The News – Mini Kabul: Afghan refugees mark 40 years in Pakistan

Peshawar – Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – Pakistan, 15 February 2020. Afghan boys sell fresh fruit on carts, signs are written in Dari or Pashto, and restaurants in the bustling bazaar sell Afghan dishes such as Kabuli pulao. But this “mini Kabul” is in Pakistan, which this week marks 40 years of hosting Afghan refugees.

It is a grim milestone for entire generations of families who fled war to create a life in Pakistan, but still face an uncertain future and no clear path to citizenship. “We spent an entire life here,” says Niaz Mohammed, a 50-year-old labourer from Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province who fled to Pakistan in the 1980s.

“We had weddings and marriages here, our kids were born here. We have jobs and work here, while there’s no peace in Afghanistan. That’s why we are happy here.”

On Sunday UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres will arrive in Islamabad for a conference the United Nations says will “send a global reminder about the fate of millions of Afghans living as refugees”.

“The main challenge right now is to continue to provide support to Pakistan in hosting them, and also give access to skills and education for the young Afghan population here,” Indrika Ratwatte, Asia director of the UN refugee agency UNHCR, told AFP on Friday.

Temporary status

Pakistan is one of the largest refugee-hosting nations in the world, home to an estimated 2.4 million registered and undocumented people who have fled Afghanistan, some as far back as the Soviet invasion of 1979.

Many live in camps, while others have built lives for themselves in Pakistan’s cities, paying rent and contributing to the economy. “Mini Kabul”, the bustling Refugee Market in the northwestern city of Peshawar is home to some 5,000 shops, all run by Afghan refugees.

But their status has always been temporary, with deadlines set for them to leave Pakistan repeatedly pushed back as the conflict in Afghanistan worsens. Even those who have spent decades in the country cannot own property or obtain identity cards, and were only recently allowed to open bank accounts.

Shortly after he came to power, Prime Minister Imran Khan vowed to grant them citizenship, but the controversial promise sparked outrage, and has not been spoken of since.

‘I prefer to stay

Nevertheless, many of the refugees who spoke to AFP in Peshawar recently said they love their adopted home. Javed Khan, 28, was born in Pakistan, has married a Pakistani woman and has three sons of his own.

“I will leave only if Pakistan forces me,” he told AFP. The situation could yet change: Afghanistan may be about to take the first step on the long road to peace. Late Thursday the US said it has secured a seven-day reduction in violence in the country that it hopes will allow it to strike a deal with the Taliban, as President Donald Trump said a peace accord was “very close”.

Such a deal would allow Washington to begin withdrawing troops, in return for security guarantees from the Taliban and a promise to begin peace talks with the Afghan government. However refugees were sceptical about what it would mean for them.

Mohammed Feroz, who came to Pakistan just over 40 years ago from Kabul, now runs a cloth shop in “mini Kabul”. Sitting in a chair at the front of his shop, he said he supported the withdrawal of US troops, but was leery of US and Taliban motivations.

“They are after their interest. No one cares about us, God is the only hope for us,” he said. Even if peace comes, most refugees said that they would prefer to stay in Pakistan, where they can support their families.

In the Khurasan refugee camp outside Peshawar an estimated 5,000 refugees live in poverty. Yaseen Ullah, 26, collects scrap and sells it to junkyards. His family, his mother, four brothers, and four sisters, share a two-room mud house with no plumbing.

They also came from Nangarhar province across the border, and, despite the harshness of life in the camp, are not eager to go back. “I have no job, no work in Afghanistan. So what will I do there?” Ullah asked.

Mohammad, the labourer from Nangarhar, agreed. “I have to feed my family, my kids,” the father of seven, all born in the camp, told AFP, speaking Pashto with a Pakistani accent. “I am saying it from my heart and I am very clear on it, that I will prefer to stay here. I do not want to return.”

