Sikhism in Afghanistan

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Afghan Sikhs
ਅਫ਼ਗਾਨਿਸਤਾਨ ਵਿਚ ਸਿੱਖ ਧਰਮ
په افغانستان کې سکهزم
Karte Parwan Gurdwara in Kabul, Afghanistan
Total population
0.0001% of total population (2022)
200,000 - 500,000 (diaspora)[2][3][4][5][6]
Regions with significant populations
 United Kingdom>10,000[8]
Dr. Abdullah Abdullah met Afghan Hindus and Sikhs community at Embassy of Afghanistan, in New Delhi
Afghan Sikhs

Sikhism in Afghanistan in the contemporary era is limited to small populations, primarily in major cities, with the largest numbers of Afghan Sikhs living in Jalalabad, Ghazni, Kabul, and to a lesser extent in Kandahar and Khost.[10] Sikhs have been the most prevalent non-Muslim minority in Afghanistan, and despite the many political changes in recent Afghan history, governments and political groups have generally not indulged in openly discriminating against the Sikh minority; however, their status have been severely impacted since the country's conflict since 1978.[11]

The origin of the Sikh community in Afghanistan has broadly two streams, including indigenous Pashto and Dari speakers, descendants of converts to the teaching of the Sikhism’s founder Guru Nanak during his trip to Kabul around 1520.[12] The second stream derive from the later Sikh Empire as it pushed westward, establishing trading routes for Sikh merchants into Kandahar and Kabul; this group speak Hindko, a dialect of Punjabi.[12] Due to this mixed ancestry, Afghan Sikhs are from various ethnolinguistic backgrounds including Pashtun,[13][14] Hindkowan or Punjabi.

Once numbering between 200,000 and 500,000 (1.8% to 4.6% of the national population, making it among the largest of any country at that time) in the 1970s,[2][3][4][5][6] their population in Afghanistan has dwindled since the Afghan wars began.[15] Estimates of their total population (there has been no census in Afghanistan since 1979) have been given as around 1,200 families or 8,000 members in 2013;[16] 1,000 in 2019 (as reported by Afghan Sikh Wolesi Jirga member Narinder Singh Khalsa); and around 70 to 80 families or 700 in 2020 (as reported by Raj Sutaka, a Sikh businessman from Kabul).[17] Thousands of Afghan Sikhs now live in India,[18] the United Kingdom,[19] the United States,[20] and Canada.[21]



Seven of Kabul's eight gurdwaras were destroyed during the civil war. Only Gurdwara Karte Parwan, located in the Karte Parwan section of Kabul, remains.[22] They are centred today in Karte Parwan[23] and some parts of the old city.[24] There is no exact number of Sikhs in Kabul province.[25]


Entrance sign of Sri Guru Nanak Darbar gurdwara in Jalalabad

As of 2001, Jalalabad had 100 Sikh families, totaling around 700 people, who worship at two large Gurdwaras. Legend states that the older of the Gurudwaras was built to commemorate the visit of Guru Nanak Dev.[26] On 1 July 2018, at least 10 Sikhs were killed in a targeted suicide bombing at the PD1 market.[27][28] The local branch of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant claimed responsibility.[29]


Kandahar has a very small Sikh community, with only about 15 families living there as of 2002.[30]


Early history[edit]

Guru Nanak visited Kabul in the 15th century. Guru Nanak is traditionally locally known as Peer Balagdaan in Afghanistan.[31] Some early Khatri Sikhs established and maintained colonies in Afghanistan for trading purposes.[32] Later, conflicts between the Sikh misls and empire against the Afghan-based Durrani Empire led to tension. Sikhs also served in the British Empire's military during several operations in Afghanistan in the 19th century.

