Shah’s period Afghanistan made a substantial economic progress. Zahir Shah while taking advantage of both Russians and Americans build the Afghan infrastructure, industry and tried to modernize Afghanistan. At that time the Hindus and Sikhs were well educated and gained professional qualifications contributing to the economic development of the country. As a result they gained high positions in the administration due to their capabilities. Post Zahir Shah, the pro-Soviet regimes led by Daoud, Karmal and Najibullah opened up business opportunities for Hindu and Sikh traders. At the same time the enrolment of Hindus and Sikhs in the professional courses enhanced gradually. This reflected the secular character of the Soviet backed regimes which didn’t encourage hostility and discrimination towards the Non-Muslim minorities.

In the mean time, the American backed Mujahideen waged a war against Russians and Afghanistan’s ruling class. When the Soviet Union was on the brink of collapse, the Geneva Accord happened on 15 April 1988, which stated the successful withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in a phased manner by May 1989. The mass exodus of Hindus and Sikhs from Afghanistan started with the coming into power of the Mujahideen in 1992. The origin of Mujahideen (warriors of God) can be traced to 1979, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. The entry of Soviet Union prompted United States, Pakistan, China and Saudi Arabia to support the rebels fighting against Soviet forces. It was then that the Arab rich Osama-Bin-Laden travelled to Afghanistan and helped organize the Arab Mujahedeen to resist the Soviet forces under the guidance of Ayman-al-Zawahiri. The collapse of Soviet-backed regime had left Afghanistan’s Hindus and Sikhs in a vulnerable position. Religious Intolerance towards Hindus and Sikhs thus started in Afghanistan in the Mujahedeen era. Eventually Hindus and Sikhs were deprived from the state protection and the process of migration got started (UNHCR, 2011).

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When the Taliban forces came to power in the year 1994 the Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan faced the worst discrimination. The Taliban sought to create a theocratic state based on their interpretations of the Koran. Minorities were already severely crushed by the various Mujahedeen warlords. The plight of Afghanistan’s women got even worse under the new regime. The veil became the law of the land, and women were forbidden from attending school or holding employment outside the home. Television was banned and an effort was made to remove the remnants of secularism and Western influence from Afghanistan society. The country became politically and diplomatically isolated. Although the arrival of Taliban was welcomed by some sections of Afghanistan’s population as a result of Taliban’s replacing the period of warlords with strictly Sharia law in combination with the Pashtun tribal code. They imposed Wahabhi and Deobandi interpretations of Islamic tradition and openly declared that idolaters had no place in the “Islamic Paradise” which they had constructed. The Taliban decree to the members of Hindu and Sikh minority was to wear a yellow star and arm bands.

They also needed to hang yellow flags over their homes and shops. During the Mujahideen period Hindus and Sikhs were barred from government posts. Now, efforts were made to persuade them to adopt Islam. Such persuasions soon took an extreme form and open verbal threats were given to Hindus and Sikhs, they were even required to make financial contributions for “Jihad” and if they failed to pay they were kidnapped and murdered. The religious minorities also faced worst discrimination on the grounds of cremation. Cremation, a tenet of the Hindu and Sikh faiths, has been quietly practiced in Kabul’s eastern district of Qalacha. The Sikh community in Kabul started cremation in the backyard of Gurudwara Sahib (as shown in picture). The residents of Qalacha in eastern Kabul began to complain of the smell of cremation. The extensive restrictions on religious freedom by the Taliban have displaced large number of Hindus and Sikhs to other parts of the world for their safety.

The 9/11 attacks on United States by Al-Qaeda, the retaliation attempt by the U.S with allied forces and the United States launching of GWOT (Global War on Terrorism) brought in more miseries and subsequent displacements. It all began with bombing and provided active support to the Northern Alliance warlords. Following weeks of devastating bombing, and several failed offensives, the Northern Alliance succeeded in flushing out the Talibans from its northern enclave, seizing the city of Mazar-e-Sharif, and then moving on to take over Kabul. This resulted in a series of attacks on Hindus and Sikhs from both sides and their houses were devastated in the attacks including seven Sikh temples and several schools destroyed by the rocket fire. The attack on religious places of Hindus and Sikhs were a common feature. Kabul was once the home to eight Sikh Gurudwaras, but only one remains today. According to UNHCR, 2011, the migration of Hindus and Sikhs from Afghanistan to other parts of the world has left behind with only 3000 Hindu and Sikh minorities in Afghanistan.

By Harmeet Singh
Phd Scholar, JNU, New Delhi
Ph. No. 09086067159
harmeetjnu@gmail.com

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(lifepotter.com copiously feels thankful to Harmeet Singh, a dignified, diligent and a dedicated scholar at JawaharLal Nehru University, Delhi for his enlightening and insightfull article on the stark political situation existing in Afghanistan as far as the naked discrimination with the residential minorities is concerned. We hope that in future too he will grace lifepotter.com with his eclectic write-ups. We wish him a grand and unstoppable success in his intellectual pursuits)

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