Afghan Bomb Attack: Sikh Leader Awtar Singh Khalsa Among 19 Killed

Afghan Bomb Attack: Sikh Leader Awtar Singh Khalsa Among 19 Killed

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An explosion hit the centre of the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad on Sunday, 1 July, killing at least 19 people, including several members of the small Sikh minority, provincial government officials said.

Islamic State claimed the attack in a statement via its online Amaq news agency, but provided no evidence for the claim.

The blast, hours after President Ashraf Ghani had opened a hospital in Jalalabad, damaged shops and buildings around Mukhaberat square in the city, said governor's spokesperson Attaullah Khogyani.

A politician representing the minority Sikh community was killed in the blast. Officials said Awtar Singh Khalsa, who had planned to stand in October’s parliamentary elections, was dead.

Apart from Khalsa, those killed also reportedly included peace activists Ravail Singh & Anup Singh.

(Photo: ANI)

Who Was Awtar Singh Khalsa?

 Awtar Singh Khalsa, minority Sikh leader.
Awtar Singh Khalsa, minority Sikh leader.
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

Avtar Singh Khalsa was set to represent the Muslim-dominated nation's tiny Sikh and Hindu minorty in the upcoming parliamentary elections in October. In an interview with the Associated Press, he had said that though he was representing the minority communities, he hoped to serve the enitre ountry.

"I don't only want to serve my Sikh and Hindu brothers. I have to be able to serve all the Afghan people, no matter which ethnicity or group they belong to. Our services must reach everyone," he had said.

Khalsa was scheduled to run unopposed for a seat in the lower house of the parliament, that was reserved for the minority by a presidential decree in 2016.

Following the elections, he would have been the solitary voice of the minority in the parliament, and had hoped that his 10-year stint at the Afghan army would help him secure a position on the defense and security committee.

A former senator from the upper house of the parliament, Khalsa is survived by his wife and four children.

‘Targeted Attack’, Say Officials

Ghulam Sanayi Stanekzai, police chief of Nangarhar said the explosion was caused by a suicide bomber who targeted a vehicle carrying members of the Sikh minority who were travelling to meet the president.

Officials said at least 10 of the dead were Sikhs.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the attack, calling it an attack on the ‘multicultural fabric’ of Afghanistan. He added that the Indian government would offer Afghanistan assistance in wake of the tragedy.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj sent her condolences to the people of Afghanistan, adding that she would be meeting with the bereaved families.

Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh condemned the attack and wrote on Twitter, “Strongly condemn deadly attack by ISI on delegation of Sikhs & others on way to meet Afghan president. Let global community rise in one voice against barbaric forces of terror & vow to wipe out the menace from the world. My govt extends all help to the victims & their families.”

The Golden Temple in Amritisar held a prayer meet on Monday, 2 July, to honour the memories of the 11 Sikhs who were killed.

The Golden Temple in Amrtisar held a prayer meet on Monday, 2 July, to honour the memory of the 11 Sikhs who were killed in the blast.
The Golden Temple in Amrtisar held a prayer meet on Monday, 2 July, to honour the memory of the 11 Sikhs who were killed in the blast.
(Photo: ANI)

Afghanistan is an overwhelmingly Muslim nation but a small number of Hindus and Sikhs remain in the country.

Inaamullah Miakhel, a spokesperson for the provincial health department of Nangarhar, said 19 people had been killed and 20 wounded.

Officials said the casualty might have been even higher had much of the city not been blocked off for Ghani's visit. He was not in the area when the blast occurred.

The attack is the latest in a series to have hit Jalalabad, the provincial capital of Nangarhar, where Islamic State fighters have established a strong presence in recent years.

The attack underlined the fragile security situation in Afghanistan after last month's brief ceasefire between government forces and the Taliban.

The three-day truce did not include Islamic State, which fights both government forces and the Taliban and which has shown no sign of letting up its campaign of violence.

(With inputs from Reuters)

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