On March 25, 2020 a terrorist attack on a Sikh gurdwara in Kabul, Afghanistan left 25 dead and injured at least 8 others. About 150 people were inside the gurdwara at the time of the attack, including women and children. The Islamic State (IS), or Daesh, claimed responsibility for the attack. The very next day, terrorists attacked the cremation ceremony of the 25 victims, illustrating the heightened threat that religious minorities face in Afghanistan.
Some Afghan experts have pointed to a possible role of the Haqqani group and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), both of whom are supported by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency. It is widely believed that no group can carry out a terrorist attack in Afghanistan without the support of the Haqqani group and their affiliates like LeT.
The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) quickly condemned the attack and wrote to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urging India to offer asylum and citizenship to Sikhs and Hindus currently being persecuted in Afghanistan. Right now, the Republic of India, both in terms of practicality and its long history of providing refuge to the persecuted, is their only hope.
The March attack is only the latest incident of violence directed at non-Muslims in Afghanistan.
In July 2018, a suicide bomber attacked a convoy of Sikhs and Hindus en route to meet Afghan President Ashraf Gani, resulting in the deaths of 19 people and wounding 20 others. There are only an estimated 200 Sikh and Hindu families left in Afghanistan.
The situation for religious minorities in Afghanistan is dire — even more so now, with a present-day threat from IS for them to convert to Islam, leave, or die.
Here’s what the United States can do to help.
Both Congress and the President of the United States can play a role.
Congress can update the ‘Lautenberg-Specter Amendment’ (P.L. 101-167), which is the American equivalent of India’s CAA according to several US legal experts, to include persecuted religious minorities from Afghanistan as Priority 2 category members to be considered for US entry under a reduced evidentiary standard for having established a well founded fear of persecution in the aforementioned countries.
In addition to HAF, other US-based organizations have also called on Congress to provide asylum and US entry to persecuted Afghan Sikhs and Hindus.
The Hindu American Foundation proposes the following text be added as an amendment to the Lautenberg Amendment, P.L. 101-167, § 599D, 103 Stat. 1261 (1989) (codified at 8 U.S.C. § 1157) as amended.
“Open-access P-2s inside their country of origin:
Afghan Religious Minorities: Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Jewish and other minority-religious adherents identified in the Lautenberg Amendment, P.L. 101-167, § 599D, 103 Stat. 1261 (1989) (codified at 8 U.S.C. § 1157) as amended (“Lautenberg Amendment”). With the annual statutory renewal of the Lautenberg Amendment, these individuals are considered under a reduced evidentiary standard for establishing a well-founded fear of persecution.”
Regardless of whether Congress acts or not, the President can pass an Executive Order granting asylum to these groups. Thus, HAF likewise calls on the President of the United States to use his legal authority in accordance with Section 207 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1157) to determine that Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, Christians, and adherents of other minority religions of Afghanistan are religious minorities designated as Priority 2 category members to be considered for US entry under a reduced evidentiary standard for establishing a well founded fear of persecution.
Such an amendment to existing US law, or Executive Order by the President, would expand America’s humanitarian standing in the world and amplify America’s moral voice on being an international defender of religious freedom.