Over 150 Sikhs who were staying in a gurudwara in Kabul that was struck by terrorists on Saturday have been desperately waiting for visas to move to India ever since the Taliban took over Afghanistan, according to a top shrine official.
Gurnam Singh, the president of Gurdwara Karte Parwan who spoke to PTI over phone from the Afghan capital, also urged the Indian government to step up evacuation efforts for Hindus and Sikhs.
India has given e-visas ”on priority” to over 100 Sikhs and Hindus living in Afghanistan following the deadly terror strike on the gurudwara in Kabul on June 18, government sources said on Sunday.
Several blasts were reported near the Sikh shrine, in the latest targeting of a place of worship of a minority community in the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. India has slammed the “cowardly attack”.
“There are over 150 Afghan Sikhs who have desperately been wanting to come to India ever since the Taliban returned. They even had valid Indian visas but those were suspended after the takeover. They are willing to sell their shops in Kabul leaving their livelihoods behind and move permanently. They have been spending sleepless nights and counting days,” Gurnam Singh said.
He said Afghanistan’s ministry of interior affairs (MOI) officials met them on Sunday and offered support for the repair of the damaged gurudwara.
“But it is time the (Indian) government steps up too. The evacuation process that the Indian government started is not yet over. There are still many who are willing to come to India and have been waiting for several months for their visas,” he added.
Asked about the government’s move to grant over 100 visas, Singh said, “Still there is a lot to be done. We urge the government to step up the evacuation efforts, help with flights and also explore ways so the livelihoods of these people aren’t affected.”
He requested the Indian government to come up with a plan to ensure temples and gurudwaras will remain safe in Afghanistan and “will not be damaged”.
The gurdwara was home to at least 150 Sikhs since the fall of the Ashraf Ghani government last August.
Several blasts tore through Gurdwara Karte Parwan in Kabul’s Bagh-e Bala neighbourhood on Saturday, while Afghan security personnel thwarted a bigger tragedy by stopping an explosives-laden vehicle from reaching the shrine.
The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the deadly terror attack, calling it “an act of support” for the Prophet. A day after the attack, India approved e-visas for over 100 Sikhs and Hindus living in Afghanistan.
Sawinder Singh, whose family lives in Delhi, was among the two people who were killed.
Puneet Singh Chandhok, president of the India World Forum, who has been coordinating with the Indian government to evacuate Sikhs from the Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, said he has been appealing to the government to grant visas to over 150 Sikhs staying there since the fall of the Ghani government.
“Sawinder Singh, who was part of the community staying in Gurudwaras and wanted to come back (to India), lost his life in the attack. He is also among the 109 people whose visas have been approved but this came too late for him. I have been writing to the government and had we acted promptly, we could have saved him. The minorities living in Afghanistan are apprehending further damage to their lives and are in a state of shock and suffering from mental trauma. The government should make immediate efforts to rescue those who are desperately waiting to return. Issuing visas is not enough, proper evacuation efforts are needed considering the sensitive situation,” he said.
Since the Taliban took power in August last year, Afghanistan has seen continuing attacks by rival Sunni Muslim militant group Islamic State.