India’s Afghan Sikh 2021 evacuation plan was nixed by Canadian antics – Hindustan Times

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Jul 08, 2024 09:27 AM IST

Indian evacuation aircraft was delayed as Afghan Sikhs decided to go to Canadian Mission in Kabul instead of reaching airport.

New Delhi: A Canadian media report that the country’s former defence minister, Harjit Sajjan, put the Afghan Sikh community on a priority evacuation list ahead of other Canadian nationals and Afghans linked to Canada after the fall of Kabul have evoked interest on Raisina Hill. The reason is that explains some of the unexpected last-minute hurdles that the Indian evacuation mission faced in August 2021, exposing the Hindu and Sikh minorities to peril at the Kabul airport, according to people aware of the matter.

IAF's C-17 Globemaster was used for 2021 evacuation from Kabul
IAF’s C-17 Globemaster was used for 2021 evacuation from Kabul

It was ostensibly due to the unanticipated instructions of the Canadian Sikh minister, whose father was said to be on board of the World Sikh Organisation, that the Indian evacuation flight was delayed from Kabul airport, where chaos was unfolding after the fall of the Afghan capital to the Taliban on August 15, 2021, the people added. The report in Canada’s Globe & Mail last week said that Sajjan specifically relayed information about the immediate evacuation of Afghan Sikhs who were otherwise not on the Canadian military radar. To be sure, Sajjan, who is currently the minister of emergency preparedness in the Justin Trudeau cabinet, has denied the allegations.

Guru Granth Sahib from Kabul
Guru Granth Sahib from Kabul

According to highly placed government Indian officials who asked not to be named, the evacuation process of an Afghan Sikh group (the numbers vary from 22 to 40) from the Karte Parwan Gurdwara in Kabul to the airport was scheduled on August 20-21 night. The evacuation process under Operation Devi Shakti was complex as the bus carrying the evacuees had to be rolled out in a security convoy through heavily armed check posts manned by sundry militias, while the Kabul airport was under the control of the exiting US forces. During the operation, much to the chagrin of Indian officials manning operations from Delhi and the Kabul airport, instead of reaching the airport directly to board the IAF C-17 Globemaster aircraft to Delhi, the Afghan Sikh group deviated from the agreed plan and moved directly to the Canadian mission in Kabul. This, it now emerges, was because Harjit Sajjan had given instructions to the Karte Parwan group through a Canada-based Sikh NGO that the Afghan Sikhs would be taken to Canada. Simultaneously, instructions were also issued to Canadian Special Forces that Afghan Sikhs would have to be evacuated on priority over Canadian nationals and those Afghans who had helped Canada as part of occupation forces in Afghanistan.

With landing slots at a highest premium at the Kabul airport and a worsening security situation, the Indian missions in Delhi and Kabul were worried about the security of the Afghan Sikh group as it had not made it to the airport at the scheduled time and was incommunicado for over two hours. When Indian officials at airport enquired about the whereabouts of the Karte Parwan group, they were told that the Justin Trudeau government had given assurances to the Afghan-Sikh community that they would be evacuated to Canada from Kabul. This led to delay in the departure of the scheduled evacuation flight to Delhi as Indians awaited the arrival of the Karte Parwan group, putting the lives of other evacuees at high risk at a time when bullets, missiles and bombs were flying in Kabul.

However, to the dismay of the Sikh group, they could not be evacuated by the Trudeau government despite assurances, and this group again approached the Narendra Modi government for evacuation. The group, which included a former woman Afghan MP, was evacuated in a C-17 heavy lift aircraft on August 22, 2021, the officials cited in the second instance said.

Under Operation Devi Shakti, India evacuated a total of 669 people from Afghanistan including 206 Afghan Hindu and Sikh minority community members. The government operated a total of seven flights between August 16, 2021 and December 10, 2021 and also evacuated 15 foreign nationals on IAF aircraft operating from Delhi and the Ayni airbase in Tajikistan. On August 23, 2021, three copies (swaroops) of the holy Guru Granth Sahib were brought to India from gurdwaras in Kabul, and on December 10, 2021, two swaroops of the Sikh scripture as well as some ancient Hindu manuscripts were brought to India along with several Afghan Sikh and Hindu evacuees.

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