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India committed to speedy return of Rohingyas to Myanmar: Rajnath Singh

DHAKA, July 14: India on Saturday told Bangladesh that it was “committed to helping in the safe, speedy and sustainable return” of Rohingya Muslims to their homes in Myanmar while lauding the neighbouring country for addressing the security concerns of New Delhi.

Union home minister Rajnath Singh, who is on a three-day visit to the neighbouring country, told Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina that for return of Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar, India is working on a project to construct prefabricated housing in Rakhine State so as to meet the needs of the displaced persons.

“India will also continue to provide relief material and supplies to help Government of Bangladesh deal with the needs of those in the relief camps,” a government statement quoted Rajnath Singh as saying while calling on Hasina in Dhaka on Saturday.

More than six lakh Rohingya Muslims have taken shelter in Bangladesh following violence in Rakhine State in August last year.

Rajnath Singh and Sheikh Hasina noted that “much has been achieved by India and Bangladesh by working together to counter the menace of terrorism and radicalisation”. “They agreed that all countries in the region that are afflicted by this menace should proactively join hands to effectively tackle it. The home minister also thanked the Prime Minister for the cooperation extended by Bangladesh in addressing India’s security concerns,” said the statement.

Singh’s praise for Sheikh Hasina comes in the backdrop of upcoming elections in Bangladesh where the ruling Awami League party is always seen as more willing to address Indian security concerns than the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party of Begum Khalida Zia.

Singh along with his Bangladesh counterpart Asaduzzaman Khan inaugurated a state-of-the-art visa centre in Dhaka. The new centre is equipped with a range of modern facilities.

Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Harsh Vardhan Shringla told the media that “this is the largest Indian visa centre in the world and possibly the largest anywhere”. Bangladeshis constitute one of the largest numbers of visitors from a single country to India.

Singh and Khan also jointly inaugurated the Bangladesh-India Friendship Building at the Bangladesh Police Academy in Sardah of Rajshahi. The newly inaugurated facility incorporates state-of-the-art forensic laboratories, mock crime scenes, mock police station and IT centre with computer labs.

Nawaz Sharif, daughter arrested at Lahore airport

LAHORE, July 13: Ousted Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam were arrested on their arrival in Lahore on Friday night to face lengthy prison sentences in a move aimed at galvanising their beleaguered PML-N party ahead of the July 25 general elections.

After being detained within an Etihad Airways flight from Abu Dhabi by personnel from the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and Pakistan Rangers, Sharif and his daughter were put on a special flight to Islamabad in order to be moved to Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi.

The 68-year-old three-time premier and 44-year-old Maryam, his political heir, were sentenced in absentia for alleged corrupt practices linked to the acquisition of four apartments in London a week ago.

Sharif, who was ousted from the premier’s post by the Supreme Court in July last year for alleged corruption, was in London with Maryam to care for his wife Kulsoom, who is being treated for cancer and is in a coma.

The Etihad flight was boarded by the uniformed security personnel shortly after it landed at Lahore airport at 8.48pm and Sharif and his daughter were escorted to the terminal building. Instead of talking a car to the building, Sharif insisted on walking.

After clearing immigration, Sharif was formally arrested by a team from NAB. Local media reported that Sharif’s mother was at the airport to receive him and he was allowed to see her briefly.

Supporters of Sharif who accompanied him on the flight shouted slogans in his favour but were not allowed to disembark from the plane. The Pakistan Rangers encircled Sharif and his daughter and brought them out of the aircraft amid tight security. Other passengers were allowed to leave the aircraft only after their departure.

Sharif and Maryam were convicted by an accountability, or anti-corruption, court in what has come to be known as the Avenfield Apartments case and given jail terms of 10 and seven years respectively. Sharif was found guilty of owning assets beyond his known sources of income and Maryam was convicted of aiding and abetting her father in covering up a “conspiracy”.

Tens of thousands of supporters of Sharif, including some in a convoy led by his younger brother, former Punjab chief minister Shehbaz Sharif, were unable to meet the leader as the Pakistan Rangers had taken control of the airport and sealed the building. A number of flights were delayed due to the operation. The PML-N (Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz) workers joined rallies despite a ban on public gatherings.

Apart from placing empty truck containers, the caretaker government of Punjab province blocked several key roads in Lahore and suspended mobile phone services as a security measure.

Local TV channels were not allowed to provide live coverage of Sharif’s return. Several journalists said on social media that they were prevented from airing interviews with Sharif or special programmes on his return.

