Suicide Attack Targets Sikhs, Hindus in Afghanistan

Ambulances transport the coffins with bodies of Afghan Sikhs killed in a suicide attack in Jalalabad / Getty Images
July 2, 2018

A suicide attack in Afghanistan left 19 people dead and 20 wounded on Sunday. The bomber targeted a convoy of Sikhs and Hindus traveling to meet Afghan president Ashraf Ghani in the city of Jalalabad.

Avtar Singh Khalsa, a leader in the Sikh community who planned to run for parliamentary elections in October, was killed in the attack, according to AP News. Khalsa was the only Sikh candidate running in the parliamentary elections, and his candidacy drew attention from throughout Afghanistan.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the bombing, issuing a statement saying the people in the convoy were targeted for being "polytheists," the Independent reported.

The Indian embassy in Kabul condemned the attack, adding that it "again underlines the need for a united global fight against international terrorism without discrimination and accountability of those who support terrorists in any manner."

Prior to the rise of the Taliban regime in the 1990s, there were more than 200,000 Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan. Today, only between 3,000 and 7,000 remain. Hindus and Sikhs were granted representation in the country’s parliament in 2016.

"I am clear that we cannot live here anymore," said Tejvir Singh, secretary of a national panel of Hindus and Sikhs.

"Our religious practices will not be tolerated by the Islamic terrorists. We are Afghans. The government recognises us, but terrorists target us because we are not Muslims," Tejvir Singh continued.

Other Sikhs are more set on staying in the country, despite India having issued long-term visas to members of Afghanistan’s Sikh and Hindu communities, according to Reuters.

But other Sikhs, with land or businesses and no ties to India, say they do not plan to leave, as Afghanistan remains their country. India has offered to take the dead bodies, but at least nine were cremated according to Sikh rites in Jalalabad

"We are not cowards," said Sandeep Singh, a Sikh shopkeeper in Kabul. "Afghanistan is our country and we are not leaving anywhere."

The attack on the convoy occurred less than 24 hours after suspected Islamic State militants targeted a boys’ school in Khogyani district and beheaded three workers.

Islamic State continues to have a presence in Nangarhar province, the location of both attacks, despite efforts by Afghan and U.S. forces to remove them from the area. Last month, a joint U.S.-Afghan operation routed Islamic State forces, killing more than 160 militants in part of Nangarhar province.