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HomeGo To PakistanJamaat-e-Islami has a Sikh candidate. Pakistanis say it's like VHP named a...

Jamaat-e-Islami has a Sikh candidate. Pakistanis say it’s like VHP named a Muslim

A Sikh young man named Hardeet Singh was nominated for Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa district. But people are asking if he is a Singh or an Afridi.

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New Delhi: Pakistan might soon have a Sikh man at the helm of a province that has ‘active’ Taliban presence. Provincial President of Jamaat-e-Islami, Senator Mushtaq Ahmad Khan, on Saturday announced that a Sikh young man named Hardeet Singh will be the party’s candidate for local body election in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa district.

The local government polls in 17 districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) are slated to begin on 19 December. According to Senator Mushtaq, there are several other minority candidates fielded by his party in KP province, but he picked Singh because he will be contesting elections in one of the most radicalised regions of Pakistan, which has an active Taliban presence.

“We have a very strong Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Minorities’ Wing that works 24 hours and have several minority candidates contesting local elections. The reason I chose to tweet about the young Sikh candidate Hardeet Singh is because he will be fighting elections from Khyber district, which is a traditional Pashtun area with a majority Afridi population. A non-Muslim candidate running election there needs to be highlighted as the region, falling adjacent to Afghan border, is orthodox and susceptible to terrorist activities,” Senator Mushtaq told ThePrint.

Pakistan journalist Hamid Mir who lauded Jamaat-e-Islami’s decision and tweeted about it said that there was a political strategy behind Jamaat-e-Islami’s nominating a non-Muslim candidate, despite being a prominent Islamist/radical party. “There are seats reserved for minority communities in Pakistan’s provincial elections. Several parties field minority candidates for these seats. Even Jamaat-e-Islami would want to win these seats and are thus nominating a Sikh candidate,” he said.

Pakistan’s civic information portal states that the Constitution of Pakistan guarantees the political inclusion of minorities by reserving a quota in Provincial Assemblies. “Article 51(4) of the Constitution reserves ten national assembly seats for minorities. Article 106 also guarantees non-Muslim reserved seats in all Provincial Assemblies. Section 48 of the Act asks for special measures for the enrolment of non-Muslims and bounds institutions to give priority to any activity related to this effort,” according to the website.

Users from Twitter were quick to point out that the KP seat was reserved for minorities, and therefore, the Jamaat-e-Islami’s announcement of a Sikh candidate was “nothing new” and suggested that those rejoicing must “check the poster”.

Mir added that it was still an “extraordinary” decision because it is unexpected coming from a largely Islamic party. “There has been a change in the party’s stance in the last 5-6 years, majorly because of Senator Mushtaq who is more liberal and wants to show the Jamaat-e-Islami as democratic.”

In a 2018 article published in The Express Tribune, Jamaat-e-Islami member Amir Iqbal Khalil said that in the early 2000s their party had hardly any non-Muslim candidates for reserved seats, but now much has changed. “We have more aspirants than seats,” he was quoted as saying.

Also Read: In Imran Khan’s Naya Pakistan, a minority commission without minority

Controversy over Hardeet Singh’s name

While some Pakistanis celebrated Jamaat-e-Islami’s decision and called it “progressive”, others were skeptical of this decision by party, whose name translates to “Party of Islam” and has a historic reputation of being radical (or conservative party). One user questioned its absurdity, saying it is like a ‘Vishwa Hindu Parishad, a Hindu organisation, nominating a Muslim.’

Other users, however, appeared to be elated that a minority Sikh candidate was being given a change and gave them their best wishes, saying that it was their “proud moment as a Pakistani.”

However, a peculiar thing that was noticed by some social media users was that candidate Singh was calling himself an ‘Afridi’. Afridis are a tribe that majorly follows the Sunni sect of Islam.

According to Mir, it was unusual for a Sikh man to call himself Afridi because it is unheard of: “Sikhs in the Khyber area call themselves Pashtun Sikhs as they speak Pashto, similar to the Hindus of that area. But it is not understandable why he would present himself as an Afridi.”

Meanwhile, it is also possible that the candidate’s family have been using the name. Many Afridis became Sikhs a few hundred years ago and it may be that he is one of them, Mir added.

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