11 Afghan Sikhs arrive in India by a special flight

First such operation by Indian government and civil society groups since June 23 reopening of embassy in Kabul

Updated - June 30, 2022 11:39 pm IST

Published - June 30, 2022 04:33 pm IST - NEW DELHI

A Taliban fighter stands guard at the site where an explosive-laden vehicle detonated amidst an attack on a Sikh Temple in Kabul. Photo used for representation purpose only.

A Taliban fighter stands guard at the site where an explosive-laden vehicle detonated amidst an attack on a Sikh Temple in Kabul. Photo used for representation purpose only. | Photo Credit: Reuters

Days after a deadly attack on the Karte Parwan Gurdwara in Kabul, 11 Afghan Sikh citizens were evacuated to Delhi by a special commercial flight on Thursday. The evacuees brought with them the ashes of Savinder Singh, a priest of the gurdwara, who was killed in the attack.

"There are 150 Sikhs and Hindus awaiting evacuation from Kabul. There are local restrictions on the movement of large convoys because of the prevailing security situation and we are trying to evacuate them as quickly as possible," said Puneet Singh Chandhoke, a civil society activist and leader of the Indian World Forum, who has been coordinating with the Government of India in evacuating Hindus and Sikhs trapped in Kabul. The group that arrived from Kabul included Raqbir Singh, who was injured in the June 18 attack.

The Islamic State-Khorasan claimed responsibility for the attack and declared it was revenge for the controversial remarks on the Prophet Muhammad by two Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokespersons, who have since been suspended. The attack on the gurdwara was strongly condemned by the Taliban, who provided additional security for the shrine.

Thursday’s limited airlift from Kabul is part of an evolving aviation network that Indian authorities are putting in place to nurture connectivity between India and Afghanistan. Two Afghanistan airlines — Kam Air and Ariana — will be considered to operate weekly “special commercial flights” till normal air connectivity is restored between the two sides. India sent six tonnes of essential medical supplies to Kabul on Thursday.

Civil society sources said that several Afghan nationals staying in India went back to Kabul in the flight that brought the Afghan Sikhs to Delhi.

Mr. Chandhoke said that the Amritsar-based Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee is providing financial support for Thursday’s evacuation and the evacuated individuals. The operation was the first that was conducted by the Government of India and civil society groups since India sent a small technical team on June 23 to reopen its embassy in Kabul. The technical team will monitor and coordinate humanitarian requirements for Afghan citizens as well as the Hindus and Sikhs of the country who wish to return.

Mr. Chandhoke, however, clarified that India needs to provide faster visa services for the evacuation of the rest of the group as more than a hundred individuals are yet to receive their visas. The group that arrived on Thursday has been taken to the Gurdwara Sri Arjan Dev of Tilak Nagar, where they will stay temporarily.

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