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India v. Pakistan: Beyond the Hype

Guestblog by Fakir

I’ve been complaining for several weeks regarding the cricket craze and how educated, conscious south asians should be taking this moment of international spotlight on their ancestral or native countries to highlight their higher expectations for their countries much like what occurred around the world and in Beijing during China Olympics 2008 and educate their peers.

It especially angers me when I see Sikhs rooting for either Pakistan or India, when I see Muslims rooting for India (and Pakistan), etc etc, because these are oppressive machines not harmless patriotic identities. India v. Pakistan is going to happen today in Mohali, Punjab, India. Here is something else that happened in Mohali, Punjab, India just yesterday:

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On Either Side, Punjab is Punjab
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In Pakistan's flood-ravaged Punjab province, roads are impassable.

One-fifth of Pakistan is under water.

900,000 people are now homeless.

Up to 20 million are impacted – more than the number of people affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake, and the 2010 Haiti earthquake combined.

As many of you know, Pakistan has recently been devastated by floods. The United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, recently visited Pakistan and described the flooding as the worst disaster he has ever witnessed.The UN says six million people desperately need emergency aid but most still have not received it. Tens of thousands of villages remain under water. There are growing health concerns for those surviving without proper shelter, food or clean drinking water leading to a potential public health “catastrophe”. And all of this is still occurring almost three weeks after the country’s worst natural disaster began.

The numbers are staggering – almost unbelievable. Given the magnitude of this disaster, one would expect to see an outcry of sympathy for the victims from the global community. Then why does is seem that the world has become complacent when coming to the aid of this region? Perhaps the region’s geographical/symbolic proximity to the “war on terror”? Perhaps we’re suffering from selective giving?

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Beheading of Two Sikh Men

khyber.jpgIt seems to be the talk of the community. Two Sikh men are claimed to have been beheaded by the “Taliban”. I do not have any independent details, but do believe we should make sure we understand all the information.

The BBC has reported the beheadings of Jaspal Singh and Mastan Singh in the Khyber and Orakzai areas. The two men had been abducted and extortion money was demanded to the family. The BBC has made no mention of the Taliban, although this is widely being reported by the Indian media.

With the breakdown of law and order following the 2001 invasion into Afghanistan, we have seen a complete deterioration of law and order. Many seem to be claiming that the Taliban caused this, but in a situation without security, it will be difficult to find out who are the real culprits. The area is infested with criminals.

The Taliban is hardly a united grouping. Scholar, Juan Cole, states that there are at least 4 different groups. Further confusing the situation, it must be remembered by the Sikhs that the Taliban in the same region rescued Sikhs before.

With this in mind, I am eager to hear thoughts.

Pakistani Sikh Singer

We know there is a sizable Sikh population in Pakistan, despite many Sikhs who were forced to migrate to India during partition. In 2008, the Pakistani Sikh Anand Marriage Act was passed in Pakistani, which allowed Sikhs in their marriage certificates as Sikhs. Currently in India, Sikhs are identified as Hindus in marriage certificates.

Interestingly, I came across this music video by Jassi Singh Lailpura (i.e. Jasbir Singh) , a Pakistani Sikh.

He also gave an interview on a morning Pakistani television show where he talked more abut his music and life. Lailpura believes that a Pakistani is not defined by a religion or race, but by someone who believes it to be their country. It is obvious from the interview that he is a proud Punjabi Sikh from Pakistan. He talks about the impact of Partition on a Sikh woman. You can watch his interview below.

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Pakistans Sikh Refugees

Sikhs_fleeing_Taliban_tak_003.jpgGurdwara Panja Sahib, located just outside Pakistans North-West frontier province, has become the temporary home for about 3,000 Sikhs who have been displaced by the presence of the Taliban in the region. Gurdwara Panja Sahib is one of the most notable Sikh shrines in Pakistan and has been transformed into the ultimate role of a gurdwara. With help from community donations, the gurdwara has a clinic, a 24-hour kitchen and a temporary school for children. For the past two months, Sikh families have been living at the gurdwara, afraid to return back to their homes. Some of the regions refugees have started to return back to their homes in military-protected convoys. However, many Sikhs feel they may never be able to move home,

Two months ago, long-haired Taliban fighters stormed into Orakzai, a tribal agency near the Afghan border, brandishing AK-47 rifles and bringing a harsh demand: that the area’s 40 Sikh families should pay jazia, an ancient tax on non-Muslims living in an Islamic state. To encourage the payment of 12m rupees (90,000), they kidnapped and tortured one of Singh’s neighbours. The Sikh community banded together to pay half the money, secured his release, then fled. “The Taliban are still demanding the money,” said Singh, a sprig of orange visible under his blue turban. “They recently rang me looking for the rest of the money. We are afraid they will find us, even here.” [link]

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Gurdwara: Refuge of the Homeless

The Sikh Gurdwara is our community center. It is where we turn in times of fear (many Sikhs rushed to the Gurdwara after 9/11); it is where we turn in times of defense (the Battle Of Amritsar in June 1984); it is where we turn in times of crisis.

Even some 550 years later the House of Nanak provides refuge to all. As the world turns towards Pakistan and the military actions in the Swat Valley, I post this video from Al-Jazeera to remember the Sikhs in Pakistan and all that are facing dire conditions due to the turmoil.

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The Coercive Uses of Rescue Aid in Pakistan

Regional Map of the Afghani-Pakistani borderEarlier this month I asked if the Taliban’s rising influence in Pakistan and their removal of Sikhs from the Swat Valley was a harbinger for more extreme religious persecution. This week, two articles caught my eye:

The first depicted multi-religious protests in Kashmir over Pakistan’s inaction in the region. The second implied complicity between the Jawat-ud-dawa (JuD) and the Taliban to use “rescue aid” as a coercive tactic.