Shehbaz Sharif, whose caravan had gathered at Lohari Gate, led the main welcoming rally to the airport. However, his convoy was unable to make it to the airport by the time Sharif’s flight landed.

Earlier, when his flight from Abu Dhabi to Lahore was delayed, Sharif wondered how a flight “that is never late” had been delayed and urged people to “think about who delayed this flight and why”. Asked if he believed returning to Pakistan in the current “tense” circumstances is a good idea, Sharif said he knew what the situation in the country is like.

“I know I have been handed a 10-year sentence and Maryam has been given seven years in jail, but we are returning because this country’s fate needs to change — we need to change it,” he said in a hastily arranged news conference that was conducted over phone as journalists were barred from meeting him at Abu Dhabi airport.

“The media also needs be brave and take a stand in the face of it all,” Sharif said, adding the media’s freedom is being curbed because “they see this nation has risen and the media is rising and they are afraid. Why else would they do all this?”

He added, “What is happening in this country today, what is happening in Lahore, raises questions regarding the elections. No other province is facing the situation we see in Lahore – hundreds of our party workers have been arrested, people are being pressured into switching loyalties. All of this raises a question mark on the credibility of the election.

“I am not afraid of being arrested. If I was, would I be coming back?...I am ready for it,” Sharif said.

The return of Sharif could shake up an election campaign marred by accusations that Pakistan’s military is working behind the scenes to skew the contest in favour of cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan.

Even PML-N’s rival, the Pakistan People’s Party, criticised the crackdown, with its leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari questioning why Sharif’s supporters were being prevented from gathering. “Why is Lahore under siege? Right to peaceful protest is fundamental for democracy,” he tweeted.

Sharif has accused the military of aiding a “judicial witch-hunt” against him and the PML-N. The party’s five years in power has been punctuated by civil-military discord. The military, which has denied interfering in politics, plans to deploy 371,000 troops at polling stations for “free and fair” elections.

In a video message tweeted by Maryam, Sharif urged his followers to stand with him when he arrives and “change the fate of the country”. He said: “The country is at a critical juncture right now. I have done what I could. I am aware that I have been sentenced to 10 years and I will be taken to a jail cell straight away — but I want the Pakistani nation to know that I am doing this for you.”

Ahead of arrest, photo of Nawaz Sharif with ailing wife Kulsoom evokes sympathy in Pakistan

LONDON, July 13: A photograph of former Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter, Maryam, visiting Begum Kulsoom Nawaz – his ailing wife – in a London hospital has struck a chord with many netizens in the country ahead of their imminent arrest upon arrival in Lahore.

Sharif and Maryam are expected to land at Lahore’s Allama Iqbal International Airport around 6.15 pm on Friday.

The image, tweeted by a Pakistani journalist, shows Sharif keeping his hand on Kulsoom’s forehead even as Maryam weeps in the backdrop. “This picture will haunt many in the future,” the caption of the photograph, which was later retweeted by Maryam, read.

The former premier’s wife, being treated at the Harley Street Clinic, had been in a comatic state for over a month. The photograph evoked sympathy among netizens in the country even as the country’s administration prepared to arrest Sharif and his daughter “as soon as they enter Pakistani territory”. Some even claimed that the image showcased the “ugliest face of the Pakistani establishment in a hundred years”.

On July 6, Sharif was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment and fined eight million pounds by an Islamabad court over the alleged purchase of high-end properties in London. Maryam, on the other hand, was sentenced to seven years in jail and fined two million pounds by the accountability court.

However, the premier remained defiant in the face of his tribulations. “Despite seeing the bars of prison in front of my eyes, I am going to Pakistan,” he said at a conference held by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party in London before leaving for the airport. “Put Nawaz Sharif in prison for life, send him to the gallows, but you will have to answer the questions that the people of Pakistan are asking.”

According to an AFP report, his supporters responded with cries of “Nawaz Sharif, we love you!”

However, bad as things may be for Sharif’s family, there still appears to be a silver lining. ANI reported Kulsoom’s son, Hussain Nawaz, as stating that she had finally opened her eyes after over a month.

“My mother has opened her eyes after exactly one month. I don’t have anything else to share. Her sedatives were being reduced,” said Hussain, requesting the people to remember her in their prayers.

