Pakistani authorities have started discreet negotiations through clerics with a top Taliban commander for rehabilitating Sikh families evicted from the Aurakzai tribal region after they failed to pay 'jiziya' or a religious tax imposed by the militants.
The administration of the semi-autonomous Aurakzai Agency has, on the directives of the federal government, assigned to clerics the task of holding talks with Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan deputy chief Hakeemullah Mehsud.
The clerics will make efforts to pave the way for rehabilitating the Sikh families in the area where they had been living for centuries, the Dawn newspaper quoted a source as saying.
The source, however, declined to disclose the names of clerics involved in the talks but said the meetings were going on peacefully.
The source said that the 35 Sikh families that were displaced were willing to come back to Aurakzai Agency.
The Sikh families were forced to leave Feroze Khel area of Aurakzai Agency after the Taliban burnt their houses and looted their shops. The Taliban had imposed 'jiziya' on the Sikhs for being non-Muslims and for the protection of their lives and property.
The Sikhs failed to raise the amount demanded by the Taliban in April, following which their houses were attacked.
Thirteen Sikh families are now living in Merozai area of Aurakzai Agency on land belonging to the Shia community where the Taliban has no influence. The others have moved to the North West Frontier Province and other parts of Pakistan.
Dozens of Sikh families have also been displaced by the military operations against the Taliban in Buner, Dir and Swat districts in the NWFP. Most of these Sikhs have moved to Gurdwara Panja Sahib in Hasanabdal near Rawalpindi.