The use of “aid” to buy sympathy, garner political favor, or build political support is nothing new, and is described extensively in Machiavelli’s The Prince [source]. Similar concerns were raised in the wake of the Indonesian tsunami, when Muslim communities alleged that Christian aid organizations were forcibly converting orphaned children and the injured by withholding necessary aid. The extent, or veracity, of those allegations was relatively unknown/unquantifiable. Given the Taliban’s extensive campaign-based strategies, in addition to the narrow regional focus of its impact, it should be less difficult to quantify the JuD’s impact.

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Does the Taliban’s Influence in Pakistan raise the stakes for Sikhs?

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There were two blurbs in the news this week regarding the ethnic cleansing of Sikhs from Pakistan’s tribal regions along the Afghani border [full disclaimer: both stories are from the Indian press, so there is certainly a different political interest/stake in representing Pakistan as a state with anti-minority insurgency]:

Terming the Taliban as “ruthless killers,” the US today said the action initiated by them against the minority Sikh community in Pakistan’s tribal region was not surprising provides all the more reason 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 reporters at his daily press briefing when asked about Taliban’s demand for “Jizya” from Sikhs in Pakistan’s tribal regions forcing them to leave their homes. [link]

India has taken up with Pakistan the issue of treatment of minorities following reports of demolition of Sikhs homes in parts of the country. [link]

I fully appreciate the irony of India calling for Pakistan to pay attention to the violent removal of minorities from their homes, and the spillover effects of the Taliban’s activities on the Pakistani border have been well-covered in the media. But this raises a larger question about more bald-faced attempts to crowd Sikhs and other religious minorities fully out of Pakistan. Sikhs already constitute a super thin minority with very little political power. Some would argue this should come as no surprise if people chose to remain within an Islamic Republic. Nonetheless, this additional pressure places an additional strain on minority communities who have negotiated remaining within Pakistan. Does this indicate Pakistan’s overall weakness in enforcing its border, or does it illustrate a political decision not to get involved while the Taliban capitalizes on underlying beliefs around minority groups? As this culture of intolerance moves east, is it the harbinger for a larger cultural shift within Pakistan? It certainly calls for the homogenization of the State, including forms of practice within Islam, but was this an interim sacrifice in order to preserve primacy for the central government?

Despite profiling, the Search For Common Ground continues

Rashad_Bukhari.jpgYet another inexplicable case of profiling has come to light. On January 26th, 36 year old Rashad Bukhari arrived from Pakistanwith a valid multi-entry visa into the US. Bhukhari is a former employee of the U.S. Institute for Peace, and currently the Urdu-language editor of the Common Ground News Service, whose goal is to build bridges between the Muslim world and the West. The news service is funded by the Search for Common Ground, a conflict resolution and conflict prevention ngo.

Immigration officials at Dulles could have easily verified all of this if Rashad had been allowed to make a phone call or if they themselves had chosen to check. Rather, they detained him for 15 hours, temporarily took away his cellphone and laptop, and eventually put him on a plane back to Pakistan. They prepared a transcript of the encounter in which an official justifies the United States not honoring Rashad’s visa by saying, “You appear to be an intending [sic] immigrant.” [Washington Post]

Bukhari was refused entry because the immigration agenthe spoke with found that he was an “intending immigrant” or that he had an intent to remain in the US. His visa was a temporary visa (probably visitor). However, Bukhari has a wife and three children in Pakistan, a return ticket there, anda good job, all of which would normally indicate that he has no intention of remaining here in the US.The number of connections you have in your home country is what determines whether you have ‘an intent to remain’ in the US, and Bukhari’s connections, in ordinary circumstances, would be more than enough to assure authorities that he would return to Pakistan.

In words that don’t appear on the transcript of the case, the official told Bukhari that he could “voluntarily” withdraw, return to Pakistan, and reapply for another visa, or face a five year ban. So he left, and nowfacesthe consequencesthat accompanybeingrefused entryat a border.

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On Sikhs, Nukes, Pakistan, and India

india_house.jpgIn the previous post, I had summarized a Stratfor report on the strong possibility of an Indian strike on Pakistan. Some Sikh groups in the UK, recently, released a formal appeal asking the Indian government to remove Indian nukes from the Punjab territory. Additional copies were given to the Pakistani embassy as well as the UN Security Council through the French Embassy. These Sikh groups have correctly surmised that East Punjab’s geography places it on the frontline of any conflict between India and Pakistan.

While news of the appeal has been reported in some Sikh media outlets, it is interesting that the mainstream Pakistani press has also picked up the report. The influential English-language Dawn writes:

The Sikhs maintain that they are not a party to the Indo-Pak dispute and, as non-combatants in the event of a war between the nuclear rivals, their population centre and homeland should not face what military experts have said is the likely outcome – a theatre of war in Punjab which becomes a nuclear conflict causing horrific casualties on a massive scale.[link]

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The Rising Storm – India and Pakistan

Over the weekend it was reported that two Indian fighter jets violated Pakistani airspace. Although the Indian state is claiming the trespass was inadvertent, it seems that such a move is meant to engage in a psychological escalation and pressure Pakistan into taking bolder actions against various militant groups.

However from talking to relatives in India and keeping abreast of the situation through Indian and Pakistani newspapers, it seems that an Indian strike against Pakistan is becoming a foregone conclusion. Anytime India and Pakistan have come to blows, it is the Punjab that is on the frontline. Thus while all South Asians should be aware of the ongoing situation, Sikhs in particular should be paying stark attention. Stratfor has provided an interesting analysis of the situation, which I try to summarize some of the points here.

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