20th century[edit]

Following the partition of India in 1947, the Sikh population increased as Sikh migrants fled persecution from the Pothohar region of newly formed country of Pakistan. The Sikhs prospered during the 1933-1973 reign of Mohammad Zahir Shah, and during period of strongly secular period of Soviet rule.[15]


During the 1980s Soviet–Afghan War, many Afghan Sikhs fled to India, where 90% of global Sikh population lives; a second, much larger wave followed following the 1992 fall of the Najibullah regime.[33] Sikh gurdwaras (temples) throughout the country were destroyed in the Battle of Jalalabad (1989)[34] and the Afghan Civil War of the 1990s, leaving only the Gurdwara Karte Parwan in Kabul.[35]

Under the Taliban, the Sikhs were a persecuted minority and forced to pay the jizya tax.[36] The Sikh custom of cremation of the dead was prohibited by the Taliban, and cremation grounds vandalized.[37] In addition, Sikhs were required to wear yellow patches or veils to identify themselves.[38]

21st century[edit]

Interior of Gurdwara Karte Parwan in Kabul

By tradition, Sikhs cremate their dead, an act considered sacrilege in Islam.[39][40][41][42][43] Cremation has become a major issue among Sikh Afghans, as traditional cremation grounds have been appropriated by Muslims, particularly in the Qalacha area of Kabul, which Sikhs and Hindus had used for over a century.[39] In 2003 Sikhs complained to the Afghan government regarding the loss of cremation grounds, which had forced them to send a dead body to Pakistan to be cremated, following which the Minister of Hajj and Religious Affairs investigated the issue.[33] Though the grounds were reported as returned to Sikh control in 2006,[35] in 2007 local Muslims allegedly beat Sikhs attempting to cremate a community leader, and the funeral proceeded only with police protection.[39] As of 2010, cremation in Kabul is still reported as being disapproved of by locals.[44]

Sikhs in Afghanistan continue to face problems, with the issue of the Sikh custom of cremation figuring prominently.

In September 2013, Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed a legislative decree, reserving a seat in the National Assembly of Afghanistan for the Hindu and Sikh minority.[45] However this decree was blocked by the parliament. The decree eventually came into force in September 2016 when it was approved by the cabinet of Karzai's successor, Ashraf Ghani.[46] Narendra Singh Khalsa was elected to this seat at the subsequent general election.[47]

Following the deadly Jalalabad attack in June 2018, both Karzai and Ghani visited the Karte Parwan gurdwara to offer condolences. Ghani called the country's Sikh and Hindu minorities the "pride of the nation",[48] and on another occasion that year called them an "integral part" of Afghanistan's history.[49]

The country is witnessing a severe decline in the community's population with the coming of Taliban back in power. Several members sought refuge to other countries and several others are still attempting to flee their home country. [50]


The population ratio between Afghan Sikhs and Hindus is estimated to be 60:40, as both populations are frequently merged in historic and contemporary estimations.[2][a] Combined with a wide range of population approximations in the absence of official census data, the Afghan Sikh population was estimated to be between 200,000 and 500,000 in the 1970s.[2][3][b][5][c][6][d][4]

In the ensuring decades, widespread emigration was common amongst religious minorities due to increased persecution by Taliban forces; by the 1990s, the Afghan Sikh population declined below 50,000.[35][51] As of 2013, they are around 800 families of which 300 families live in Kabul.[16] Sikh leaders in Afghanistan claim that the total number of Sikhs is 3,000. Many Sikh families have chosen to emigrate to other countries including, India, North America, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Pakistan, Russia and other places.[52]

Notable people[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ According to Singh, there were at least 2 lakh Sikhs and Hindus (in a 60:40 ratio) in Afghanistan until the 1970s.[2]
  2. ^ “In the 70s, there were around 700,000 Hindus and Sikhs, and now they are estimated to be less than 7,000,” Shayegan says.[3]
  3. ^ An investigation by TOLOnews reveals that the Sikh and Hindu population number was 220,000 in the 1980's[5]
  4. ^ In the late 1980s, there were about 500,000 Sikhs scattered across Afghanistan, many here for generations[6]