The News – Afghan Taliban say talks with US have resumed

Mushtaq Yusufzai

Peshawar – Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – Pakistan, 18 January 2019. The Afghan Taliban said Friday they had resumed the stalled peace process with the United States and top negotiators of the two warring sides met in Doha, Qatar, on Thursday to discuss the proposed peace agreement, which is likely to be signed next week.

Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban spokesman for Doha-based office in Qatar, said on Twitter early Friday that their chief negotiator and head of the political council, Mullah Abdul Ghani Biradar on Thursday held a ‘useful’ meeting with US representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad. He said they would continue peace talks for a few more days.

Taliban sources privy to the peace process in Doha said their representatives had been meeting with US officials, though officially the process was suspended for more than a month over some issues related to the proposed peace agreement.

They claimed that major issues which earlier impeded the peace process and posed a potential threat to the peace agreement had been resolved now.

According to the Taliban, they are most likely sign the peace accord with the United States in Doha next week. The Taliban said the US had earlier demanded them to involve the Afghan government in the peace process which their leadership had refused.

Then the US negotiating team demanded the Taliban to announce a ceasefire with the Afghan government and its armed forces as the US and Taliban had already agreed on a ceasefire with each.

It took enough time to the Taliban to develop a consensus as there were reports that some of their top military commanders were not willing to involve the Afghan government in the peace process and stop attacks on the Afghan security forces.

It is stated to be a big outcome of the ongoing peace process in Doha that convinced some hardliners among the Taliban on a ceasefire with the Afghan government. Taliban sources said their top leaders had agreed to a 10-day ceasefire with the US and bringing a major decline in their attacks against the Afghan government and armed forces.

However, the Taliban said once the peace accord is signed, they would start acting on the ceasefire plan. During the ceasefire period, the Taliban said they assured their fighters would stop attacks including suicide bombing, IEDs, target killing, etc, across Afghanistan.

“The US and Afghan forces would ensure to stop all type of operations against us (Taliban) in Afghanistan once the ceasefire is announced,” said a senior Taliban leader. Pleading anonymity, he said Taliban may not publicly announce the ceasefire but would convey to their military commanders and make sure their fighters to act on the ceasefire plan.

And once the peace agreement is inked between the USA and Taliban, Taliban said they would start the intra-Afghan dialogue. According to Taliban Germany had offered to host the intra-Afghan dialogue.

The Tribune – Sikh man’s murder in Pakistan was plotted by fiancée as she didn’t want to marry him: Police

Peshawar – Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – Pakistan, 10 January 2020. The death of a 25-year-old Sikh man in Pakistan has turned out to be a “contract killing”, according to police, who have arrested his fiancee, who did not want to marry him.

On Saturday, Parvinder Singh was shot dead by unidentified gunmen weeks before his marriage in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. His killing drew sharp condemnation from India which demanded exemplary punishment to the perpetrators of the crime.

The blind murder case of Singh had been cracked and his 18-year-old fiancee Prem Kumari arrested for her alleged involvement in plotting the murder, police said.

A senior security official told The Express Tribune on Thursday that it was a “contract killing” paid for by Prem, who didn’t want to marry Singh, a resident of the remote Shangla district of the province.

“She promised the hitmen Rs 7 lakh for his murder,” the official added. “Part of the committed money was paid in advance, while the rest had to be paid after the murder.”

The investigation team, led by Peshawar’s capital city police officer, cracked the case after four days of arduous investigation in which officials from other investigative and intelligence agencies also provided valuable clues, the report said.

Their marriage was fixed for 28 January.

The police in its initial report said Singh and Prem loved each other, their engagement was done with their consent and both had started preparations for their marriage. However, Prem later befriended a Muslim youth who happened to be the brother of her friend’s.

The police said Prem called Singh to Mardan and took him to a home where Prem’s friend with other accomplices killed Singh.

The killers shifted the body from Mardan to Peshawar and threw it in the open fields near Chamakani, a rural area of Peshawar district, where police found the body on 05 January.

