Community Voices: Evacuation flight brings 200 Afghans to US
By: Mandeep Singh, Toronto
The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan has reinvigorated the Taliban to palisade their future on the battlefield
America ended its two-decades-long war on Aug, 31. President Biden’s announcement that U.S. troops will be leaving Afghanistan kicked off much argument about the budgets of the war effort, the worsening of Afghan-Taliban peace talks, and the impending future of U.S. foreign policy in the region . It remains to be seen what it means for the future of Afghanistan and its people at a time when the Taliban has expanded its reach across the country. Meanwhile, a special flight for some 200 Afghans who qualify for Special Immigrant Status (SIV) arrived Friday in the United States as part of an operation to evacuate those who provided help to the U.S. government. An airliner carrying 221 Afghans interpreters and those working alongside US forces including 57 children and 15 babies, touched down at the airport early on Friday morning.
“Today is an important milestone as we continue to fulfil our promise to the thousands of Afghan nationals who served shoulder-to-shoulder with American troops and diplomats over the last 20 years in Afghanistan,” U.S. President Joe Biden said in a statement. “I want to honour all those in the United States who have spoken out on behalf of these brave Afghans, including the proud community of veterans, who have consistently advocated for the Afghans who were by their side in the field in Afghanistan, often serving as translators and interpreters.”
Biden said that although U.S. troops are leaving Afghanistan, the U.S. will keep supporting Afghanistan through security assistance to Afghan forces and humanitarian and development aid to the Afghan people. The US is partnering with the United Nations International Organization for Migration to relocate the families across the country. The newly arrived Afghan people will join 70,000 others who have resettled in the United States since 2008 under the special visa program.
As the U.S. withdraws its troops in Afghanistan, the question now is whether the Afghan government – or another international force – can stop a burgeoning Taliban from using ferocity to clutch power. Afghan security personnel are struggling to hold territory, and those political influential have thus far been powerless to unite against the common threat of the Taliban. Many Afghans are searching for alternatives to the Taliban .For now, anti-Taliban militias are mustering, and intelligence of Taliban slayings and abuse are rampant. A number of Afghans fear they have no hope but to flee the country. The American withdrawal has encouraged the Taliban to prize their future on the battlefield, not at the discussing points or ballot box. The question now is whether the Afghan government can prevent the Taliban from using violence to dominate power.
It is also feared that Afghanistan's already dwindling community of Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan will see the shrinking of these communities to a new level. With growing threats from the militant groups, the corporeal danger to these religious minorities is tangible. Year after year, suicide bombings have targeted Afghan Sikhs, who are distinguished by their turbans, and have annihilated Afghanistan’s few remaining Sikh temples. In March 2020, the Islamic State killed 25 Afghan Sikhs during a prayer service at a Sikh gurdwara in Kabul. In 2018, the Islamic State killed 17 Afghan Sikhs and Hindus who were en route to a discussion with President Ashraf Ghani. Most recent incident occurred in July 2021, where a targeted bomb in Jalalabad’s Sikh district left 2 Sikhs seriously injured.
The Canadian World Sikh Parliament’s leader Chamkaur Singh said, “Canada has a moral responsibility to bring the minorities. As Canadian Sikhs we have high hopes that this will happen and Canada will lead the way forward”
The World Sikh Organisation based out of Canada and the Manmeet Singh Bhullar Foundation put out a press release on July 19, asking the Canadian Government to create a special program for the Sikh and Hindu Afghan community, whose lives are in extreme danger. As per the Press Release, Khalsa aid also supports the initiative. The United Sikhs chapter in Canada has communicated to the Immigration minister in their year long campaign to settle the Sikhs and Hindus in Canada. In September 2015, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) officials created three programs to settle the Syrians in Canada. The Government of Canada announced in November 2015 a commitment to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees as permanent residents.
(Text version: Exhibit 1 – Number of Syrian refugees that arrived in Canada from November 4, 2015 to February 29, 2016 by immigration category. Courtesy: Internal Audit of the Operation Syrian Refugees Settlement (OSR)
As American troops withdraw from Afghanistan, the situation will only become shoddier. It is only a matter of time before we see the situation become dire for Sikhs of Afghanistan. With the Taliban taking control of the country, Sikhs' lives are in looming danger.
Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), the body responsible for the management of gurdwaras, has demanded that the governments of India and Afghanistan must ensure the safety of Sikhs living in Afghanistan. Expressing serious concern over a reported fall in the number of Sikhs in Afghanistan, SGPC chief secretary Harjinder Singh Dhami said that the Centre should take the matter seriously and make efforts to ensure their security and safety of life and property.
The United Sikhs on July 31, wrote to Secretary Antony Blinken appealing for assistance for religious minorities in Afghanistan. In their letter to President Biden they prodded the US to keep the protection of Sikh and Hindu minorities on high priority “We write to urge you to extend the same protections to the relatively small group of Sikhs and Hindus who have become victims of religious persecution”,their letter stated.
There are several voices of the community that are demanding the US and Canada government to step in and save innocent lives and bring them to safety. Hopefully the community’s hopes will not be dashed to the ground.