Punjabis in Afghanistan

Punjabis in Afghanistan were residents of Afghanistan who were of Punjabi ancestry. There was historically a small Punjabi community in the country, mainly consisting of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus.[3]

Punjabis in Afghanistan
Total population
Regions with significant populations
Kabul and other regions
Pashto · Dari · Punjabi
Sikhism · Hinduism
Related ethnic groups
Punjabi diaspora


Punjab lies to the east of the Pashtun region and has shared borders with Afghanistan at various points in history.[4] For several centuries, dynasties centered in modern Afghanistan expanded towards Punjab, such as the Kushans, Kidarites, Hephthalites, Ghaznavids, Ghurids, Khaljis and Durranis. Other kingdoms common to both regions include the Indo-Scythians, Indo-Parthians and Kabul Shahis. In his 1857 review of J.W. Kaye's The Afghan War, Friedrich Engels describes Afghanistan as "an extensive country of Asia" which "formerly included... a considerable part of the Punjab."[5] In the 19th century, the Sikh Empire originating in Punjab made a series of incursions towards the Afghan frontiers, capturing large swathes of territories to the Khyber Pass.

Afghan Sikh history is considered to stretch back 200 to 500 years.[6][7] Not all Sikhs are of Punjabi origin however; a small minority include locals whose ancestors adopted Sikhism during Guru Nanak's 15th century expeditions to Kabul.[7] In the 18th century, Hindu Khatri merchants from Punjab settled in Afghanistan and dominated regional trade.[8][9] The Sikh and Hindu population in Afghanistan may have numbered as much as 250,000 in the 1940s.[7] Both communities were particularly well-represented in business and government positions. The reign of Zahir Shah was considered prosperous.[7] Some of them were wealthy landowners.[10] In 1947, some Sikhs from Potohar in northern Punjab arrived in Afghanistan while fleeing violence during the partition of India.[7]


The population of Punjabi Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan stood up to 100,000 prior to the 1990s.[10] The Soviet invasion in 1979 and the ensuing Afghan civil wars sparked a mass exodus and the community declined drastically. Most migrated to Pakistan or India, while others resettled in North America and Europe.[11] The current population is around 3,000.[6][3] The majority live in Kabul.[9] During the Taliban regime, Sikhs and Hindus were forced to wear yellow arm bands for identification as well as hang yellow flags over their homes.[6] Some discrimination still persists as they are often barred from government jobs, viewed as immigrants or threatened for ransom because they are considered rich.[7]


Most of the Afghan Sikhs and Hindus adopted Afghan customs and assimilated into the local culture, speaking Pashto or Dari.[7] However, Punjabi is still spoken by some at home.[10] There have been efforts to teach Punjabi to the younger generation, as it is also the language of Sikh religious texts.[9] The Afghan government opened two Punjabi schools in Kabul and Jalalabad, facilitating the Sikh community.[3]

Notable people

  • Anarkali Kaur Honaryar, Afghan politician and women right's activist[3]
  • Awtar Singh, Afghan politician[12]

See also


  1. "Solidarity for Sikhs after Afghanistan massacre". www.aljazeera.com. Retrieved 2020-03-27.
  2. "Country Policy and Information Note Afghanistan: Sikhs and Hindus/" (PDF). Retrieved 2020-03-27.
  3. "Population of Sikhs, Hindus declined drastically in Afghan: MP". Business Standard. 30 July 2013. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  4. Effendi, M.Y. (2007). Punjab Cavalry: Evolution, Role, Organisation and Tactical Doctrine 11 Cavalry, Frontier Force, 1849-1971. Oxford University Press. p. 30. ISBN 9780195472035. Before 1894, the Afghan border ran along the boundary of the trans-Indus frontier districts, formerly occupied by the Sikhs, and was virtually defined by the extreme limits of the Indus plain's westward extension.
  5. Friedrich Engels (1857). "Afghanistan". Andy Blunden. The New American Cyclopaedia, Vol. I. Retrieved August 25, 2010. The principal cities of Afghanistan are Kabul, the capital, Ghuznee, Peshawer, and Kandahar.
  6. "Afghanistan's Sikhs face an uncertain future". Al Jazeera. 24 February 2014. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  7. "Explainer: who are the Afghan Sikhs?". The Conversation. 21 August 2014. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  8. McLane, John R. (2002). Land and Local Kingship in Eighteenth-Century Bengal. Cambridge University Press. p. 131. ISBN 9780521526548.
  9. Stancati, Margherita; Amiri, Ehsanullah (12 January 2015). "Facing Intolerance, Many Sikhs and Hindus Leave Afghanistan". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  10. "Feeling alienated, Sikhs choose to leave Afghanistan". The Hindu. 10 June 2015. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  11. Manchanda, Rita (2010). States in Conflict with Their Minorities: Challenges to Minority Rights in South Asia. SAGE Publications India. p. 182. ISBN 9788132105985.
  12. "Awtar Singh Khalsa: 'They Gave the Hindus and Sikhs a place for rubbish disposal as a Place to Live'". Huffington Post. 27 March 2014. Retrieved 28 July 2016.

Further reading

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