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Seven Decades after Partition: Sikhs in Pakistan Struggle amid Bombings and Violence

Sikhs in Pakistan have been looking to leave Pakistan as their homeland has begun to turn toward radical Islam

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Sikhs in pakistan
Types of 51st Sikhs (Frontier Force), now 3 Frontier Force, Pakistan Army. ca. 1905. Wikimedia Commons
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  • In today’s period, Sikhs in Pakistan are among the smallest minorities
  • Pakistan today uses blasphemy as a weapon against minorities and fellow Muslims alike, which is a crime that carries an involuntary death penalty
  • Mr. Singh heads a council representing the Sikhs in Pakistan

Aug 15, 2017: At the age of 11, Radesh Singh’s grandfather left his village in India’s Punjab province to move to Peshawar, which is bordered by Afghanistan in the far northwest of the country.

Pakistan wasn’t even a glint in the eye of its founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah in the year 1901 when the British ruled the Indian subcontinent and Peshawar held the promise of work and adventure.

It has been 70 years since the partition of India, which divided the subcontinent into majority Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan and led to one of the largest migrations in modern history.

Singh’s family have been waging a secessionist uprising in India ever since, demanding unmitigated sovereignty for India’s Punjab state where they command. Singh’s family is neither Hindu nor Muslim but Sikh, a religious minority in both countries. Feeling increasingly less at home on either side of the border, they have been victims of local Taliban violence in the recent years in Muslim Pakistan.

Singh’s grandfather would never return to his village, not even in 1947. Singh stated that poverty kept his grandfather in Peshawar, which was controlled by fiercely independent ethnic Pashtun tribesmen. He said, “It’s not easy to start over at zero when you have very little,” mentioned BBG Direct.

ALSO READ: 10,000 members of Sikh community in Pakistan lack Education and Health: Sikh Leader 

According to Singh, the enmity in the immediate aftermath of 1947 was slightly lower in the northwest. It was followed by decades of peace. The decision to stay in Pakistan appeared like a reliable option at the time.

The Sikhs had lived harmoniously for centuries alongside their Pashtun Muslim countrymen. Singh explains, Sikhs had a glorious history in the northwest. In the 18th century, they oversaw a dynasty headed by a Sikh ruler Ranjit Singh, whose capital was Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore. He rebuilt Peshawar’s infamous Bala Hisar Fort, an imposing walled fortress that some historians assume is as old as the city itself.

In today’s period, easily identifiable because of the colorful turbans and the surname Singh, Sikhs in Pakistan are among the smallest minorities. As indicated by the CIA Factbook, 3.6 percent of Pakistan’s 180 million people are non-Muslims which include Sikhs, Christians, and Hindus.

Singh asserted until 1984 Pakistan’s Hindus and Sikhs lived unitedly in northwest Pakistan. Their children married and worshipped together. But after the tragic assassination of India’s Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards, the entire scene changed consequently.

“They (Hindus) cut all relations with us. They said Pakistani Sikhs are like all Sikhs everywhere. No difference. They said, ‘From now on, we will be separate from you”, Singh recalled.

Today Sikhs in Pakistan are contending with the government for possession of dozens of Sikh temples (Gurdwaras); however, they have succeeded to restore some of the buildings. The Pakistan government took over the buildings after 1947 and allowed the squatters to remain.

Once a vibrant Gurdwara attended by hundreds of Sikhs, it no longer resembled a house of worship but rather a sweeping courtyard. However, it was until now that two families called it the home, said Singh.

Singh who heads a council representing the Sikhs in Pakistan, said young Sikhs have been looking to leave as the homeland has begun to turn toward radical Islam.

“They want to go to another country, not to India or Pakistan. But every country eyes them with suspicion.,” he said.

He adds, “Even Indians see his Pakistani passport and question his intentions, suggesting he wants to agitate for Sikh secessionism, the battle that resulted in Indira Gandhi’s death and a dream still held by many Sikhs on both sides of the border.”