133 killed in suicide bombing at Pakistan election rally

ISLAMABAD, July 13: At least 133 people, including a political leader, were killed and nearly 300 more injured in two separate bombings targeting political rallies in Pakistan on Friday, raising security fears ahead of the general elections on July 25.

A suicide bomber detonated in the middle of a gathering of the Balochistan Awami Party in Mastung town, close to the provincial capital of Quetta, killing 128 people, including party leader Siraj Raisani, and wounding some 270 more.

The meeting was organised by Raisani, a candidate in elections to the Balochistan assembly and the younger brother of former chief minister Aslam Raisani. He succumbed to his injuries while being shifted to Quetta.

Provincial home minister Agha Umar Bangulzai told the media the death toll has “risen to 128”. Officials said 20kg of explosives and ball bearings were used in the attack.

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack through its Amaq agency, saying it was carried out by a Pakistani militant. The terror group has carried out several suicide bombings in Balochistan.

Siraj Raisani had been chief of the secular Balochistan Muttahida Mahaz (BMM), formed by Ghous Bakhsh Raisani in the 1970s, till June. He recently merged the BMM with the newly formed BAP.

The attack in Mastung came hours after five people were killed and 39 more injured when a bomb hidden in a motorcycle went off near a rally by Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) candidate Akram Khan Durrani at Bannu in northwestern Khyber-Paktunkhwa province.

Durrani survived the attack, police said, and no group claimed responsibility. Durrani, a former chief minister who is contesting against Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf chief Imran Khan, said he would continue his campaign despite threats.

In a video message, Durrani said this was second attack targeting him. “We are intimated that there are threats but we remain unaware about the forces that have threatened us. There were media reports that I am unsafe, I would like to ask media if they know about the threats, then please reveal the identity of those behind the threats,” he said.

Condemning the attack on Durrani, caretaker interior minister Azam Khan said the interim government will not allow the polls to be sabotaged. “Extremist elements are trying to disrupt the election process. We will not be deterred by militants,” he said.

On Tuesday night, a suicide bombing claimed by the Pakistani Taliban targeted a rally by the Awami National Party (ANP) in Peshawar city. ANP leader Haroon Bilour was among the 22 killed.

Following the recent attacks, activists called for authorities to remain vigilant to protect candidates during the final days of the campaign.

“The Pakistani authorities have a duty to protect the rights of all Pakistanis during this election period – their physical security and their ability to express their political views freely, regardless of which party they belong to,” said Omar Waraich, deputy South Asia director at Amnesty International.

The military has warned of security fears in the run-up to the tense election and said it will deploy more than 371,000 soldiers on polling day.

Iran says remark on Chabahar port misquoted, tells India it is flexible on oil supply

NEW DELHI, July 11: Iran on Wednesday said it will continue to be a reliable energy partner for India and adopt a flexible approach to ensuring secure oil supplies. At the same time, however, a statement issued by the Iranian embassy underscored the need for India to expedite its investments and to push partner companies to accelerate the execution of projects linked to the development of the strategic Chabahar port.

The statement came a a day after Iran’s charge d’affaires Massoud Rezvanian Rahaghi was quoted as telling a seminar in New Delhi that India had not fulfilled its promise of making investments in Chabahar and that New Delhi stands to lose “privileges” if it cuts imports of Iranian oil due to pressure from the United States.

The statement clarified that Rahaghi had been misquoted and said: “Iran understands the difficulties of India in dealing with the unstable energy market and it has done and will do its best to ensure security of oil supply to India through offering various flexibility measures which facilitates our bilateral trade in particular Indian export to Iran.”

It added: “Iran has always been a reliable energy partner for India and others, seeking a balanced oil market and rational prices of oil which ensures the interests of both…consumer and supplier.”

Without referring to the Trump administration’s threat to cut Iranian oil imports to zero by November 4 or face sanctions, the statement said India is a sovereign nation that would choose energy partners on the basis of criteria such as “friendly relations with supplier countries, market factors, geopolitical and geo-economical considerations and potentials and reliability of oil suppliers”.

The statement acknowledged that Tehran has been pushing New Delhi to speed up work on Chabahar port and a related transit corridor to Afghanistan comprising rail and road links. “Iran has always welcomed Indian initiatives, however, due to the importance of the issue, Iran has frequently emphasised on expediting Indian investment, and pushing Indian partner companies to accelerate their engagement in execution of the projects,” it said.