  1. ^ a b Paul, GS (25 September 2022). "Taliban again refuse to permit Sikh holy scriptures to accompany Afghan Sikhs, Hindus". The Tribune India. Archived from the original on 25 September 2022. Retrieved 25 September 2022. As of now, 43 Sikhs and Hindus were still left back in Afghanistan
  2. ^ a b c d e Divya Goyal (28 July 2020). "Sikhs and Hindus of Afghanistan — how many remain, why they want to leave". Archived from the original on 6 February 2021. Retrieved 6 July 2021.
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  4. ^ a b c Ruchi Kumar (19 October 2017). "Afghan Hindus and Sikhs celebrate Diwali without 'pomp and splendour' amid fear". Archived from the original on 26 October 2017. Retrieved 6 July 2021.
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  7. ^ IP Singh (23 December 2019). "Punjab: No clarity on exact number of Afghan Sikhs in India". The Times of India. Archived from the original on 7 July 2021. Retrieved 14 April 2020.
  8. ^ Pritpal Singh (21 May 2017). "HINDU KUSH TO THAMES". Youtube. Archived from the original on 7 July 2021. Retrieved 14 April 2020.
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  12. ^ a b "A Precarious State: the Sikh Community in Afghanistan - AIIA". Australian Institute of International Affairs. The origin of the Sikh community in Afghanistan has broadly two streams. There are those who are descendants of converts to the teaching of Guru Nanak –Sikhism's founder – during his trip to Kabul, recorded to be around 1520. These Sikhs are Pashto or Dari speakers, ethnically indigenous to the region, and potentially from groups who did not adopt Islam as the religion became regionally dominant between the 9th and 13th centuries. The second stream derive from the short-lived Sikh Empire (1799–1849) as it pushed westward, gaining control of territory to the Khyber Pass and Sikh merchants established trading routes into Kandahar and Kabul. This group speak Hindko, a dialect of Punjabi that is mostly found around Peshawar, in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in north-west Pakistan.
  13. ^ Eusufzye, Khan Shehram (2018). "Two identities, twice the pride: The Pashtun Sikhs of Nankana Saheb". Pakistan Today. Archived from the original on 26 June 2020. Retrieved 31 May 2020. One can sense a diminutive yet charming cultural amalgamation in certain localities within the town with the settling of around 250 Pashtun Sikh families in the city.
    Ruchi Kumar, The decline of Afghanistan's Hindu and Sikh communities Archived 21 September 2020 at the Wayback Machine, Al Jazeera, 2017-01-01, "the culture among Afghan Hindus is predominantly Pashtun"
    Beena Sarwar, Finding lost heritage Archived 6 March 2021 at the Wayback Machine, Himal, 2016-08-03, "Singh also came across many non turban-wearing followers of Guru Nanak in Pakistan, all of Pashtun origin and from the Khyber area."
    Sonia Dhami, Sikh Religious Heritage – My visit to Lehenda Punjab Archived 28 January 2021 at the Wayback Machine, Indica News, 2020-01-05, "Nankana Sahib is also home to the largest Sikh Pashtun community, many of whom have migrated from the North West Frontier Provinces, renamed Khyber-Pakhtunwa."
    Neha, Pak misusing Durand Line to facilitate terrorists, says Pashtun Archived 25 November 2020 at the Wayback Machine, Siasat Daily, 2019-09-20, "The members of the Pashtun and Afghan Sikh community living in Europe and UK have gathered in Geneva"
    Sabrina Toppa, Despite border tensions, Indian Sikhs celebrate festival in Pakistan Archived 25 November 2020 at the Wayback Machine, TRT World, 2019-04-16, "Hasanabdal is home to around 200 Sikh families that have primarily moved from Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, including Pakistan’s former tribal areas. The majority are Pashtun Sikhs who abandoned their homes and took refuge near Sikhism’s historical sites."
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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]