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Who killed 17 Sikhs in Afghanistan?

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Afghanistan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani. (File Photo: IANS)

There is no doubt who ever conspired to kill Afghan Sikhs and Hindus really wanted to bruise Indian people’s sensitivity as never before. Earlier Indian Embassy and consulates and Indian workers engaged on work for the development of Afghanistan have been attacked, but the Jalalabad killings on July 1, carried the greatest anger and emotional setback in Indian public…writes Dr Sakariya Kareem

Afghanistan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani. (File Photo: IANS)

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s announcement at a Kabul Gurdwara that his government will inquire into the killing of 17 Sikhs and Hindus in Jalalabad near the Pakistan border on July 1 shows that his government is not willing to take as the gospel truth whatever has appeared in the media. The media has reported the Islamic State’s (IS) claim that it killed them. This claim has put all the attention on the growth of the IS in Afghanistan.

The terrorists – the Taliban, the IS and others – play claim politics. For example, the Taliban choose to keep quiet if their terror attack kills a number of innocent civilians. They believe they have certain public image to protect. This is where the IS jumps in to claim the terror committed by the Taliban. This is how they try to prove their existence in Afghanistan.

President Ghani’s decision to inquire into the Sikhs’ killing, perhaps, is to find out who really killed the Afghan Sikhs and Hindus – the Taliban, the IS or some other unknown terrorist group. The Jalalabad terror against two Afghan minorities came in the wake of President Ghani’s order to the security forces to go after the Taliban terrorists who have resumed terror activities after referring to continue the Eid ceasefire. While probing the Jalalabad terror, the Ghani government will do well to extend the scope of its inquiry to ascertain whether the Afghan Taliban and IS in Afghanistan are really two separate entities or are they one with two different names but having the same handler.

Members of Afghan security force stand guard at the site of an attack in Jalalabad city(Xinhua/Saifurahman Safi) (zf)

It is well known that the IS in Afghanistan has hardly anything to do with Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). One does not hear much of their allegiance to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. Their commitments to al-Baghdadi or to Khorasan, which includes parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan, cannot hide an important fact that the IS in Afghanistan is mainly made up of breakaway Taliban, who may still be in touch with their past handlers, and the drug runners. President Ghani’s inquiry may find that the IS in Afghanistan is being used as a second fiddle to boost the comparative importance of the Taliban. It may be a coincident, but it is a fact that since the emergence of the IS in Afghanistan, the Taliban, though with no let up in their terrorist activities, have attained some respectively like an established political entity. China and Russia have joined efforts to persuade them to join peace talks with the Afghan government. China and Russia are alarmed by the emergence of the IS in Afghanistan. With their request to the Taliban, the pressure on Pakistan to use its influence with the Taliban to join the peace talks seems to have lessened.

Afghanistan which earlier used to plead with Pakistan to use its influence with the Taliban has now lost faith in this country and accuses it of engineering Taliban terror in Afghanistan. But is Pakistan really interested in Taliban-Kabul peace talks? It does not serve Pakistan’s designs at all if, as a result of these talks, the Taliban agree to share power in Kabul. Pakistan’s interest will be served only if the Taliban have exclusive control of power in Afghanistan like they had between 1996 and 2001.

Pakistan has many interests in Afghanistan. Foremost among them is the ouster of India. That is why conditions were created by the Taliban rulers for thousands of Afghan Sikhs to leave their homes for India and some European counties. In the 1990s the population of Sikhs and Hindus was estimated to be around 2,50.000, and today their numbers has come down to a mere 3,000. After the July 1 terror some of them have expressed their desire to migrate to India while some will like to stay put because of their land and other interests.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Afghanistan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, at Hyderabad House, in New Delhi

There is no doubt who ever conspired to kill Afghan Sikhs and Hindus really wanted to bruise Indian people’s sensitivity as never before. Earlier Indian Embassy and consulates and Indian workers engaged on work for the development of Afghanistan have been attacked, but the Jalalabad killings on July 1, carried the greatest anger and emotional setback in Indian public. To that extent the conspirators were successful. In the past, the Afghan intelligence agencies traced attacks on the Indian embassy and workers to Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) across the border.

The Kabul government seems to suspect that the same Pak agencies might be behind the killings of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus. Afghan Ambassador to India, Dr. Shaida Abdali expressed this suspicion in an interview to the Chandigarh-based English daily, The Tribune, when asked if his country suspected Pak agencies played a role in the Jalalabad attack. He said: “Terrorism in Afghanistan is exported from across the border …………We have to go against the state sponsors of terrorism that reside across the border”.

A report is notable that while the Afghan Sikhs were being killed in Jalalabad, the ISI was pleading with the Sikh militants living in Pakistan to support Hafiz Saeed’s Milli Muslim League (MML) in the forthcoming general elections on July 25. The ISI in return promised support to the Sikh militants in their campaign for Khalistan in the UK, US and Canada and Europe. For years, Pakistan has provided safe havens not only to the Afghan Taliban but also to Sikh militants. That indicates Pakistan intends to resume fanning the Khalistan movement. Can the hospitality to Sikh militants in Pakistan and the role assigned to them in the country’s general elections diminish the suspicion in Afghanistan about ISI’s hand behind the killing of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus in Jalalabad on July 1?