Afghan Sikh men carry the coffin of a bombing victim in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, July 2, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters

The two headlines could not have been more jarring.

“Casualties drop by half last month compared to June 2017,” the nongovernmental Afghan Civilian Protection Advocacy Group reported on July 1, a decline attributed to overlapping unilateral ceasefires by the Afghan government and the Taliban.

“Suicide Attack Targets Sikhs in Jalalabad,” screamed a headline just hours later, a story that documented a devastating suicide bombing that killed 19 people. Among the dead was Avtar Singh, the only Sikh candidate for the October parliamentary elections; another prominent Sikh civil society activist; and other Hindus and Sikhs from among Afghanistan’s smallest minority communities.

Although Sikhs and Hindus have lived in Afghanistan for centuries, the vast majority have left in recent decades, fleeing endless armed conflict and rising intolerance. Their communities shrunk from about 220,000 in the 1980s to 15,000 after 1992. As of 2018, only about 1,350 remain in Afghanistan. “It is over for us, we are finished, they have massacred us,” the relative of one of those killed said.

The Jalalabad attack was the latest in what has already been a bloody run-up to the elections. Both the Taliban and the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP) have attacked voter registration centers. The Taliban have threatened and abducted election staff members in Ghor and Jawzjan. In the bloodiest attack, claimed by the ISKP, suicide bombers killed at least 60 and injured 138 at a voter registration center in Kabul.

The Taliban and government ceasefires only overlapped for three days, during which unprecedented scenes of Afghan soldiers and police and Taliban members taking selfies, sharing in Eid prayers, and feasting together circulated widely in the media. But the unexpected camaraderie set off alarm bells for the Taliban leadership, who feared losing control of their fighters, and hastily called them back to their proverbial trenches as soon as the three days were up.

For Afghans, the brief ceasefire lull may seem like a mirage now. With less than four months to go before the elections, Afghan civilians can be expected to pay the highest price.