Cablegate: Afghan Sikh Leader Wants Land--Or Means of Escape

DE RUEHBUL #3501/01 3071207
P 031207Z NOV 09



E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (U) Summary: The senior representative of Afghanistan's
beleaguered Sikh minority flagged to us their deepening
problems and alleged that, since the election, the security
situation for Sikhs and Hindus has worsened as a result of
the central government's failure to exercise control and
influence. Since our last report in June 2009 (reftel), the
Sikh-Hindu population has dwindled from 3,000 families to 760
families, or about 3,100 people. The community urgently
needs help on two matters: land for homes and land for
cremations. Lack of police protection from armed thugs who
confiscate their land and lack of ministerial follow-through
for the protection of their rights are the stated reasons
most Sikhs and Hindus have left Afghanistan; the remaining
stay only for lack of money to leave. End Summary.
2. (SBU) In a conversation with Poloff on November 1, Senator
Atwar Singh Khalsa, Upper House MP and the only Sikh or Hindu
in parliament, talked to us about security concerns. He
feared that as a prominent Sikh, his open support for
President Karzai in the elections put his community at risk
from local Tajik and Panjshiri supporters of Dr. Abdullah.
Khalsa believes that the situation for the Sikhs and Hindus
has become especially precarious in the past few months. He
unhesitatingly attributed the declining quality of life for
religious minorities to the "weakening" of the central
government and its inability to influence the citizenry or
control powerful rogue elements. He said the community
enjoyed the support of the President in his first three years
in office, but in the last four years, the verbal and written
support for their rights seldom translated into material
help. Khalsa attributes the shift in majority attitudes
toward the Sikhs to the rise of former mujahideen, "those in
power who make their living from fighting8 and who do not
share educated views on religious tolerance.
3. (SBU) Khalsa said that in addition to suffering outright
discrimination, preached in some mosques, the community
suffers from lack of safe residential areas, lack of space to
cremate their dead, and the threatened destruction of their
temples (gurdwaras). From 64 gurdwaras in Afghanistan, they
now have 12. (Note: There are two gurdwaras in Kabul, two
in Kandahar, three in Jalalabad, three in Ghazni, and one in
Helmand. End note.) Children do not feel safe in public
schools, and armed gunmen routinely harass the community,
particularly over land. Khalsa said Sikhs are increasingly
vulnerable to targeted violence. A few weeks ago, for
example, Naderia High School students attacked and beat the
Muslim watchman to the Kart-e-Parwan gurdwara, accusing him
of having become an infidel. Khalsa,s two nephews were
recently mugged. A Sikh family traveling from Helmand to
Kandahar was stopped by police, beaten, and told to shave
their hair. Until Ramadan, there were 30 Sikh families living
in Kandahar; now there are four.
4. (SBU) Khalsa is especially concerned about a Sikh doctor,
named Nano Singh, who he said is being unfairly detained in
Kandahar Provincial Prison. Allegedly, a Muslim doctor
bribed the police to destroy Singh's business. The doctor is
a well-regarded man who has practiced in the community for
many years. Police have accused him of raping a female Muslim
patient; he was also publicly humiliated and his hair
exposed, a serious insult for a Sikh. Supposedly, the
provincial governor demanded a bribe of 500,000 Afn.
($10,500) to move the case to court and the first court is
now demanding a 200,000 Afn. ($4,200) bribe. (NOTE: Embassy
Kabul is verifying these reports.)
Bureaucratic assault on a temple
5. (SBU) The Kabul city government's expanded road past the
gurdwara (temple) complex in Kart-e-Parwan has been built,
and the city now wants space for a sidewalk. The complex has
already lost the space where the community's only clinic
stood. The city wants another three meters for the sidewalk,
which will destroy the building, but the community is
negotiating to keep one meter in order to protect the
building's front wall. (Note: Even if they win the extra
meter, the building's structural integrity may already be
impaired by the lack of support around the foundation. End
Note.) Khalsa notes that the new sidewalk will be wide by
Kabul standards, in a residential area with little foot
traffic, and that the mosque at the end of the street did not
lose any space at all.
6. (SBU) The sidewalk issue is typical of the "hypocritical
government support" they experience, Khalsa said. The
Minister of Urban Development and 2nd Vice-President Mohammad
Karim Khalili both issued orders in favor of the gurdwara,
allowing them the one meter they need to keep the building
from toppling. Yet despite the ministerial orders, they have
received no support to implement the orders and no protection
from the police. Indeed, said Khalsa, the Mayor of Kabul has
refused to accept the ministerial orders and threatens them
daily, apparently determined to undermine the community.

