ISIS has sent a clear message: Afghanistan is no place for minority faiths. And just to make sure that there is no misunderstanding on this front, the terror outfit targeted a peace delegation comprising mostly Sikhs and Hindus, as it made its way to a meeting with President Ashraf Ghani in Jalalabad over the weekend. To be sure, this was as cowardly an act as it was brutal. The attack left some 19 dead and up to 20 injured. Among the fatalities was Avtar Singh Khalsa; the country’s lone Sikh candidate in the upcoming parliamentary elections in October. The community is still coming to terms with this loss. Not least because Khalsa, having been appointed to the Senate by the previous Karzai administration, was sincere in his commitment to the democratic process. The fallout of this latest violence has been to polarise both the Sikh and Hindu communities. At least in terms of whether they stay or go. Though many say that this is a crude choice at best; one between converting to Islam or being slaughtered. And the biggest tragedy of all is that Afghanistan is their home. It does not belong to ISIS. Indeed, the latter is just the latest in a long line of actors whose territorial-cum-political ambitions have persecuted the most vulnerable during decades and decades of warfare. Or put another way, some forty years ago, estimates put the number of Sikh families in Afghanistan at around 65,000; as compared to the present figure of 800. We categorically condemn Sunday’s attack on men of peace. We are also mindful of the lessons to be learned by Pakistan at a time when proscribed outfits with a decidedly sectarian and anti-minority hue are eyeing this month’s ballots. In short, no good can come of it. Even if some of the militant groups are being strategically patronised on a possible one-point agenda of undercutting the PMLN vote bank. For what happens once ballot-boxing is over? The very real risk is that this country will succumb to bloody turf wars. After all, those who court such outfits have not always enjoyed the best record when it comes to ensuring the latter only hear their master’s voice. Neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan will truly prosper unless and until the two countries are able to offer fully-fledged security guarantees and legislative protection to their respective minorities; be they Muslim or non-Muslim. For the objective here must be religious and ethnic pluralism as a starting point. As an opening offer in the renegotiation of the social contract between state and citizenry. And if this means revisiting certain man-made constitutional clauses, then so be it. Because any nation that is forced to stand by as its minorities have to quite literally flee for their lives is, in our book, is a state rapidly descending into gross injustice. * Published in Daily Times, July 4th 2018.