Now Sikhs and Hindus in Khyber Agency to Pay protection money to Taliban


ISLAMABAD: The non-Muslim communities living in the Khyber Agency
tribal area of Pakistan, including Sikhs, Hindus and Christians, have
now been asked by the Taliban-backed militant organization
Lashkar-e-Islam (LeI) to pay jaziya or tax in exchange for ensuring
their protection in the area.

In May this year, dozens of Sikh families living in the Orakzai tribal
agency in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan (FATA)
on the Pak-Afghan border were forced to move out after the Taliban
demanded Rs50 million as jazia, or security tax, from them. Locals
said the families were impoverished and left the area to avoid any
Taliban action. Less than a month later, the Taliban tax net has
spread wider, to the Khyber agency tribal area. The Sikhs, Hindus, and
Christians there have been directed by the Lashkar-e-Islam chief
Mangal Bagh to pay the minority specific jazia in exchange for
ensuring their security in the area.

According to sources in the Khyber Agency, the jazia tax on
non-Muslims has been imposed at the rate of Rs1,000 per year per
person. They added that around 10,000 Sikhs, Hindus and Christians
live in the Khyber agency area, of which about 7,000 are Sikhs. Jaziya
was actually a tax for protection levied after a war by the victor on
the vanquished, the amount of which was to be decided by both parties
on mutual agreement. Having made the announcement, the
Lashkar-e-Islami militants are already collecting jazia in Bara,
Chora, Karamna, Bazaar Zakhakhel and Tirah Valley of Khyber Agency
besides forcing those to leave the area who refuse to pay or who are
not in a position to pay.

However, Pakistani media reports say most of the minority community
members in the Khyber Agency have already agreed to pay the tax
instead of leaving the area, since they are living there for decades.
Pictures carried by the Pakistani papers on Thursday showed the
Lashkar-e-Islami ameer Mangal Bagh presiding over a meeting of the
non-Muslim community members, during which they had agreed to pay
jazia. The tribal sources say several jirga meetings were held to
settle the issue and finally one such moot held on Tuesday and
attended by the leaders and elders of Sikh, Hindu and Christian
communities at Tirah Valley, decided to pay tax to the Lashkar.

Under the decision, only women, children and handicapped persons had
been exempted from paying the tax, while other members of the
communities would be bound to pay Rs1,000 per head annually. As a
matter of fact, a majority of the minority population in the Khyber
Agency belongs to the Sikh community which has been living in the
Khyber Agency since generations. Their accent and manners are similar
to the tribals but still they have managed to keep their separate
identity. The Sikhs in Khyber agency had a strong grip on virtually
all of the trade carried on in the valley thirty to forty years ago.
Unlike their Indian counterparts; who are referred to as ‘Sardar Ji’,
these Tribal Sikhs are referred to as ‘Sett or Settan’. Their trading
history could be the reason why they are referred to with this title.

There are at least four main trading centres in the Tirah Valley of
Khyber agency where the shops and homes of the Sikhs are located.
Collectively, they comprise of at least 200-250 families. In Tirah
Valley, they have their own properties and lands, they have made
Gurdwaras inside their homes, and their womenfolk observe Purdah and
wear the Burqa just like other women. Some time back they used to read
and write in Gurmukhi language but are now slowly learning Urdu as
well due to their growing trade related interactions with people from
the rest of country. These Sikhs, unlike other tribesmen, are not
allowed possession of a weapon.

There is also a small population of Hindus living in the area.
According to tribal law, it is compulsory for the Hindus to patch a
yellow or red cloth on their hats or dress for the purpose of
differentiating them from other tribesmen. The Sikhs however are
exempt from this. Tribal wars fought between families do not touch,
harm, or engage with these Hindus and Sikhs. Concerned Tribes are
themselves responsible for keeping the honor, and safety of this
minority even if it means taking up a weapon to defend them.

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