Prem even agreed to convert to marry the Muslim friend, police said, adding that they were trying to arrest the other accused. Prem’s family lives in Mohalla Sherdad Abad in Mardan district. Her father is a Hindu and mother a Sikh.

Parvinder Singh had returned to Pakistan after working in Malaysia for six years.

A strange story, but it might even be true
Man in Blue

The Tribune – 90% Sikh heritage sites located in Pakistan, says Indian-origin historian

Peshawar – Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – Pakistan, 23 November. Indian-origin British historian and author Bobby Singh Bansal, who is considered as an authority on Sikh heritage in Pakistan, has claimed that 90 per cent of the Sikh heritage sites are located in the country, mostly in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, as he underlined their potential to promote religious tourism.

Speaking at a guest talk titled ‘From Kartarpur to Khyber Pass’ at the Victoria Memorial Hall of Peshawar Museum on Friday, the UK-born historian took the audience on an interesting journey through a historic landscape dotted with Sikh era monuments, forts, battlefields, shrines, tombs, gurdwaras and havelies.

He said 90 per cent of the Sikh heritage sites are located in Pakistan. The KP province, which has the maximum number of such sites, has the potential to attract the Sikh community from across the globe.

Bansal, who is also a filmmaker, talked about Sikh personalities associated with the KP province, particularly General Hari Singh Nalwa and Akali Phoola Singh. Both died in KP and their tombs are there.

The ‘Jamrud Fort’ in Khyber district is a “goldmine” for attracting Sikh tourists because of the tomb of Nalwa there, he said. Nalwa was the commander-in-chief of the army of the Sikh Empire.

“He is one of the most revered personalities among the Sikhs and people from the community would want to visit his tomb. The love and association for Hari Singh Nalwa by Sikh community could be gauged from the fact that my own car number plate carry his name,” Bansal said.

If Pakistan allows Sikh diaspora to visit the cremation site and tomb of Nalwa, the community members from across the globe will rush to the site, he said.

He also highlighted other Sikh-era monuments, including the tomb of Akali Phoola Singh in Nowshera, the Balahisar Fort, Gor Ghattree, the Shabqadar Fort and the Bhai Biba Singh Gurdwara.

“These places should be on the Sikh tourist map of KP. This topic is of particular interest to the Sikh diaspora from around the world who would like to travel to KP and be part of organised tours to be able to view this shared heritage,” he said at the lecture organised by the KP Directorate of Archeology.

Bansal, who is also the director of the Sikh Heritage Foundation UK, narrated his experiences of visiting the KP province since 1980s and the subsequent research, which led him to visit and document all the Sikh monuments in KP from 2007 to 2019.

Bansal is the man behind Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s life-size statue that was unveiled at the Mai Jindan Haveli in the Lahore Fort on the occasion of 180th death anniversary of the legendary Sikh ruler in June. His father migrated to the UK from India in early 1960s.

Dawn – Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly split over proposed legislation against domestic violence

Zulfiqar Ali

Peshawar – Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – Pakistan, 15 October 2019. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Domestic Violence against Women (Prevention and Protection) Bill, 2019, which has been shuttling among different constitutional and legal forums since 2014, failed to sail through the provincial assembly on Monday.

As the house remained divided on the bill’s contents, the draft was referred to the Select Committee to thrash out 42 amendments proposed by the treasury and opposition members.

The lawmakers of religious parties insisted that many clauses of the bill were un-Islamic, so the advice of the Council of Islamic Ideology should be sought about them instead of holding a discussion on them in the assembly.

Food minister Qalandar Khan Lodhi moved the bill for consideration to hold a debate on the proposed amendments.

Bill sent to panel to mull proposed amendments [centre/italics]

Like the previous assembly, lawmakers of religious parties in the incumbent house once again opposed the bill and termed certain clauses of the proposed law ‘un-Islamic’ and against the spirit of the Constitution.

