Pakistan vows to protect Sikhs from Taliban; Canada announces aid

May 19th, 2009 - 1:46 pm ICT by IANS  

Taliban By Gurmukh Singh
Toronto, May 19 (IANS) A visiting Pakistan minister vowed to protect Sikhs from the Taliban even as Canada announced $5 million for Pakistan’s Sikh families who have fled the Swat Valley after the imposition of ‘jaziya’ (tax on non-Muslims) by the Taliban.

Announcing the $5-million package at a round-table here, Canada’s newest Sikh MP Tim Uppal said: “I am pleased to announce on behalf of the prime minister that the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) has committed 5 million dollars to the humanitarian effort to help those people displaced by the conflict.”

Uppal, who is the ruling party MP from Edmonton, said: “We call upon the government of Pakistan to ensure the security and safety of all its citizens, including religious minorities.”

Pakistan’s Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti, who was a special invitee to the round-table, said: “I want the minorities to know that they have a brother and a friend in the government of Pakistan who will do all in his power to stop atrocities on Sikhs in Pakistan.”

When asked whether the Pakistan government will compensate the Sikhs for the money taken away by the Taliban, the minister only said: “I strongly condemn the Jaziya collected from Sikhs by the Taliban.”

The Pakistani government has announced a token compensation of $120 each to the displaced Sikh families, many of whom have sought refuge in the historic Sikh shrine at Hasan Abdal.

Asked by round-table convener and filmmaker Roger Nair how Pakistan could justify such a small amount, the minister said Sikh refugees are “still in a better shape than many of over a million or so refugees since they have a better organised structure in the form of gurdwaras”.

The Toronto-based South Asians for Human Rights Association (SAHRA), which organised the round-table discussion with the visiting Pakistani minister, offered to sponsor 50 displaced Sikh and Hindu families as refugees to Canada.

“We have written to the Canadian government to sponsor these families from Pakistan. We will work with both the governments and local bodies to identify displaced families due to the Jaziya tax and sponsor them,” said SAHRA chairman Nair.

He also demanded the abolition of the blasphemy law in Pakistan under which the murderers of a 27-year-old Hindu worker Jagdish Kumar last year went unpunished.

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