Afghan religious minorities ‘remained endangered’, says US commission

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The March attack on a Kabul gurdwara – Photo: USCIRF Twitter
By Asia Samachar Team | UNITED STATES |

Afghanistan’s religious minorities, including Hindus and Sikhs, ‘remained endangered’, declared a United States (US) religious freedom commission.

The small communities —including Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Ahmadi Muslims, and Baha’is – have experienced egregious human rights violations under Taliban rule and remain without the ability to observe their faith publicly for fear of violent reprisal by terrorist groups or society at large.

“A number of Sikh families have resorted to living in gurdwaras due to lack of available housing and faced restrictions on practicing Sikh funeral rites requiring cremation, an act opposed by local Muslim communities,” according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in its annual report for 2020.

The commission, established by International Religious Freedom Act 1998 (IRFA), has the principle aim of reviewing instances of violations of religious freedoms internationally and make policy recommendations to the US state department.

The report comes on the heels of a horrific terrorist attack in March on a gurdwara in Kabul which killed 25 people, mostly Sikhs holed up in the place of worship.

For many amongst the 2,000 odd Sikhs and Hindus, the senseless attack upon the Gurdwara Guru Har Rai in Shor Bazaar was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back as far as their dreams of continuing to live in Afghanistan. The gunmen stormed the gurdwara, shot discriminately and held 80 hostages.

After the first attack on 25 March, the next day, an explosive went off just outside the crematorium as the Sikhs were cremating their dead. And the next day, yet another attack. Intensive efforts are now underway to get them out of Afghanistan.

Despite an expressed commitment to their homeland, many members of the dwindling non-Muslim communities have felt pressured to leave Afghanistan due to social, political, and economic discrimination, ongoing attacks by extremist groups, and the government’s perceived unwillingness to provide adequate security, the report said.

The commission has placed Afghanistan under its so-called ‘special watch list’, along with Bahrain, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan and Malaysia. The SWL is for countries whose governments engage or tolerate in severe religious freedom violations.

In its key findings, the report noted that lack of security remained the primary challenge to protecting the freedom of religion or belief in the country.

It said that terrorist attacks against the Shi’a community, targeting its leadership, neighborhoods, festivals, and houses of worship, have intensified in recent years, with this trend continuing in 2019.

Throughout the year, terrorist attacks in Afghanistan intensified due to opposition to the U.S.-Taliban peace negotiations and violence linked to the September 2019 presidential election, a flashpoint for conflict within Afghan society.

The report noted that Hindus and Sikhs have been represented in parliament since 2016 with a reserved seat and some have been employed in government service.

In November 2019, it said the Afghan government also instituted visa-free travel for Afghan-origin Sikhs and Hindus currently residing in India.

RELATED STORY:

Afghan Sikhs’ turbulent years (Asia Samachar, 27 May 2020)

Afghan Sikhs on a wing and a prayer (Asia Samachar, 4 April 2020)

ASIA SAMACHAR is an online newspaper for Sikhs / Punjabis in Southeast Asia and beyond. Facebook | WhatsApp +6017-335-1399 | Email: editor@asiasamachar.com | Twitter | Instagram | Obituary announcements, click here |

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