They asked Speaker Mushtaq Ahmad Ghani to refer the bill to the CCI instead of discussing it in the Select Committee.

“Though we are not supporting domestic violence against women, we believe that certain clauses of the bill are in conflict with the teachings of the Holy Quran and Sunnah,” said MMA MPA Inayatullah Khan.

The opposition member said the CII was the most appropriate forum for seeking advice on the bill, so the bill shouldn’t be referred to the Select Committee.

He said Article 229 of the Constitution declared, “the president or the governor of a province may, or if two-fifths of its total membership so requires, a House or a Provincial Assembly shall, refer to the CII for advice any question as to whether a proposed law is or is not repugnant to the Injunction of Islam.”

The lawmaker also said Rule 84 of the provincial assembly’s Procedure and Conduct of Business Rules, 1988, suggested the seeking of the council’s advice on a proposed law if it was repugnant to the teaching and requirements of Islam.

MPA Munawar Khan of the MMA also spoke against the bill insisting that un-Islamic clauses were part of the proposed law.

He said the bill’s clauses were also in conflict with the culture and values of the local society.

Law minister Sultan Mohammad Khan opposed the demand of the MMA MPAs.

He said lawmakers from both sides of the house had submitted proposed amendments to the bill, so there was no need to send the proposed law to the CII. The minister suggested that the treasury and opposition be given equal representation in the committee.

Speaker Mushtaq Ghani said two-fifths of the house’s strength was required for referring a proposed law to the council, while the MMA didn’t have the required numbers to do so.

The bill was sent to the Select Committee.

The proposed law regarding domestic violence against women has been under discussion since 2014. Its draft has been discussed in seminars, workshops and conferences in Peshawar and Islamabad but the discussions remained inconclusive.

The previous PTI government had sent the bill to the CII in 2016 for advice due to opposition by the Jamaat-i-Islami, the then government ally, and other religious parties, which believed that the matter involved the interpretation of Islamic injunctions.

The council had returned the draft bill with reservations.

The assembly also passed the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Enforcement of Women’s Property Rights Bill, 2019, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Legal Aid Bill, 2019, and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Promotion, Protection and Enforcement of Human Rights (Amendment) Bill, 2019.

The session was prorogued afterward.

The Express Tribune – Across religious divides: For Sikhs in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, there is no other place like home

Ahtisham Khan

Peshawar – Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – Pakistan, 12 October 2019. Where grim occurrences of violence routinely taint the news, the north-western province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa shines as a beacon of light for religious harmony in the country.

Amidst the lush green valleys and the rugged mountains of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the Muslims and Sikhs enjoy a rich culture of mutual-corporation and hospitality that transcends the bounds of faith, and embrace each other in the name of humanity.

Thousands of Sikhs migrated to Pakistan after the split of the subcontinent, settling in the north-western province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where they’ve lived in peace with the Muslim Pashtuns for time immemorial, sharing roofs, meals and a long-established sense of brotherhood.

Through the ages, the Sikh community has remained at the forefront of charity in the face of calamity, be it the massacre of APS, the suicide attacks in Kohati Gate or the attack on All Saints church in Peshawar.

“If there’s death in the family of our Muslim brothers and sisters, we extend our shoulders, take part in their prayers and share our food with the grieving family. If there is festivity, we open our homes for their ceremonies and take part in their festivals” told Muneet Kaur, a Sikh resident of Peshawar, while speaking to The Express Tribune.

According to Dr Sahab Singh, Ex-City Leader, the Sikh population in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is approximately 30,000 with 1100 families, while in Peshawar, their number is almost 7000. Yet, despite the large numbers and the prevalent extremism, there has never been an occurrence of a major scuffle between the members of two faiths.

Although the Sikhs were compelled to move out of the tribal areas in the wake of deteriorating law and order situations, they reiterated that it was not possible for them to forsake their Muslim brethren, told Singh.

