Hindus feel the heat in Pakistan

Riaz Sohail
BBC News, Karachi

Wealthy Hindus like Garish Kumar are targets for kidnappers
The kidnap and murder of a Hindu engineer in Pakistan’s southern province of Sindh has increased the insecurity among fellow Hindus.

Garish Kumar disappeared last month near Hyderabad city, 250 km (160 miles) from the port city of Karachi in Sindh.

His dismembered body parts were later found near a madrassa (Islamic religious school).

Police initially said the crime was committed by an outlawed Muslim militant group. Five people were arrested.

However, Hyderabad’s police chief, Shaukat Shah, the incident now seems to be a simple kidnapping for ransom case.

Minority report

Kumar’s father, Saspal Das, is a trader from Kunri town in Sindh’s central district of Umerkot.

Most Hindus are poor peasants and serve as bonded labour

“No one listens to the Hindu minority,” he complains. “”We have no security.

“We are targeted because we are Hindu. There is no other reason for kidnapping Garish.”

Pakistan is home to some 2.5 million Hindus, 95% of them living in the southern Sindh province.

Most are poor, low-caste peasants.

However there are also some successful upper caste businessmen. In Sindh, they are a hot commodity for bandits.

They lack the protection afforded to local tribal Muslims.

Whole tribes often go to war with one another in rural Sindh over any slight to their members.

That cushion is not available to the Hindu minority.

Protection money

In recent years kidnapping for ransom and armed robberies have multiplied in the area and Hindus have increasingly been the focus of attacks.

Hindus have to pay thousands of pounds to avoid kidnapping

Many pay protection money regularly to local gangs or influential figures. But in spite of this they are still targeted.

Santosh Kumar, a rice trader from Larkana town in upper Sindh, and his two brothers were kidnapped in separate incidents in 2006. They were later released after paying a huge ransom.

Another wealthy trader from the nearby city of Sukkur in Sindh, Sundeep Kumar, was kidnapped in 2005.

He was released after paying a ransom of over a million rupees ($16,000), according to local sources.

The ransom can sometimes go up to five times that amount.

But not all Hindus are as rich as Sundeep Kumar.

Last August, a youth, Ramesh Lal, was kidnapped. His relatives could not afford the ransom, and his body was later found at a police check post.

In the last three years at least five Hindu traders have been killed after being kidnapped or offering resistance.

“Powerful oppress the weak”

Ramesh Lal, a Hindu MP in Pakistan’s parliament says, “The Hindus are not as rich as portrayed.”

“Often the kidnappers ask a huge amount that the families cannot pay. As a result the hostages are killed.”

Even Hindu women and children are not spared by the kidnappers

The President of the Hindu council in Sukkur district, Mukhi Aishwar Lal says, “the powerful always oppress weaker communities… Hindus are weak so they are targeted.”

He relates how a few years back a Hindu family travelling by local bus were kidnapped by local bandits, while rest of the passengers were allowed to go.

Around that time some foreigners were also kidnapped in the same area. The police secured their release without any payment, but the Hindus were released after a huge ransom was doled out.

Such incidents increase the feeling among Hindus that they have no say in power and authority in the country.

Political apartheid

In Pakistan’s political system, the minorities, such as Hindus, Christians and Sikhs, remain outcasts despite represented in every major political party.

After Gen Pervez Musharraf seized power in 1999, he scrapped the controversial separate electorate system introduced former dictator Gen Zia-ul-Haq in 1980s.

Under the separate electorate system, non-Muslims could only vote for candidates of their own religion. Seats were reserved for minorities in the national and provincial assemblies.

Critics said Muslim candidates no longer had any incentive to pay attention to the aspirations of the minorities.

Gen Musharraf hoped to reverse that by the simple step of abolishing the system. But that appears to have failed.

Sudham Chand, a Hindu community leader who led a local campaign to scrap the separate electorate system was killed in broad daylight. His murder conveyed many a message.

The killers were not arrested. His brother later migrated to India.

Ramesh Lal, a member of the National Assembly, says that the restoration of the conventional electoral system is of little use if the minorities have no security.