KABUL 00003501 002 OF 002

7. (SBU) The community's problems with cremations are
numerous and growing, according to Khalsa. Death has a huge
impact on the community because of the religiously sensitive
question of how to handle the body. Sikhs and Hindus, treated
as one community in Afghanistan, cremate their dead, and
submitted the application for a cremation facility six years
ago. For lack of such a facility, they must burn their dead
in the open, which Muslims object to because of the smell and
the fear of disease. The government offered a place for their
cremations near Pul-e-Charkhi but the Pashtun Kuchi
tribespeople would not permit them to use it. The government
authorized another spot in District 21, but again they
encountered local backlash. Local police provide security for
Sikh funerals, but are often incapable of protecting the site
itself. Qalacha, a Sikh cremation spot for 120 years, now has
houses on it, and they cannot make the authorities remove
the houses, built in the middle of the night. (NOTE: In
mid-October, Poloff asked the Director of External Relations
for the Ministry of the Hajj and Religious Affairs Qazi Habib
Rahman Salehi about land for Sikh and Hindu cremations. He
dismissed the concern, saying that they should use the
desert. End Note.) On October 9, at a desert cremation site
outside Kabul, the Sikhs found cow dung, bones, and garbage
dumped in what appeared to be a purposeful act of
desecration. Kandahari Sikhs no longer have a cremation site,
and have to travel to Ghazni.
8. (U) Everyday life and practicing ordinary aspects of their
religion is increasingly difficult for the community, said
Khalsa. Sikh women are forced to adapt to dominant cultural
norms or risk harassment, dishonor, and possible violence;
consequently, no Afghan Sikh women work outside the home.
(NOTE: Sikh women in other countries enjoy equal status with
men. End Note.) Unemployment is a growing problem, as Sikh
business owners have left the country, leaving their
employees without work. Sikhs are also exploited by
landlords, who charge exorbitant rents of $300-400 per month.
9. (SBU) Khalsa said that every Sikh here would leave given
the opportunity to do so; only money holds them back.
Refugee status would be acceptable, even preferable to the
current living situation for some. Khalsa said they would go
to any country except Pakistan or India, as in India they are
discriminated against as Afghans and typically only allowed
three-month visas. He said they consider themselves Afghans
first and Sikhs second, as their beliefs stipulate.
10. (SBU) As a result of their loss of government protection,
Khalsa said he has lost trust in government solutions. For
him, eight years of promises have yielded less and less: for
seven years they have waited for promised schools; for six
years, a crematorium; now, they face the loss of their
temple. The president no longer accepts their requests for
11. (SBU) COMMENT: The widened road seems an example of a
deliberate tactic to harass the Sikhs, given how little
traffic moves down the street on which the gurdwara is
located. Khalsa seemed genuinely depressed, worn down by the
problems of his community and his years fighting on their
behalf. Though they have no hope of ever regaining the level
of community support they felt in the 1960s when Afghanistan
was the most religiously-tolerant country in the region, the
Sikhs want to live in peace in their homeland. But given
their experience of increasing intolerance for religious
difference in Afghanistan, the community is likely to end up
emigrating. Until then, they seek our help in pressing their
case for land and space to cremate their dead and we will
explore means of being of assistance. End Comment.

© Scoop Media

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