During the previous years, members of the Sikh community were victim to target killing and were forced to move from Peshawar to Punjab in pursuits of peace. Sardar Soren Sigh, a PTI worker and MPA from Buner, who actively campaigned for minority rights, was murdered in cold blood on the 22nd of April 2016.

However, the man accused for his murder, Buldev Kumar, also a former PTI lawmaker, sought political asylum in India.

Another prominent Sikh social worker and leader of cross-border religion committee, Sardar Charan Singh, was murdered in the Budhper area of Peshawar on the 29th of May 2018, which devastated the morale of Peshawar’s Sikh community.

Although the two men involved in the target killing were soon arrested, Singh’s family was left with crippling financial constraints and with no option but to move to Bahawalpur in Punjab.

“The relations between Sikhs and Muslims have always been cordial and whenever the birthday of Guru Nanak comes, the Muslim brothers welcome Sikh pilgrims with carpets, which is a gesture of honour and respect.

Besides this, Sikh community is hand in hand with the Muslims in their religious festivals too; we hold Iftar parties in Ramadan and I share all my joys and sorrows with my Muslim friends,” shared the General Secretary of Gurudwara Bhai Beba Singh.

Pakistan to issue 10,000 visas to Sikh pilgrims

For the past four decades, Sikh traders of Tehsil Jamrud in Khyber Agency, have maintained a tradition of selling food items for exceptionally low prices, in honour of the month of Ramadan.

“Our women clean pulses and peas at homes to facilitate our Muslim neighbours in the holy month,” told Narinjan Singh, a K-P local, while speaking to The Express Tribune.

Tolo News – Afghan ambassador threatens to shut down consulate in Peshawar

Mashal protests the removal of the Afghan flag from the Firdous market by Pakistani police.

Peshawar – Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – Pakistan, 11 October 2019. Afghanistan’s Ambassador to Pakistan, Shukrullah Atif Mashal, issued a statement on Friday threatening to shut down the Afghan Consulate in Peshawar because of the alleged removal of the Afghan flag on Afghan-owned property by Pakistani police.

The statement said that on Thursday night the Pakistani police entered the Firdous market in Peshawar city and closed the market, which, Mashal claims, is the sole property of the Afghan government.

“Over the past few days the Pakistani police have entered the area several times without informing the Afghan embassy, and they have removed Afghanistan’s flag, against diplomatic convention and neighborly manners.”

According to reports, the ownership of the property is disputed, but the Afghan Embassy maintains that the market property belongs to the Afghan government.

On Thursday, Mashal expressed optimism that the incident would not damage relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

He claimed that a decision over the property ownership of the Firdous market has been reached between the two governments.

The News – Police book four Hindus for insulting Sikh gurus

Peshawar – Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – Pakistan, 25 August 2019. The police have registered a case against a pandit and three other members of the Hindu community for using insulting remarks against the gurus of the Sikh religion.

One Balbir Singh approached the Hashtnagri Police Station in Peshawar to complain that Pandit Sheonath Sharma along with Suraj Kumar, Ram Prakash and Keol Nath Sharma had used insulting remarks for the gurus of the Sikh community on their social media pages.

He said this angered members of the Sikh community and they asked the police to take action against the accused. On the complaint of Balbir Singh, the police lodged the case against the four accused.

Dawn – Tribals see KP Assembly elections as ‘beginning of a new life’

Zulfiqar Ali

Peshawar – Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – Pakistan, 21 July 2019.

Yaka Ghund – Mohmand District: For 60-year-old Abdul Jalil, July 20 is a day of joy and celebration like over five million other residents of the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).

“I feel that we (tribal people) spent 72 years in the hell and today is the beginning of a new life,” said Jalil, a resident of Yakaghund area in Mohmand tribal district.

He was sitting under a large canopy pitched outside a polling station, waiting for his turn to cast vote in the first-ever provincial assembly elections in his area.

