Beheading of Sikh condemned by Pakistan, India (Intro Roundup)

February 23rd, 2010 - 12:35 am ICT by IANS  

Taliban Islamabad/Chandigarh, Feb 22 (IANS) Hundreds of fear-stricken Sikhs in Pakistan clamoured to escape to India after the Taliban beheaded a Sikh man in the restive tribal region of Khyber Pass. The killing sparked outrage among Sikhs in India while the incident was condemned by both India and Pakistan.
The body of Jaspal Singh was found in Tirah valley of the Khyber agency in Pakistan’s restive tribal region Sunday, and triggered panic in the small community that has faced the ire of the Taliban for some time.

Jaspal Singh was kidnapped along with two other Sikhs from Tirah Valley in the Khyber Agency near the provincial capital Peshawar, DawnNews and other Pakistani media reported.

BBC, however, said two Sikhs had been done to death, and identified the second man as Mastan Singh.

The two companions of Jaspal Singh, identified by a Pakistani website as Gurvinder Singh and Gurjit Singh, are reportedly still being held captive by the Taliban militants.

The abducted Sikhs — their number varying from three to four — were seized 34 days ago. The Taliban demanded Rs.3 crore as ransom for their release, media reports said.

According to arzePakistan.com, the kidnapping occurred in an area where the Pakistan government has virtually no control.

Since the Taliban began enforcing “jaziya” in the tribal belt, particularly Aurakzai Agency, many Sikhs fled to cities elsewhere in the country fearing for their lives.

No group has claimed responsibility for the abduction and murder but members of the Sikh community blamed it on the Pakistani Taliban, which has close ties with Al Qaeda, and said they wanted to quit Pakistan for good.

“We want to return to India but we are not getting the visas. The Taliban keep demanding jaziya (religious tax) from us,” Arvind Singh, a cousin of the beheaded Jaspal Singh, told a Pakistani TV channel.

He said the business interests of Sikhs were suffering in Pakistan because of the Taliban.

Another Sikh man said they were living in fear and that they wanted to go to the Sikh holy city Amritsar to start life anew.

Muslim-majority Pakistan is home to over 32,000 Sikhs, according to one account. Many of them came to Pakistan after the Taliban took power in Kabul in the 1990s and enforced strict Islamic laws.

India denounced Jaspal Singh’s killing as “barbaric”. “We condemn the barbaric act of the Taliban,” Minister for External Affairs S.M. Krishna said in New Delhi.

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari Monday denounced the beheading.

The president, while strongly condemning the incident, asked the authorities to investigate the matter and take stern action against the kidnappers in accordance with the law, a spokesman of the presidency said.

Zardari also called for effective measures so that such incidents do not recur in the future.

Meanwhile, the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC), the Sikh religious parliament in India, and the Punjab government Monday reacted angrily and urged New Delhi’s intervention to save Sikhs in the area bordering Afghanistan.

“This is condemnable. The central government should take up the matter with the Pakistan government to ensure the safety of Sikhs in that area,” SGPC president Avtar Singh Makkar said.

Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal too demanded India’s intervention. “The government should not sleep over this matter. The life of Sikhs should be protected.”

The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) asked the government to mount “diplomatic pressure” on Pakistan to ensure the release of the abducted Sikhs.

“It is a serious issue and there is a need to talk to Pakistan,” Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari said in New Delhi.

In Jammu, the winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir, Sikh groups called for a shutdown to protest the killing.

Addressing a press conference, Sudershan Singh Wazir, convenor of the All Jammu and Kashmir Sikh United Front, said what happened to Sikhs in Pakistan was “brutal”.

“It is unacceptable,” he said.

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