And still, he complains, no one asks the minorities what problems they are suffering.

Losing faith

Mukhi Aishwar Lal agrees that Hindus in Sindh are still afraid.

Garish Kumar’s grieving father, Saspal, wants justice

They are frightened to move outside freely. Some even put themselves under a self-imposed curfew after 2000 hours a few months ago.

“No-one is targeting the minorities,” argues Kishanchand Parwani, Advisor for Minorities’ Affairs to the Sindh Government.

But he admits that, although the minorities are supposed to be equal citizens according to the constitution, the reality is different. He accepts that they feel like second class citizens.

Garish Kumar’s father, Saspal Das, still retains faith in the system: “I will fight till I get justice for my son.”

But many Hindu families who stayed in Pakistan after partition have already lost faith and migrated to India

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3 Comments

  1. Posted March 7, 2009 at 8:33 am | Permalink | Reply

    The essence of our religions is to empower the mankind towards being more sane, peace loving and caring. But unfortunately what is happening is that in the name of Religions (all religions included) people (may not be all) are becoming more and more insane, barbaric, robotic and violent. No need to blame our holy relgions. The paradox is goodness lives dead in the words of scriptures. It hardly enters and sprouts with full life force in the hearts of the mankind.

    Goodness has no labels. It’s just LIFE. Are we sane? I am ashamed that we need to ask this basic question in this 21st century too. Religions are not the solutions. Men are the solutions. I condemn the insanities happening in the name of religions, it may be Ramayan or Quoran or Bible. I am not biased to any religions. I am interested only in a sane humanity so that our upcoming children live there joyfully and peacefully on this beautiful earth.

  2. Robin Hood
    Posted March 7, 2009 at 12:38 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Satish Anand kidnapped in October 2008 from Karachi,is still not recovered and there is not much being done about it Just because he is a Hindu.
    There are hundreds of cases which are never registered.

    Robin Hood

  3. Posted April 19, 2009 at 4:50 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Are these purely militant activities?

    KARACHI: A former army officer, who was allegedly involved in the kidnapping of film-maker and distributor Satish Anand, has told his interrogators that he used his military expertise in favor of militants and the Taliban fighting government forces in the tribal areas.

    Retired army major Haroon Ashique alias Abu Khattab was arrested by the Islamabad police for his alleged links with extremist and militant outfits. However, during interrogation he turned out to be the ringleader of a gang who kidnapped Satish Anand in Karachi and transported him to the country’s lawless tribal areas.

    The retired army officer’s disclosures sent a chill of fear down the spine of his interrogators as he told them that different militant outfits active in the restive tribal areas have reportedly identified their potential targets in urban localities as part of their fund generation plans.

    The broad daylight kidnapping of the chief executive of Eveready Pictures, Satish Anand, was an example of their preparedness. Anand was kidnapped in Karachi on October 20, 2008 and recovered from Bannu after remaining in captivity for around six months.

    An LeT operative

    According to officials who had interrogated the retired major, Haroon Ashique, 43, was commissioned in the Pakistan Army in 1987 in the 76 PMA long course. However, he sought premature retirement as a major in 2001.

    Hailing from Panjeri in district Bhimbar, retired major Haroon Ashique was a resident of Taj Bagh Harbanspura, Lahore.

    The interrogators said that in 2000 former soldier Ashique, then an army officer, along with his younger brother (also an army officer), Captain Khurram, met the chief of now banned Laskhar-e-Taiba, Hafiz Saeed, and his top operational commander, Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi.

    After getting retirement from the army, retired major Ashique joined the Lashkar-e-Taiba and became an adviser to its operational commander Lakhvi. He also worked as a trainer and made improvised mortar guns.

    However, in December 2003 he developed some differences with commander Lakhvi and later on he parted ways with the LeT.

    Brother dies in Helmand

    The retired major told his interrogators that his younger brother Capt Khurram, who served in the elite Special Services Group, also left the army in 2003 to join the LeT. However, he also quit the LeT.

    After parting ways with the LeT, the retired major started rice and garments export business in Karachi but in 2006 he wound up the business and moved to Lahore where he opened up a generators business, the interrogators told Dawn.

