Ontario Sikh family fears Pakistani Taliban have kidnapped their son
Ontario Sikh family fears Pakistani Taliban have kidnapped their son - The Globe and Mail
Eight years ago, Bishan Dass left the heat of the Pakistani city of Peshawar for the cold of Canada and settled into a peaceful retirement amid a burgeoning community of fellow Sikhs in Brampton, Ont.
For the past three weeks, Mr. Dass, 70, has found little peace inside his suburban home. He and his wife, Shama, have been worrying about one of the two grown sons they left behind, 32-year-old Robin Singh, who was abducted in Peshawar on Feb. 12 as he made his way to work as an IT professional.
“We can't even sleep at night,” Mr. Dass said. “We're not hearing anything about him.”
Mr. Singh, a married father of three sons, is one of four Sikhs kidnapped in recent weeks in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province, where Taliban militants have been waging an escalating program of persecution against Sikhs and other non-Muslims. Of the other three abductees, who were taken together in the province's rural tribal belt in January and held for ransom, one was beheaded last month and the other two freed this week in a raid by Pakistani forces.
There has been no word, however, on Mr. Singh, who was hauled away in broad daylight in a market district in Peshawar. While responsibility for the disappearance has not been confirmed and abductions for profit are not uncommon in the region, his family and other observers strongly suspect Taliban involvement.
The chilling news came to Mr. Dass a few days after the abduction, when his other Peshawar-based son, Rajan, received a phone call. “Your brother Robin Singh is with us,” the caller reportedly said. A ransom demand of 10 million rupees, or about $125,000, followed days later.
Frantic to free their son, the family launched a fundraising drive in Brampton last week, but Mr. Dass said donations are no longer being sought. Canadian officials with the World Sikh Organization, among others, advised strongly against paying the ransom for fear it would encourage further kidnappings.
“That will send the wrong message,” Amanpreet Bal, a spokesman for the organization, said of the community funding effort. Mr. Bal suggested Canadians would do better to ask Ottawa to press the Pakistani government to protect minorities in the country's restive northwest, and to support international efforts to bring the Taliban to heel.
Despite their minority status, 10,000 Sikhs have lived and thrived for decades amid the region's Muslim majority, speaking the local Pashto language and running small businesses. After a surge in Islamic extremism in 2001, they were initially left alone by the Pakistani Taliban and other militant groups, but were finally targeted as hostilities peaked last year. Taliban factions began to enforce jazia , a kind of protection tax for non-Muslims, forcing many Sikh families to flee. In some cases, their properties were razed.
Last May, the Toronto-based South Asians for Human Rights Association held a conference, attended by activists, federal officials and Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan's minister for minority affairs, at which Mr. Bhatti pledged to “stop atrocities on Sikhs.”
Tim Uppal, a Sikh who sits as a Conservative MP from Edmonton, also attended the conference, and announced millions in Canadian government aid for people displaced by the Pakistani insurgency.
Mr. Uppal said in an interview that Canada has put pressure on Pakistan to ensure the safety of its minorities, and “they have assured us they have been doing that and will continue to do that, but obviously we're seeing violence in that region escalate.”
The government won't comment on Mr. Singh's case other than to say it is “very much aware of the situation,” Mr. Uppal said.
Roger Nair, chairman of South Asians for Human Rights, said his group has asked Ottawa to expedite immigration claims for persecuted minorities in the troubled region, and has offered the government undertakings to ensure newcomers are financially supported, but has yet to get a substantive reply.