Referring to earlier reports that Iran could do away with special privileges if India cut its oil imports, former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Oman and the UAE, Talmiz Ahmad, said this appeared to be “posturing”.

“I would rather not take it seriously. This is not a decision which a diplomat can take. These are very high level decisions. I do not believe any country is going to take an aggressive posture,” he said in Hyderabad.

Iran is India’s third-largest oil supplier after Iraq and Saudi Arabia. The country supplied 18.4 million tonnes of crude oil between April 2017 and January 2018, but latest figures showed India’s oil imports had declined by 15.9% in June, the first month after the US said it would reimpose sanctions.

In June, India imported 592,800 barrels per day (bpd) of oil from Iran, compared to 705,200 bpd in May, the data showed.

Rescued Thai boys better, shows first photo

Chiang Rai (Thailand), July 11: The first pictures and a video of the Thai boys rescued from a flooded cave after 17 days were released on Wednesday, showing them smiling and waving from their hospital beds, looking thin but fine after an ordeal that has gripped the world.

The last group of the 12-member “Wild Boars” soccer team and their coach was brought out of the Tham Luang cave, near the border with Myanmar, on Tuesday night, safely ending a dangerous rescue and evoking international relief and joy.

Rescue mission chief Narongsak Osottanakorn told a news conference the boys were just being children when they got lost and no one was to blame.

“We don’t see the children as at fault or as heroes. They are children being children, it was an accident,” Narongsak said.

A video of the boys in hospital was shown at the news conference. Some of them, wearing surgical masks, lay on their beds. Some sat and made the “peace sign” gesture for the camera.

None of the boys was heard speaking in the clips shown at the news conference.

The 12 boys and their soccer coach lost an average of 2 kg (4.4 lb) during their ordeal but were generally in good condition and showed no signs of stress, a senior health official said earlier.

After being brought out of the cave, one by one beginning on Sunday, they were taken by helicopter to hospital in the town of Chiang Rai, about 70 km (45 miles) away, to stay in quarantine.

The boys would have to stay in hospital for up to 10 days, hospital director Chaiwetch Thanapaisal told the news conference. They would then need to recuperate at home for 30 days, he said.

Parents of the first eight boys freed have been able to visit them but had to wear protective suits and stand 2 metres (7 feet) away as a precaution. Authorities are worried about the possibility of infections picked up in the cave.

Thongchai Lertwilairattanapong, a health department inspector, earlier told reporters one from the last group rescued on Tuesday had a lung infection and they were all given vaccinations for rabies and tetanus.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha asked that the boys be given time to recover.

“The important thing is ... personal space,” Prayuth told reporters. “The best way is not to bother them and let them study.”

The group ventured into the vast cave complex in the northern province of Chiang Rai after soccer practice on June 23 and were trapped when a rainy season downpour flooded tunnels.

They were lost for nine days before British rescue divers discovered them on July 2, sitting on a ledge in a half-flooded chamber.

Getting them out - which involved teaching boys as young as 11 who were not strong swimmers to dive through narrow, submerged passages - proved a monumental challenge.

A former member of Thailand’s navy SEAL unit died during a mission in the cave on Friday.

Narongsak, giving details of the rescue, said falling oxygen levels inside the cave complex had added a sense of urgency.

The commander of the navy SEAL unit that oversaw the rescue, Rear Admiral Apakorn Yuukongkaew, hailed the international effort.

“We are not heroes. This mission was successful because of cooperation from everyone,” he said. “For SEALs, this is what we were trained for. The navy has a motto: ‘We don’t abandon the people’.

Official help came from Britain, the United States, Japan, Laos, Myanmar, China and Australia, a government document showed. There were volunteers from Denmark, Germany, Belgium, Canada, Ukraine and Finland.

The rescue has dominated front-page headlines in Thailand and beyond for days.

“Hooyah! Mission accomplished,” read one headline, echoing the rallying cry of the SEAL unit.

The hashtag #Hooyah was hugely popular on social media with people showing their support for the hundreds of rescuers, including divers from around the world, who helped to get the boys out.

The fate of the boys has even resonated as far as Russia, where soccer’s World Cup is reaching its final stages. Players from France and England welcomed news of the rescue and sent their best wishes to the “Wild Boars” on Twitter.

“This victory goes to the heroes of the day, well done boys, you are so strong,” French midfielder Paul Pogba tweeted after his team beat Belgium 1-0 on Tuesday to reach the final.