“Today is the most important day for the people of tribal districts. There are many reasons for them to celebrate the occasion because they will have representation in the provincial assembly and will get rid of the corrupt administration, and there will be more development,” he told Dawn.

For 60-year-old Abdul Jalil, July 20 is a day of joy and celebration like over five million other residents of the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).

The scene outside the polling station was full of excitement.

The candidates placed large-size canopies to protect voters from the scorching sun.

Workers decorated the venue with flags of their parties and posters of candidates, while vendors sold ice cream, mobile phone SIM cards, and food items.

The polling began at 8am on Saturday. Elaborate security arrangements were seen inside and outside polling stations. Candidates arranged transport vehicles to provide pick and drop to voters.

After decades of neglect, the people of tribal districts got the historic opportunity to elect 16 members of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly on general seats. Tribal people already have representation in upper and lower houses of Parliament.

Abdul Jalil gave the youths of former Fata credit for raising voice for their constitutional rights at every forum.

“We got representation in the provincial assembly because of the youths’ struggle,” he said.

The decision to bring millions of people of former Fata to the mainstream took over seven decades, while tribal people paid a heavy price for it. The reforms process began in tribal districts during Field Martial Ayub Khan’s Basic Democracy in 1959.

The populist prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, initiated the development of infrastructure to fulfil basic needs of the people. He paid extensive visits to the area and launched projects through the defunct Fata Development Corporation.

President Farooq Ahmad Khan Leghari and caretaker prime minister Malik Meraj Khalid took one step forward by introducing adult franchise system in Fata in 1996. Before that, only selected Maliks were allowed to elect members of Parliament.

President Asif Ali Zardari has the credit to extend the Political Parties Act to the region in 2010 allowing political parties to carry out activities, while the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif got 25th amendment to the Constitution passed in parliament.

The 80-page report of the six-member Committee on Fata Reforms, 2016, headed by Sartaj Aziz paved the way for the merger of tribal areas with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in July 2018 and the subsequent representation of the region in the provincial assembly despite the opposition of vested interests in political circles and establishment.

The PTI can be credited for fulfilling the dream by holding elections in merged tribal districts for the KP Assembly.

The eras of military regimes led by Zia-ul-Haq and Pervez Musharraf proved dark periods for the tribal people. The region experienced militancy, brutalities, drug trafficking, proxy wars, displacement and poverty.

The provincial assembly elections have made the residents of merged districts very optimistic about the future.

They hope that the polls will pave the way for good governance, provision of quality education to their children, improvement of health delivery system, and employment of youths. The post-merger era is a big challenge for the PTI government and state institutions.

“Former Fata was a grazing filed for the government officials because there was no audit of funds and accountability. Officers serving in the erstwhile tribal agencies were not answerable to anybody,” said Hassan Wali, former conservator (forest), who had served in tribal area for many years.

“This is a big achievement of the merger is that the Annual Development Programme for tribal districts has been increased from Rs 21 billion to Rs 83 billion and it will get Rs 100 billion per annum from the National Finance Commission Award at the rate of three per cent,” he said, adding that the people’s destiny would change if development funds were utilised judiciously. – Special Sikh school to come up at Peshawar

Sikh24 Editors

Peshawar – Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – Pakistan, 27 June 2019. On the demand of Sikhs living in Peshawar, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s state government is going to open a community based school for the Sikhs in Peshawar. On June 24, the Auqaf, Hajj, Religious and Minority Affairs Department of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa wrote a letter to the Executive Engineer to submit Detailed Cost Estimate of this project within two weeks.

Available information reveals that the Auqaf, Hajj, Religious and Minority Affairs Department of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has reserved Rupees 20 million as a proposed cost of this project.

It is learnt that the concerned department has reserved Rupees 55 million in this year’s annual budget for the welfare of minorities living in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Special Sikh School to Come Up at Peshawar