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Taliban Forces Save the Lives of Two Sikhs

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    I figured I would start off this week with an odd news story – odd, but deserved of some spotlight. Over the weekend it seems that Taliban-aligned groups saved two Pakistani Sikhs from their kidnappers and are threatening to execute the kidnappers to stifle law-and-order problems in the area.

    Two Sikhs, who were abducted from a district in Pakistan’s restive North- West Frontier Province (NWFP), have been rescued by the local Taliban and religious scholars, who decided to publicly hang their nine kidnappers on Monday to discourage crimes in the region. Attar Singh and Sehra Singh were kidnapped by a group of criminals from Dowaba in Hangu district. They were freed on Saturday after the intervention of local Taliban, religious scholars and tribal elders, The News reported. [link]

    The news may seem shocking. The Taliban, the same forces that destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhists cave-carved figures, are now saving Sikhs?

    While by no means should this post be construed that I am somehow supporting the Taliban, I do believe that this small anecdote helps illustrate the complexities of Afghanistan and beg for us to engage in critical analysis, rather than merely parroting reports in the news media.

    Even prior to September 11, 2001, excellent articles featured how Sikhs were surviving under then Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

    JALALABAD, AFGHANISTAN: It’s not just the variety of fabrics in his shop that distinguishes Gurmouk Singh from the other merchants in this bustling city of commerce. Most of all, it is Mr. Singh’s distinctive beard and turban that mark him as a Sikh, a religious minority in an aggressively Muslim land.

    But while the Taliban regime that controls some 95 percent of this war-torn country has in the past few months smashed Buddhist statues and cracked down on Shiite Muslims in central Afghanistan, Singh says he and his fellow Sikhs feel completely safe in the only home they have ever known.

    For their part, Muslims regard Sikhs to be Ahl-e-zima, protected minorities, and Ahl-e-kitab, people of the book, a class that includes Judaism and Christianity as well. Like orthodox Muslims, for instance, Sikhs regard all human beings to be of one brotherhood, equal, regardless of social status. In addition, while Sikhs often hang portraits of the 10 founders of the Sikh religion in their temples, they condemn the worship of idols.

    “The Taliban don’t really approve of the Sikhs, in the sense that no religion measures up in the eyes of Islam. But they’re a little more benign, more tolerant toward the Sikhs,” says Khushwant Singh, a Sikh historian and novelist in New Delhi who has traveled throughout Afghanistan. “They must be a resilient lot, and they must be performing a useful function.” A mischievous grin crosses his face. “I suppose the Taliban’s women couldn’t get their chadors [veils] if the Sikhs weren’t there to sell them.” [link]

    While the reasons for the Taliban-aligned groups to save the Sikhs may have more to do with the fluidity of local politics as opposed to large ideological reasons, it does also highlight the lack of law-and-order and fiasco that is developing in Afghanistan.

    The media (if it does pay attention) is Iraq-specific, in fact, this past weekend the precarious situation in Afghanistan was highlighted with Afghan President Hamid Karzai narrowly surviving an assassination attempt on his life in the streets of the capital Kabul during a “victory parade.”

    In a land that has been devastated by war, the American-led “victory” rings hollow for much of the country. Reports have shown that the number of attacks have actually increased in 2008 as opposed to the same period in 2007. Even former Secretary of State, Colin Powell talks of a “Taliban resurgence” in Southern Afghanistan. We are far from the final throes in Afghanistan or Iraq. With an American election on the horizon and increasing failure in Iraq and Afghanistan and false belligerency about Iran and even supposed North Korean-assisted nuclear reactors in Syria, I hope that despite the distractions the tabloid media seeks to create [here, here, and even here] that voters keep the issues of American Empire in mind and avoid candidates that have nothing to offer but more of the same and that being “fine with them.” - Posted by Jodha on Sunday, April 27, 2008

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