Despite deep roots, Pakistani Sikh community faces fresh wave of Taliban attacks
Pakistan is mourning the death of Charanjit Singh, a beacon of interfaith harmony who was gunned down on Tuesday in broad-daylight in the heart of Peshawar, provincial capital of country’s Khyber Paktoonkhaw province.
Bone-chilling murder of a minority Sikh human rights activist has caused uproar in Pakistan highlighting the government’s failure to protect its minorities. Unfortunately, this is not the first attack of its kind and going by the recent pattern, the community continues to be a target of such attacks.
Quoting eye witnesses, police said gunmen riding on a motorcycle forced their entry into a grocery shop and killed the owner of the shop and fled from the scene.
Police identified the deceased as Charanjit Singh, 52, a well-known human rights activist and member of the country’s minority Sikh community. Motives behind the murder is not yet known. Singh’s killing has sparked countrywide protests attended by the minorities, members of civil society and students.
A police source said deceased was an outspoken critic of the Taliban and militant groups and a die-hard supporter of Pakistan military, which has recently quelled militancy from country’s tribal areas bordering the porous Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
“We are investigating the case. Will share finding with media after probe concludes,” Shaukat Khan, city police chief told Al-Arabiya English. Pakistan’s minorities are experiencing another wave of fear and terror following the murder.
Deceased’s family had moved to Peshawar city a couple of decades ago from Pakistan’s tribal areas bordering Iran and Afghanistan after al-Qaeda backed Taliban and other militant groups went on a rampage there.
In 2013-14, as many as 500 Sikh families had migrated from tribal areas to Peshawar considering it relatively a safe place.
Friends and relatives say Charanjit Singh was a vocal supporter of Pakistani military’s efforts to crackdown on extremists, which may have prompted them to carry out attack. Thousands attended Charanjit’s funeral held on Wednesday.
Members of the civil society and peaceful yet emotional Sikh community members protested against Singh’s murder demanding government to take steps to ensure protection for minorities.
Protesters also urged the government to form a judicial commission to probe Singh’s murder and bring the culprits to justice. “Protection of citizens is the prime responsibility of the state institutions. It must ensure it at any cast,” Bhagal Singh, deceased’s close relative said.
This was the second high profile attack on a prominent Sikh personality in Pakistan. In April 2016, gunmen killed Sardar Soran Singh, provincial Minister for Minorities Affair. Singh, 46, was the first Sikh in the Khyber Paktoonkhaw Provincial Assembly and an advocate of interfaith-harmony.
Police record shows as many as eight prominent members of the Sikh community have been killed in act of target killings in Pakistan’s Khyber Paktoonkhaw since 2013.
In February 2010, Pakistani Taliban kidnapped and killed two members of the Sikh community. Police found one dead body from Khyber tribal region, located a short distance from the provincial capital of Peshawar, while another body was found in the Aurakzai Agency.
Traders and businessmen
Peshawar is home to most of the country’s little over 40,000 strong Sikh community. Sadly, this small community has been the target of militant organizations for last few years.
Most of the Sikh businessmen have shops in Peshawar’s Scheem Chowk area where Sikh traders and businessmen are feeling terrorized following Charanjit’s murder. ”Every time someone walks into my shop, I prepare for the worst as I don’t know if it’s a customer or an assailant,” Sardar Lal Singh told this correspondent.
People like Sardar Singh believe government and security agencies have abandoned them. Yet they don’t imagine migrating. Sikhs see Pakistan as the place where their religion took roots. The founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak, was born in 1469 in a small village near Lahore.
The 500-year-old religion was founded in what is now part of Pakistan, a Muslim-majority country of nearly 200 million people. Most Sikhs had migrated to India post-partition but keep visiting Pakistan each year for pilgrimage.
An annual report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) revealed on Tuesday that banned outfits are targeting minorities in Pakistan.
“In 2017, religious minorities in Pakistan, including Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Ahmadis…continued to face attacks and discrimination from extremist groups and society at large,” the report states, adding that as many as 231 people were killed and 691 injured in such incidents in Pakistan last year.
In December 2017, the State Department named Pakistan as the first, and only country on its “Special Watch List,” a new category created by December 2016 amendments to IRFA.
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