Taliban restoring property to displaced Hindus and Sikhs: spokesman

A commission chaired by the Minister of Justice has been established to return to owners all properties which had been usurped by warlords during the former regime

Updated - April 10, 2024 07:32 am IST

Published - April 10, 2024 01:42 am IST - NEW DELHI

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen.

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen. | Photo Credit: Reuters

The “Justice Ministry” of the Taliban in Kabul has started restoring property to displaced members of the Hindu and Sikh communities, a senior Taliban official has told The Hindu.

Suhail Shaheen, Head of the Political Office of the Taliban said, the outfit had set up a commission to ensure return of Hindu and Sikh families who have played a historic role in the economy of Afghanistan.

“A commission chaired by the Minister of Justice has been established to return to their owners all properties which had been usurped by warlords during the former regime,” said Mr. Shaheen in a written answer to The Hindu. Mr. Shaheen drew attention to the recent return of Narender Singh Khalsa, a member of the parliament of Afghanistan that was dissolved with the takeover of the country by the Taliban in August 2021.

Diaspora returning

According to the Netherlands-based Afghan commentator Sangar Paykhar, Narender Singh Khalsa who had taken refuge in Canada returned to Afghanistan following an initiative by the Contact Commission with Afghan personalities. According to Mr. Paykhar, the return of Mr. Khalsa and his family signaled, “a warm welcome for displaced leaders of religious minorities seeking to return to their homeland.”

Mr. Khalsa is the son of Awtar Singh Khalsa, a notable member of Afghan Sikh community who was killed in a suicide attack in 2018 when he was campaigning to become a member of Parliament. The attack was claimed by fighters of the Islamic State – Khorasan Province (ISKP) who subsequently carried out a number of attacks on minorities in Afghanistan including the 2022 attack on a Gurudwara in Kabul in which several Sikhs were killed. Conditions became so difficult that the last two ‘swaroops’ of the Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib were taken from Kabul to Delhi in January 2023. Most of these incidents were blamed upon the ISKP, which is understandably positioning itself as a challenger to the Taliban.

A large number of Sikhs and Hindus left Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover which overthrew the government of President Ashraf Ghani. Narender Singh Khalsa was among the initial bunch of people who were evacuated by the Indian Air Force in August 2021. He and other members of the Sikh community were given the means to reside in Delhi though he subsequently left for Canada. India has not recognised the Taliban government in Kabul as de facto rulers though there are signs that the two sides have broken ice. On March 7, J.P. Singh, Joint Secretary in charge of the Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran desk at the Ministry of External Affairs visited Kabul and met with ‘Foreign Minister’ Amir Khan Muttaqi. The two sides discussed various issues including cooperation to combat the ISKP.

Minorities fled turmoil

Hindu and Sikh communities have been present in Afghanistan throughout its history and constitute approximately 1% of its population but the displacement of these two communities began during the late 1970s and the 1980s when political tumult and the Soviet occupation rocked Afghanistan.

This process was further intensified during the rise of the Taliban and the vicious fighting that has continued ever since. This greatly reduced the number of citizens from various minority communities.

Mr. Paykhar said the decision by the “Justice Ministry” of the Taliban administration is a positive sign. “The government’s efforts are seen as a sign of Afghanistan’s commitment to embracing its diverse population and rectifying the wrongs inflicted upon its minority communities,” he said in a comment that was posted on social media platforms. Mr. Paykhar blamed various warlords who were active during 2001-2021 for seizing the property of minority religious groups.

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