This report is supported by the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives
October 17, 2023
By Arshad Mohmand
DERA ISMAIL KHAN
When Kashif Masih was murdered by militants in Peshawar, from the Islamic State – Khorasan Province (IS-K) in March this year, his widow Sumbul could have nursed her pain and delved in it further.
Instead, she enrolled in a beautician’s training course and now provides door-to-door beauty services in order to keep her stove burning. The trauma of her husband’s violent death has not stopped haunting her, but she has learned to be braver in order to raise her three children.
“I don’t feel scared any more,” she says. “And even if I have a booking for 11 in the night, I will make it there. The most they can do is shoot me, the way they shot him. That’s the thought that goes through my mind all the time.”
It was in Ramzan when Kashif was on his way home from work, just like any other day. A man on a motorcycle sailed next to him, pulled out a pistol and fired. Kashif died there. His brother Nadeem remembers how Kashif’s body had tipped over into an open sewer line, where it lay for several hours, because people were reluctant to fish it out.
“No one bothered to even pull out his body and lay it down somewhere clean,”
he recalls. “An elder who had been passing by explained to the crowd how Kashif had fallen in after being shot, but still no one helped.”
Peshawar’s Banaras area is home to a number of Christian families living peacefully with their Muslim neighbors. But with Kashif’s killing, at least four Christian households have moved out from the locality encompassing the neighbourhood in a pall of fear and gloom.
Nadeem laments that the Muslim and Sikh community are usually compensated with a ‘martyrs’ fund’. But Kashif’s heirs have yet to see even a rupee.
“[The caretaker government] promised one million Rupees. They handed a cheque to the Sikh community right in front of us, and said they will give our share after two or three months. It has been six months since.”
Experts have noted a spike in targeted attacks against minorities in Peshawar, including Christians, Hindus, Ahmadis and Sikhs.
According to the city’s Sikh community, over 35 of their members have been attacked since 2008 while hundreds of Sikh families have relocated due to threats.
Journalist and author Fakhar Kaka Khel explains that the Islamic State (ISIS) – locally know as Daesh – and its associated outfits including IS-K specifically target minorities. According to one estimate, there have been 28 recorded attacks by ISIS in Pakistan and Afghanistan this year, over half of which occurred on Pakistani soil.
“It is a specific strategy of the Daesh. We saw this before in Iraq and Syria, and based on this we can make an educated guess that they are applying the same strategy in this region,” he exposits. “Their strategy is to cause minimal civilian casualties to maximize impact, and they do this by targeting minorities.”
Journalist Haq Nawaz says that after the Taliban took over Afghanistan, dozens of ISIS and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) fighters were freed, and have since been engaged in militant activity in Afghanistan as well as Pakistan.
“Those prisons were holding militants and terrorists which are now a problem for Afghanistan, for this entire region, actually,”
he explains. “Over 2,000 Daesh militants are said to have been released from Pul-e-Charkhi [in Kabul] and [Parwan prison in] Bagram. TTP’s naib Emir Maulvi Faqir was also held in these prisons.”
Like Sumbul, many families affected by terrorism are living haphazard lives in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa while others, especially the Sikh community, have been forced to migrate from the province.
On the other hand, the Provincial Police claim that the accused who carried out the target killings of Sikhs and Christians have either been arrested or killed in encounters. They say that organized operations against IS-K are currently underway, in which they have managed to gain stride.