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Taliban promises to return land ‘usurped by warlords’ – media

Hindu and Sikh minorities are being encouraged to return to Afghanistan as the new regime tries to improve ties with New Delhi

The Taliban has started the process of returning properties “usurped by warlords during the former regime” to Hindus and Sikhs, who were displaced during the prolonged conflict in Afghanistan, The Hindu newspaper has reported, citing a senior official of the Islamist group.

Suhail Shaheen, head of the political office of the Taliban, told the newspaper that the group had set up a commission to facilitate the return of minority communities who played a “historic role” in the country’s economy. The commission’s work is being overseen by the Taliban’s minister for justice.

He referred to the recent return of Narender Singh Khalsa, a prominent member of the Afghan Sikh community and a former member of the national parliament that was dissolved by the Taliban. Khalsa was evacuated from Kabul by the Indian Air Force in August 2021. He initially took refuge in Canada, but has recently returned to Afghanistan following an initiative by the Taliban, the report said.

The Taliban took power in Kabul in 2021 during the final stage of the withdrawal of US troops from the country. Afghanistan’s new government, however, is not officially recognized by any nation. The UN also does not recognize the group’s authority over Afghanistan.

In February, the Taliban boycotted a UN-sponsored conference in Qatar, insisting that their delegation should be recognized as the sole representatives of Afghanistan.

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Taliban supporters hold a parade to mark two years since the group's return to power, August 15, 2023, Kabul, Afghanistan.
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Sikhs and Hindus, who trace their origins to India, historically represented about 1% of Afghanistan’s population. However, they were displaced in the 1970s and 1980s amid political turmoil and the Soviet-Afghan war. Large numbers of Sikhs and Hindus also left Afghanistan after the Taliban overthrew the government of President Ashraf Ghani.

Last year, a report on the US-state-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty claimed that Sikhs and Hindus had faced severe restrictions since the Taliban takeover. The report claimed that their appearance was being monitored and they were prohibited from celebrating religious holidays, prompting some to flee the country. In 2018, 19 people, most of them Sikhs, were killed in a suicide attack in Jalalabad. The Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP), the Afghan branch of the Islamic State terrorist group, claimed responsibility for the act.

While New Delhi does not recognize the Taliban government, it re-established its diplomatic presence in Kabul in June 2022 by deploying a “technical team” in its embassy.

In January, an Indian delegation participated in a ‘Regional Cooperation Initiative’ meeting in Kabul held by the Taliban. In March, senior Indian diplomat J P Singh held talks with Taliban’s acting foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi. The two sides discussed security, trade and ways to counter the drug trade, according to an Afghan statement. Singh also noted India’s interest in expanding economic cooperation with Afghanistan, and enhancing trade through Chabahar port, the statement added.

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