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Minorities under threat as situation escalates in Swat valley

7 May 2009

Minority Rights Group International is extremely concerned about the developing security situation in NWFP and FATA, and in other areas of Pakistan , and the threats to minorities, from the Taliban and other armed groups, as well as from government forces and US forces operating in the country. For the last two years, Pakistan has been the most significant riser in our annual listing of Peoples under Threat around the world.

Of particular concern over the last week has been the reports of Sikh families having their homes destroyed by the Taliban after refusing to pay jizia – effectively protection money levied on non-Muslims. Shahbaz Bhatti, the Federal Minorities Minister, said yesterday (Tues 5 May) that the government will never allow any faction to trample on the rights of minorities, but he confirmed that about 155 families had been forced from Aurakzai. The minister is also reported to have said that efforts were underway to safely evacuate some minority families who remained in the tribal areas, which shows how the government's inability to maintain the rule of law in areas of the country has make it complicit in human rights abuses carried out by extremist groups.

Although the leadership of the Taliban in Pakistan is different from that in Afghanistan, there is a similar pattern of repression of religious minorities. Threats have also been made against Christians, and a famous Buddhist statue in Swat was destroyed. The Kalash in Chitral are also vulnerable. In Afghanistan in 2001 the Taliban government sparked international outrage by decreeing that all Hindus should wear a yellow badge.

Pashtun or Pathan communities (themselves a minority in Pakistan) have for years been caught in the conflict between Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and Pakistani and US forces, suffering mass civilian casualties in bombings, patterns of arbitrary arrest and house demolitions, and mass displacement.