    They said that his younger brother, retired captain Khurram, also joined him. However, it was in December 2006 when the retired major went to Wana where he met Taliban commander Mullah Nazir. He later visited Miramshah where he met another jihadi commander, Ilyas Kashmiri.

    In 2007, his brother Khurram went to Afghanistan’s Helmand province to fight against the coalition forces. In March 2007 he was killed while fighting alongside the Taliban.
    The interrogators said that in April 2007, the retired major visited Miramshah where he met Commander Ilyas Kashmiri again.

    During 2007, he met Kashmiri twice and taking advantage of his military background, he helped him and Mullah Nazir in Wana in modifying 60mm mortars.

    The kidnapping plan

    However, when the retired major visited Commander Kashmiri in September 2008, he was informed that ‘mujahideen’ were facing financial problems and were in dire need of funds.

    In a bid to ease out financial problems, the retired major gave a proposal to Commander Kashmiri regarding kidnapping affluent people living in urban areas for ransom to generate funds.

    The interrogators said that at that time the retired major also suggested that he had a potential target in Lahore. However, commander Kashmiri asked him to spare the target for a while and concentrate on another target in Karachi.

    The investigators said that film-maker Satish Anand was the target and Commander Kashmiri was aware all his details and routine while sitting in the tribal areas.

    Commander Kashmiri asked one of his militants, Nawaz, to give all intelligence including marked maps of Mr Anand’s movement from home to office to retired major Ashique.

    The retired major knew Nawaz from 2003, as he was also an LeT activist. Both Ashique and Nawaz went to Karachi to confirm the intelligence about Mr Anand and they stayed at a hotel located near the Cantt Railway Station.

    Major Ashique contacted his friend Basit, another retired army major, and asked him to assist him in kidnapping the film-maker. Initially retired major Basit was reluctant but later agreed to help major Ashique for old time’s sake, the interrogators added.

    They said that unlike retired major Ashique, Basit did not subscribe to any extremist ideology and in fact he reportedly agreed to take part in the kidnapping for monetary gains.

    Retired major Ashique and Nawaz returned to Lahore on September 26, 2008 for Eid and they returned to Karachi in October on a non-custom paid 4X4.

    The retired major had bought three new cellphones and SIM cards and arranged an Alto car on rent. Meanwhile, Nawaz went back to Miramshah and returned again with two more persons, Irfan and Waheed, along with some funds for the job.

    The role of retired major Basit in the kidnapping was only limited to providing information to retired major Ashique that Mr Anand had left his residence along with his driver on the morning of October 20, 2008.

    Acting on his information, retired major Ashique and his three accomplices intercepted Mr Anand’s vehicle and the kidnappers administered sedative injections to both Mr Anand and his driver.

    The kidnappers shifted unconscious Mr Anand to their vehicle and sped away to leave the city without wasting any time. They reached Miramshah on October 21 via Shikarpur, Sukkur, Kashmore, DG Khan, DI Khan and Bannu.

    Since Commander Kashmiri was not present in Miramshah, the retired major went to Razmak area where he handed over Mr Anand to his custody.

    Maj-Gen Amir Faisal Alvi’s killing

    Investigators pointed out that Commander Illyas Kashmiri was picked up by the Inter-Services Intelligence back in 2003, but was later released.

    The interrogators told Dawn that Illyas Kashmiri also ordered the execution of sacked Major-General Amir Faisal Alvi, who was credited with masterminding the Angor Adda operation against militants in 2004. In 2005, he was sacked by former military ruler Pervez Mushrraf.

    Maj-Gen Alvi was killed by three unknown gunmen on November 19, 2008 when he was heading towards his private office in his car along with his driver in the outskirts of Islamabad.

    The interrogators said that Illyas Kashmiri had paid Rs125,000 to retired major Ashique for killing Maj-Gen Alvi. By killing General Alvi the militants took revenge for the death of a top Al Qaeda operative, Abdul Rehman Kennedy, who was killed while fighting alongside the Taliban in Angor Adda, interrogators said.

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