Manchester City and England defender Kyle Walker, whose team faces Croatia in the second semi-final later on Wednesday, said he wanted to send shirts to the boys.

“Amazing news that all of the Thai kids are out of the cave safely!” Walker tweeted.

A Google search on Tuesday for the words “Thai cave rescue” revealed 359 million results.

India, South Korea sign 11 pacts; To double trade to $50 billion

NEW DELHI, July 10: India and South Korea signed 11 agreements on Tuesday to expand business ties and more than double mutual trade to $50 billion by 2030, a day after the premiers of the two countries launched a Samsung mobile phone factory near Delhi.

Major South Korean companies including Samsung and Hyundai Motor Co are household names across India, one of the world's fastest growing markets, and visiting South Korean President Moon Jae-in said he hoped that smaller companies from his country could replicate that success.

"Going forward I hope that more Korean companies will invest in India so that the foundation for mutual prosperity can be further expanded," Moon said after meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the third day of his four-day visit.

Bilateral trade between the world's seventh and 11th largest economies rose by nearly a quarter to $20.8 billion in the 2017/18 fiscal year that ended in March, with $16.4 billion of that in favour of South Korea.

The agreements signed between the countries included accelerating negotiations to upgrade a 'comprehensive economic partnership agreement' signed in 2009, as well as expand cooperation in railways, healthcare, telecommunications and cyber security.

They also agreed to explore tripartite partnership for development in third countries, beginning with capacity building programmes in Afghanistan. India already has close ties with Afghanistan and is helping to rebuild the war-ravaged country.

Moon and Modi on Monday formally opened a new Samsung factory on the outskirts of Delhi which the company called the world's biggest mobile phone manufacturing plant.

The plant's inauguration comes at a time when Modi, who faces an election next year, is trying to create new jobs for millions of Indians who join the workforce every year.

In an apparent endorsement of Modi's electoral prospects, Moon said he would eagerly await the Indian leader's visit to South Korea in 2020.

Modi, in turn, credited Moon for South Korea's peace breakthrough with North Korea and offered India's support in taking that forward.

Samsung goes big in India with 'world's largest mobile factory'

NEW DELHI, July 9: Samsung is doubling down on India's soaring demand for smartphones by opening "the world's largest mobile factory." South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi formally opened the company's expanded manufacturing plant in Nodia, about an hour outside New Delhi, on Monday.

Built on 32 acres of land next to Samsung's (SSNLF) original factory in India, the plant will allow the South Korean firm to nearly double the number of smartphones it makes in India every year from 68 million to 120 million by 2020.

Samsung India CEO HC Hong described the factory as a "symbol of Samsung's strong commitment to India and a shining example of the success of the government's 'Make in India' program," referring to Modi's initiative to encourage global companies to invest in manufacturing operations in the country.

Until six months ago, Samsung was the top smartphone seller in India but it was overtaken by Xiaomi — the Chinese rival that just went public in Hong Kong — at the end of 2017.

Samsung announced the expansion of its plant a year ago as part of a $715 million investment in India.

Xiaomi is also building up its presence in India, where its cheaper devices have appealed to price-conscious consumers. It recently tripled its Indian manufacturing base by adding four smartphone plants in the country.

It now has a total of six factories that it says can produce two smartphones every second.

Samsung hopes the smartphones it makes in India will be sold locally and in other markets around the world.

"We trust that with Korean technology and Indian manufacturing, we will produce the best products of the world," Prime Minister Modi said. "This [plant] is a big step in the direction of making India a hub of world manufacturing."

India has more than 300 million smartphone users, making it the world's second-largest market for the devices behind China.

And roughly two thirds of the country's 1.3 billion people still don't have access to the internet. Many of them are expected to get online via smartphones as mobile data prices have tumbled following a price war started by India's richest man.

Taiwan asks India to stand against 'bully' China

Row over Air India changing ‘Taiwan’ to 'Chinese Taipei'

By Deepak Arora

Taiwan Ambassador Chung Kwang TienNEW DELHI, July 5: Taipei Economic and Cultural Center in India (TECC) has expressed its deep disappointment with Air India changing “Taiwan” into “Chinese Taipei” on its website and regrets that this move taken by Air India, a state-owned airline, can be seen as a gesture of succumbing to the unreasonable and absurd pressure from China.

TECC Representative Ambassador Chung Kwang Tien calls on Air India to stand up against the unreasonable demand from the government of People’s Republic of China and promptly restore the name of “Taiwan” on its official website.

