Thursday, June 4, 2009
Islamabad: In May, dozens of Sikhs living in the Orakzai agency were forced to move out after the Taliban demanded Rs50 million as jazia, or security tax, from them. Locals said the families were impoverished and left the area to avoid any Taliban action.
Less than a month later, the tax net has spread wider, to the Khyber agency tribal area. The Sikhs, Hindus, and Christians there have been told by the Taliban-backed Lashkar-e-Islam (LeI) to pay jazia in exchange for ensuring their security in the area.
Having already imposed the security tax on non-Muslims in the Orakzai agency in the tribal belt on the Afghanistan border, the Taliban forces in this area have empowered the LeI to charge the tax on their behalf, Khyber agency sources said.
The LeI commander has publicly announced that Sikhs and Hindus will be free to live anywhere in the area after paying this protection tax.
Reports suggest that most of the minority community members in the region have agreed to pay the tax instead of leaving the area, having lived there for decades.
Sources said several jirgas (meetings of elders) were held to settle the issue. One such meeting held last week, attended by the leaders and elders of the Sikh, Hindu, and Christian communities at Tirah Valley, resulted in the decision to pay up rather than move out.
Women, children, and handicapped persons have been exempted from paying the tax, which amounts to Rs1,000 per head annually.
The LeI militants have already started collecting jazia in Bara, Chora, Karamna, Bazaar Zakhakhel, and Tirah Valley of Khyber agency. Those refusing to pay, or not in a position to pay, are being forced to leave.