PESHAWAR: Two members of the Sikh community were killed after unidentified gunmen opened fire on them near the outskirts of Peshawar on Sunday.
The victims — identified as 38-year-old Ranjeet Singh and 42-year-old Guljeet Singh — owned spice shops in the Battathal bazaar, located in the jurisdiction of Sarband police station.
Many people from the Sikh community took to the roads in different areas to protest the killing. The protesters, carrying national and black flags, staged a sit-in on the Grand Trunk Road outside the historic Qilla Bala Hisar.
“We need justice,” read a banner held by the demonstrators. “Give protection to the religious minorities,” stated another.
“The targeted killers have assassinated our Sikh brothers on Sunday morning,” Peshawar’s Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Ijaz Khan told reporters at the crime scene, calling the attack “an act of terrorism”.
The gunmen killed one of the victims inside his shop while the second one was targeted outside his shop, the CCPO said, adding that the assailants were on a motorbike and used the AK-47 rifle.
The attackers managed to escape, as the Battathal bazaar was located near the troubled Bara area of Khyber tribal district, he said.
“We are investigating from different angles and it is confirmed that it’s an act of terrorism,” he said.
The police were investigating whether the attack came in retaliation for a police operation a day ago in which two terrorists were killed or if any other group was involved.
No group immediately took responsibility for the attack. However, sources said the militant Islamic State group’s Khorasan chapter (IS-K) was most likely behind the incident.
On Saturday, an IS-K commander and mastermind of the suicide attack on Koocha Risaldar Shia mosque was killed along with a would-be suicide bomber in an early morning raid.
Previously, IS-K claimed responsibility for killing a Sikh hakeem, Satnam Singh near, the Charsadda bus stand on Oct 1, 2021.
Condemnations pour in Government officials and rights bodies voiced their shock and horror at the killings.
In a statement, PM Shehbaz told the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chief minister to take steps to ensure the safety of the lives and the property of citizens, especially minorities. He also directed the KP chief minister to ensure the arrest of the suspects and punish them according to the law.
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah criticised the KP government for its failure to protect minorities and directed the chief secretary and the inspector general of the police to submit a report on the incident.
He noted that this was not the first such incident in which the province’s Sikh community was targeted.
“The provincial government and law enforcement agencies should ensure the safety of Pakistani citizens belonging to minority communities,” he said, adding that the perpetrators should be arrested in accordance with the premier’s directives.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari called for the immediate arrest of those involved. “No one will be allowed to disturb interfaith harmony in the country and harm national unity,” he said in a statement, adding that the PPP was the country’s real representative party and would not abandon the Sikh community.
Chief Minister Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Mahmood Khan also condemned the assassination of the Sikh community members. In a statement, he directed the police to arrest the killers immediately and said no one would be allowed to disrupt the interfaith harmony.
Bishop of Peshawar Humphrey Sarfaraz Peter also condemned the incident and urged the provincial government to arrest the perpetrators.
“The miscreants wanted to disturb the peace and interfaith harmony in the city,” he said.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan also strongly condemned the murders. “This is not the first time that the Sikh community in KP has been targeted and we demand that the KP police identify and arrest the perpetrators promptly.”
Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2022