Ambassador Tien stresses the need of consultation with TECC if Air India would choose to change the name of “Taiwan” on its website and hopes the Indian government can provide firm support to its public services and private businesses to defend themselves from a foreign country’s bully actions.

The TECC has lodged a formal note concerning against the change to the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India and is currently waiting for the MEA’s official response. It is afraid that if such politically motivated bully actions are let prevail, people’s freedom in doing business and in their expression of opinion may be undermined; therefore, free and democratic nations should work together to protect their common values and interests, added Ambassador Tien.

At a Ministry of External Affairs briefing, spokesperson Raveesh Kumar defended the renaming, saying that it was “consistent with international aviation norms and with New Delhi’s position since 1949,” when New Delhi publicly accepted Beijing’s “One China” policy, which bars the recognition of Taiwan –and Tibet- as separate entities.

Air India does not have any direct flights to 'Chinese Taipei', but it has a codeshare with Air China, which is why it is listed on its website.

"On April 25, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) had formally asked 44 foreign airlines to change how Taiwan is described on their websites."

The CAAC said the airlines must comply with their demand before June 24, or face punitive action from the "relevant cyber-security authorities."

Taiwanese media slammed India’s decision, describing it as “kowtowing” to Beijing. The only airlines which have not followed China’s diktat are American Airlines, Delta, United Airlines, Asiana Airlines, Korean Air, and Vietnam Airlines.

The US had rubbished China’s instructions, with the White House saying it was nothing more than “this is Orwellian nonsense and part of a growing trend by the Chinese Communist Party to impose its political views on American citizens and private companies." American airlines continue to call it Taiwan.

‘Leave for India or convert to Islam’: Afghanistan’s Sikhs weigh future after IS terror attack

KABUL, July 2: Many among Afghanistan’s dwindling Sikh minority are considering leaving for neighbouring India, after a suicide bombing in the eastern city of Jalalabad on Sunday killed at least 13 members of the community.

The victims of the attack claimed by militant group Islamic State included Avtar Singh Khalsa, the only Sikh candidate in parliamentary elections this October, and Rawail Singh, a prominent community activist.

“I am clear that we cannot live here anymore,” said Tejvir Singh, 35, whose uncle was killed in the blast.

“Our religious practices will not be tolerated by the Islamic terrorists. We are Afghans. The government recognises us, but terrorists target us because we are not Muslims,” added Singh, the secretary of a national panel of Hindus and Sikhs.

The Sikh community now numbers fewer than 300 families in Afghanistan, which has only two gurdwaras, or places of worship, one each in Jalalabad and Kabul, the capital, Singh added.

Although almost entirely a Muslim country, Afghanistan was home to as many as 250,000 Sikhs and Hindus before a devastating civil war in the 1990s.

Even a decade ago, the US State Department said in a report, about 3,000 Sikhs and Hindus still lived there.

Despite official political representation and freedom of worship, many face prejudice and harassment as well as violence from militant Islamist groups, prompting thousands to move to India, their spiritual homeland.

Following the Jalalabad attack, some Sikhs have sought shelter at the city’s Indian consulate.

“We are left with two choices: to leave for India or to convert to Islam,” said Baldev Singh, who owns a book- and textile shop in Jalalabad.

India has issued long-term visas to members of Afghanistan’s Sikh and Hindu communities.

“They can all live in India without any limitation,” said Vinay Kumar, India’s ambassador to Afghanistan. “The final call has to be taken by them. We are here to assist them.”

Kumar, who was in the Indian capital, New Delhi, to discuss the security situation, said the government was helping organise the last rites of Sikhs killed in the blast.

But other Sikhs, with land or businesses and no ties to India, say they do not plan to leave, as Afghanistan remains their country. India has offered to take the dead bodies, but at least nine were cremated according to Sikh rites in Jalalabad.

“We are not cowards,” said Sandeep Singh, a Sikh shopkeeper in Kabul. “Afghanistan is our country and we are not leaving anywhere.”

The attack targeted “Afghanistan’s multicultural fabric”, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Monday. He is expected to hold a meeting to discuss the security threats to Indian and religious minorities.

India, a longstanding ally of Afghanistan, has invested in several large development projects, but heightened security risks have prompted its companies to cut back operations.

The two countries’ officials have not been able to free seven Indian engineers kidnapped in May in the northern province of Baghlan.

 
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