According to Singh, Pakistan’s slide into intolerance began when Pakistan’s military dictator Zia-ul Haq set the country on the course of Islamic radicalization in the late 1970s with the former Soviet Union’s invasion of neighboring Afghanistan. Jihad became a rallying cry to defeat the communists in Afghanistan.

Extremism aggravated after the 2001 intrusion of Afghanistan by a U.S.-led coalition, he proclaimed.

The tribal areas were steadily caught by Taliban and in 2013 several Sikhs were killed, their limbs cut. Singh said the brutality of the killings and the threats sent thousands abandoning Pakistan.

Pakistan today uses blasphemy as a weapon against minorities and fellow Muslims alike, which is a crime that carries an involuntary death penalty.

“That is why we have a fear in our hearts, that this law can be used against us,” he told.

“In the last nearly 40 years we have been facing the boom, boom (mimicking the sound of explosions) in every city of Pakistan,” said Singh. “In a long time we have not heard any sweet sounds in our Peshawar, but still we love our city.”


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Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran Hold Meeting To Counter Trafficking of Opiate

The United States has spent more than $8 billion in the past 17 years to assist Afghanistan in eradication efforts.

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Opium
An Afghan man works on a poppy field in Jalalabad province. VOA

Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran have pledged to increase cooperation and information-sharing for effectively combating the trafficking of Afghan opiates.

War-shattered Afghanistan remains the world’s largest producer of opium, though the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime noted in its latest survey the opium cultivation decreased by 20 percent in 2018 due to a severe drought and reduced prices.

The illegal opiates are largely smuggled to international markets through Pakistan and Iran.

Need for more initiatives 

Afghan, Pakistan and Iranian counternarcotics officials concluded their two-day UNODC-facilitated interaction Wednesday in Islamabad, where delegates underscored the need for more efforts against the massive flow of illicit drugs.

Participants at the “Triangular Initiative” meeting called for timely sharing of information and conducting simultaneously interdiction operations along their shared largely porous borders.

oPIUM CULTIVATION
In this April 11, 2016, photo, farmers harvest raw opium at a poppy field in the Zhari district of Kandahar province, Afghanistan. VOA

The forum was established in 2007 with a mission to promote regional cooperation to reduce the poppy cultivation, trafficking, and consumption of drugs in the region and beyond.

Officials acknowledged that despite Afghanistan’s political tensions with Pakistan and Iran anti-drugs cooperation largely continues.

Renewed attitude 

Cesar Guedes, UNODC representative in Pakistan, noted the three countries attended the Islamabad meeting with “a revived attitude and role”, raising prospects for more effective counternarcotics efforts in 2019.

“More needs to be done because the level of [Afghan opium] production has also increased. They need really to coordinate closer in their joint efforts,” he told VOA

Guedes also called for increased international assistance, saying Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran alone cannot curb the menace of drugs.

opium
FILE – Afghan farmers collect raw opium as they work in a poppy field in Khogyani district of Jalalabad east of Kabul, Afghanistan, May 10, 2013. VOA

“This has to be done in the framework of shared responsibility. All the countries, producers, consumers and transit need to join the effort,” he said.

Despite many challenges facing the government, the head of the Afghan delegation said authorities have taken significant steps to eradicate drug trafficking.

US assistance 
Director General for Policy Planing at the Afghan Ministry of Narcotics, Mohammad Osman Frotan, said 89 percent of poppy cultivation this year has taken place in the Afghan provinces most hit by insurgent activities. He said counternarcotics authorities during 2018 have seized more than 433 tons of different types of drugs, and arrested and prosecuted almost 4,000 suspects.

Also Read: Pakistan In U.S. Blacklist For Religious Freedom Violations

The United States has spent more than $8 billion in the past 17 years to assist Afghanistan in eradication efforts. But the effort has failed to stop opium production, which increased to record highs and stood at an estimated 9,000 tons in 2017. Critics blamed insecurity, rampant corruption and patronage by influential Afghans for the unprecedented growth. (VOA)