India grants visas to 111 Sikhs in Afghanistan
A day after an Islamic State claimed attack on one of Kabul’s main gurdwaras which killed two people and injured at least three, the Indian government granted visas to 111 Afghan Sikhs who wanted to come to the country.
Sources said the decision to grant the e-visas was taken hours after the attack, which took place on Saturday when 25 to 30 Afghan Sikhs and Hindus gathered at Gurdwara Dashmesh Pita Guru Gobind Singh Karte Parwan, the central gurdwara of the Afghan Sikhs. community of Kabul, for the ‘Sukhmani Sahib’ or morning prayers. A group of armed men, about four in number, stormed the gurdwara and opened fire.
Sources said the Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP) claimed responsibility for the attackand that the ISKP said the attack was in response to remarks made against the Prophet by two suspended BJP spokespersons.
The attack also cast a shadow over government plans to restart at least some of the functions of the Indian embassy in Kabul, such as visas, humanitarian aid and trade in certain sectors.
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Sources said that while the intention to restart some of these services remains, a political appeal must be made.
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Earlier this month, when an Indian team visited Kabul more than nine months after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, they found the country’s health and education infrastructure s were collapsing. However, he noted that the security situation had improved somewhat.
This initial assessment was shared with senior Indian leaders after the team’s visit. The team, led by a senior Foreign Ministry official, had met with Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Mottaqi and Taliban Deputy Foreign Minister Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai on June 2-3.
JP Singh, assistant secretary in charge of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran at the MEA, led the Indian team. In the past, he met with Taliban officials in Doha, Qatar. India closed its mission in Kabul shortly after the Taliban entered the city last August.
The Indian team had also visited the premises of the Indian Embassy in Kabul and found that the premises were “safe and secure”. They also visited four projects and programs that had an Indian role, and that’s when they saw that the country’s health and education institutions were in dire need of help. They had visited the Indira Gandhi Institute of Child Health – a 400-bed hospital, which was Afghanistan’s main hospital caring for children. The hospital lacked essential drugs. Most doctors have left the country and the hospital is massively understaffed and under-equipped, the team found. They had also visited Habibia High School in Kabul, renovated by India between 2003 and 2005, and found that it too needed maintenance. The school had few teachers and female students were only allowed up to primary grades.
In their conversations with key Taliban leaders, the Indian team felt that the Taliban were “ready to engage” and were desperate for help to improve the country’s infrastructure. But they face governance and capacity challenges, as many well-qualified and trained Afghan nationals have left the country.
One of the key and noticeable changes in Kabul was the general improvement in the security situation, where the Indian team felt there was a perception of improved security.
However, Saturday’s attack changed the perception of the threat to the Indian establishment in Afghanistan, despite reassurances from the Taliban. Sources, however, said New Delhi was committed to the welfare of the Afghan people and would take action “realistically”.