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A State within a State
   
 
 
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A State within a State

 
Wednesday, 06 May 2009 00:00
 
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by Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra (EPOS)
EPOS Insights

With the Taliban writ running large in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan a retrograde medieval practice has come to life with utmost impunity with the imposition of religious tax (Jizya) on the minorities in the region. The Sikh families living in Qasim Khel and Samma Feroz Khel areas of Orakzai agency in FATA have reportedly fled the area as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) devastated their houses and shops because they could not pay the tax fixed to the tune of 50 million Pakistani rupees, about one million US dollar (there are varying reports on the exact amount), before the stipulated date of 29 April 2009. These Sikhs were living in their ancestral land for centuries. The partition trauma of the Indian subcontinent, the creation of Pakistan on the basis of religion had not deterred these minority people to leave their ancestral land. However, with the recent Taliban onslaught their fate seems to have changed almost irretrievably.

The TTP has argued that the Jizya imposition is justifiable under the Sharia Law, promulgated in the Swat region under an agreement between the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan, and the TTP, approved by the Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari. Under the agreement, the constitution and other rules will not be enforced in the region but the Sharia laws. Under Shria the Taliban opened its own courts and delivered its own justice. Under its dispensation the whole world was horrified to see the public flogging of a teenage girl recently.

About one hundred thousand people fled the region due to the reign of terror. As per a conservative estimate over 150 Sikh and Hindu families have arrived at Gurdwara Panja Sahib in Hasan Abdal and Rawalpindi from places like Buner, Swat and Orkazai. The Pakistan government reportedly is making arrangements for accommodation, food and security for the displaced. The loot and plunder filled the Taliban coffers and further ensconced their radical spirit. Under the Sharia law, the Taliban argued the minority religions have to pay Jizya, which they interpret as ‘protection tax’ (but protection against whom, against the Taliban itself?).

The deal between the TTP and NWFP, referred to as the Swat Deal, signed in February 2009, came upon the minorities as their refugee decree, forcing them to leave their native place. The Taliban kidnapped Sikh leaders Kalyan Singh and Sewa Singh in April 2009 to force them to pay the ransom. The community was given two options: either to pay the amount before 29 April 2009 or leave their native place. Reportedly, only after paying Rs 3.5 million the Sikhs could rescue the kidnapped leaders but not their homes and hearths. On 30 April 2009, under the orders of Haikmullah Mehsud the local TTP leader, the Taliban hoodlums torched 11 houses, ransacked 10 shops and auctioned goods at 0.8 million rupees. The Sikhs fearing for their lives shifted to comparatively safer Minni Khel area in the agency. The fraternity the Sikhs enjoyed with the local Muslim people of the Minni Khel tribe, who too earlier protected the Sikhs, got ruptured with the Taliban terror. This region, particularly the FATA, bordering Pakistan-Afghanistan has become a dangerous belt of terrorism and extremism. And particularly after signing of the Swat deal the Taliban spirit has been further ensconced.

The victimisation of the minority community has seen not only misuse of Islam by the Taliban in the region, but has also threatened any vestige of pluralism in Pakistan. The larger issue is: the Taliban rule based on extremism and retrograde systems of laws has challenged the Pakistan state and its laws. It has emerged as another centre of power within Pakistan thus threatening its very core as a sovereign state.

Reactions to such horrific acts have been forthcoming. The civil society of Pakistan has been outraged at this instance of barbarity. The News International, one of the prominent news papers in Pakistan in its edition on 1 May 2009 deplored these elements. Labelling the Taliban a ‘State within a State’ it severely criticised this act in the following words, “This of course is extortion. There is no other name for it. Over the past weeks it has become obvious the Taliban are engaged in a game of plunder. This too is how they inspire desperate young men to join them. The motive is base greed and not religious zeal.” The report further stated how the Taliban ranks have almost overnight accumulated enormous wealth. Luxury items taken away from the homes of families forced to flee adorn the homes of the Taliban members. The newspaper criticised the legislators for their inefficiency or inactivity to stand up for the rights of the minorities who live in Taliban-controlled areas.

Another prominent newspaper, Dawn on its edition of 30 April 2009 displayed the pictures of devastated houses and narrated how Taliban had asked the Sikh community living in the tribal area for centuries to pay annual Jizya because ‘Sharia had been enforced in the area and every non-Muslim had to pay protection money’. As per a report the Taliban’s devastating activities has increased hundred per cent within a year. Perhaps that itself brings forth the necessity for international cooperation to tackle the menace. India, the home to the largest number of Sikhs, has officially protested against the victimisation of the Sikhs. The Sikh religious place, Amritsar in India has witnessed huge protest rallies and burning of effigies of the Taliban. Pakistan has promised to protect its citizens including the minorities, but its actions so far lack the needed momentum.

Revival of a medieval retrograde practice must bewilder any conscientious citizen of the world, irrespective of their religious identities. This also smacks of the ominous future of minorities in Pakistan, as well as for the future of Pakistan state as well. Imagine, with its control of some pockets in Pakistan the Taliban could exact heavy damages, then what will happen if its writ runs large all over Pakistan including its nuclear weapons? Hence, the issue of Taliban barbarism is not only concern of the peace loving citizens of Pakistan, but also of the humanity at large. The Taliban is a scourge which must be contained at any cost. They are not only hindrance to religious freedom, but also hindrance to free thinking, democracy, liberty and associated values. It is time that the international powers must take coordinated actions to counter the Taliban menace. In the mean time the life and death question of the minorities in Pakistan must be the issue to be dealt with expeditiously.


Last modified on Wednesday, 11 July 2012 14:32
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