Sikhs begin leaving Pakistan’s Orakzai Agency, India concerned (Lead)

May 1st, 2009 - 7:20 pm ICT by IANS  

Taliban Islamabad/New Delhi, May 1 (IANS) Targeted by the Taliban, 35 Sikh families that have been living for decades in Pakistan’s Orakzai Agency have begun migrating from the area after being levied a jaziya or protection tax, an issue New Delhi has now taken up with Islamabad.
India said it had taken up with Pakistan the treatment of minorities in the country.

“The government of India has taken up the question of treatment of minorities in Pakistan with the government of Pakistan,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Vishnu Prakash said in New Delhi.

Quoting sources, Pakistani channel Geo TV said Taliban militants had taken over the shops and homes of the 35 Sikh families and arrested community leaders Klank Singh and Sewa Singh in the Ferozkhel area of Lower Orakzai Agency.

Following this, a local jirga ruled that the Sikh community should annually pay Rs.15 million ($187,000) as protection money. Earlier reports had said the Taliban had demanded Rs.50 million but that this had been reduced.

When the Sikh community expressed their inability to pay, the Taliban then auctioned their houses and other belongings, forcing them to migrate from the area.

There are reports the militants had demolished the houses 11 houses of the Sikh community after they failed to pay the jaziya tax.

The Orakzai Agency is situated in the virtually ungovernable Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border where the writ of the Taliban and Al Qaeda largely runs.

The militants in the area are led by Hakeemullah Mehsud, the deputy of Tehrik-e-Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, one of the principal suspects in the Dec 27, 2007 assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto in a gun and bomb attack in the garrison town of Rawalpindi.

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