Describing extortion demands from the minority Sikh community by the Taliban as a “criminal act”, former Pakistani minister Sherry Rehman on Sunday said such incidents must be condemned and “halted at all costs”.
“We hear that Sikh families are being harassed and forced out of their homes, as if non-Muslims don’t have a right to live peacefully and with clear citizenship rights in Pakistan,” she said while responding to reports of Taliban issuing threats to Sikh families in the Aurakzai tribal region.
“This is dangerous nonsense and must be condemned and halted at all costs. Sikh, Christian, Hindu communities and other citizens belonging to any religious denomination have full rights to live in Pakistan as per our constitution,” Rehman, a close aide of slain former Premier Benazir Bhutto, said.
Rehman, a senior leader of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party who resigned as minister after differences emerged with the party’s top leadership, said the extortion demands by the Taliban is a serious concern and needs to be taken up by public representatives on an urgent basis.
“The families that have decided to move out of the area need to be extended maximum assistance by the government. At the same time, parliament must take note of the violation of constitutional rights of the Pakistani citizens and make serious efforts to extend necessary protection to minorities,” she said.
Rehman said the government’s efforts to "counter non-state actors should proceed with the understanding that not only are they challenging the writ of the state, (but) they are attempting to take over our territory and establish their own unconstitutional and illegal order by way of force".
She said, “What happened with Sikh families is just one example of the way the neo-Taliban are attempting to establish their own authority in the region.”
Dozens of Sikhs fled the Aurzakzai Agency last week after they failed to pay a ‘jiziya´ or tax of Rs 50 million demanded by the Taliban. Many of them have taken shelter in gurdwaras in Punjab province.
After India expressed concern at the plight of the Sikhs, Islamabad on Saturday said they were Pakistani citizens and “of no concern” to New Delhi.
Rehman said there is no concept of ‘jizya´ or a tax on non-Muslims in the constitution of Pakistan and non-Muslims are not subject to any discriminatory laws that exclude them from privileges extended to the Muslims.
“We as a nation must take this latest threat to the non-Muslim population very seriously because it is an attempt to replace our laws with those of the criminals,” she added.
Public representatives, the media and civil society must show solidarity with the Sikhs and stand by the government to counter terrorist elements trying to destabilise the system, she said.
The Taliban were not elected by the Pakistani people and have no right to coerce and harass citizens of the country, she added.