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150 Sikhs and Hindu families move to Pak Punjab

By Rezaul H Laskar and M Zulqernain in Islamabad/Lahore
May 02, 2009 21:48 IST
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Pakistani Hindu and Sikh families, who have been targetted by Taliban for failing to pay 'religious' tax, left their homes and moved to Punjab province to take shelter as the government in Islamabad on Saturday dismissed India's "verbal demarche" on the issue.

More than 150 Sikhs and Hindu families in Pakistan's North Western Frontier Province and tribal areas have moved to Punjab for shelter as the United States branded the Taliban as "ruthless killers" for targetting the minority Sikh community.

"So far, over 150 Sikh and Hindu families have arrived at Gurdwara Panja Sahib in Hasan Abdal and Rawalpindi from places like Buner, Swat and Aurakzai Agency," Evacuee Trust Property Board Chairman Asif Hashmi said on Saturday.

"We have made arrangements for accommodation, food and security for the displaced Sikh and Hindu families in all five major gurdwaras in Punjab," Hashmi told PTI in Islamabad.

Amid expression of concern by India over the fate of the minority comunity in NWFP after the imposition of 'jiziya' on non-Muslims, Pakistan's Foreign Office dismissed India's "verbal demarche."

 "Pakistan is fully cognisant of the issue of the Sikhs and of the welfare of all its citizens, especially the minorities," Basit said. Sikhs and Hindus had to leave their homes and properties in Buner and Swat in the NWFP after the Pakistani security forces stepped-up operation last week to flush out the Taliban from the Swat valley.

Diplomatic sources said the issue of Sikhs being forced out of their homes in Pakistan's Aurakzai tribal agency after they failed to pay 'jiziya' or tax imposed on non-Muslims was taken up on Friday with the Foreign Office by the Indian High Commission in Islamabad.

It was also taken up with the Pakistani High Commission in New Delhi by the External Affairs Ministry. Branding Taliban as "ruthless killers," the US has said Taliban militants' demand for tax from the minority Sikh community was not surprising and provided all the more reason for international community to cooperate to rid the region of extremists.

"I've heard reports about that. It doesn't surprise me. I mean, these are ruthless killers, the Taliban," State Department spokesman Robert Wood told media persons in Washington.

"They (the Taliban) will do anything they can to upset Pakistan's and Afghanistan's fragile democracies," he said.

Pakistan's Foreign Office spokesman Basit said Pakistan had responded to India's "verbal demarche" on the issue by making it clear that the Sikhs in this country are Pakistani citizens and are of "no concern of India."

Sikhs have been asked to pay Rs 50 million a year by the local Taliban, who have destroyed their houses, forcing the minority community to move out of the Aurakzai agency where they have lived for centuries.

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Rezaul H Laskar and M Zulqernain in Islamabad/Lahore
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