Sardar Soran Singh, a popular Sikh leader from the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI), was shot dead by unidentified men in Buner on April 22. He was a provincial lawmaker and a special assistant to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chief minister on minorities.
Gun-wielding men riding motorcyclists targeted Singh outside his home soon after his return from a condolence visit to the family of a deceased relative in the nearby Kalabat village. He was taken to a hospital but doctors could not save him.
Immediately after the attack, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Muhammad Khorasani claimed responsibility for the attack. “Soran Sigh was not killed because of his religion,” the statement said. “We are not against any minority. He was targeted because he was an important member of the government.” The TTP vowed to continue fighting the government, the army and the anti-Taliban tribal militias who they said were protecting democracy and serving American interests.
But police rejected the claim, saying evidence led them to believe Sardar Soran Singh was killed by a political rival from within his own party, and not by the Taliban. “Police arrested six people who confessed their involvement in Soran Singh’s killing,” deputy inspector general Azad Khan told reporters in a press conference in Swat. Baldev Kumar, a district councilor of the PTI who was arrested from the Barikot area of Swat, is the prime suspect, they say. Baldev, who had been with PTI longer than Soran Singh, was angry because his rival was given a party ticket that he believed he deserved. “That was main reason behind his rivalry,” said Azad Khan.
“He was an ideal father”
Regardless of the reason, the death of Sardar Soran Singh is being seen as an irrevocable loss for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s politics. He was a politician, a physician, a human rights activist, a philanthropist and a journalist.
“Shocked at murder of PTI’s KP MPA and Minorities Minister Soran Singh; a great loss for all of us,” party chairman Imran Khan tweeted.
Born in 1966 in Pacha Kalay, a small village in Buner, Soran Singh matriculated at the Government High School in Gadezai. He studied for a diploma in medicine and began his career as a medical technician at the Jowar Basic Health Unit (BHU). “Dr Soran Singh served the local community irrespective of their sect and religion,” said Sajjad Khan, a local resident. Singh went on to complete a degree in Homeopathic medicine, quit his government job and began to run two private clinics, one in Pacha Kalay and another in Sultan Vas area of Buner.
“Soran Singh was a competent physician in both allopathic and homeopathic medicine,” said Sahib Singh, his class fellow during his medical diploma course. “His late father Parbod Pal was a Hakeem, so he was also skilled in traditional medicine.”
Soran Singh had been interested in politics since he was a student. When he practiced homeopathy, he took active part in politics and was a renowned civil rights activist.
In 2004, he joined Jamaat-e-Islami. During the regime of Gen Pervez Musharraf, he became a tehsil councilor in Buner on a minority seat. Very quickly, he became a major voice of dissent. In 2009, when a military operation against Fazlullah-led Taliban in Malakand division forced around 2.2 million people to leave their homes, Soran Singh took care of around 700 Sikh and Hindu families who had taken shelter at the Punja Sahib Gurdwara.
In 2011, he quit JI and joined PTI. “Throughout my association with JI, I could not attract a single Sikh to the Islamic religious party, so I joined the PTI where religion does not matter,” he had once told a reporter.
After the general elections of 2013, he made it to the provincial assembly on PTI’s special seat for minorities. Soon after that, he was appointed a special assistant to the chief minister on minorities.
Sardar Soran Singh has left behind a wife, two children and an ailing mother. “My father was a public figure and he had a passion for helping the poor. He was an ideal father,” his 17-year-old son Ajay Singh said.
According to Habibur Rehman, the provincial minister for Auqaf and Religious Affairs and JI’s MPA from Buner, “Soran Singh was a brave and courageous politician who raised concern for the minorities at all forums. He was very vocal during the assembly sessions.”
Buner, one of the seven districts of Malakand division, is home to around 6,000 people belonging to the Sikh faith. After becoming an advisor to the chief minister, he ordered the renovation of seven Gurdwaras in the district and helped build a Shamshan Ghat. “Before this, we were unable to perform the rituals of cremation,” said Surinder Singh. Draped in a Pakistani flag, Soran Singh’s body was cremated in the same Shamshan Ghat that he had recently helped build. A well in the crematory is named after his father.
Soran Singh played a pivotal role in the reopening Bhai Biba Singh Gurdwara in Peshawar, which had remained closed for six decades, and in increasing the job quota for non-Muslim minorities in government jobs in the province from 0.5 percent to 3 percent. The quotas for admission in medical college was made equal for all minorities. Christian and Hindu students were offered scholarships, books and uniforms, and similar measures were in the pipeline for Sikh students.
But his activism was limited to minority issues. He helped build boundary walls around a number of Muslim graveyards in Buner, locals say, and secured funds for mosques and Muslim cemeteries.
According to Baba Gurpal Singh, a leader of Sikh community in Peshawar, Soran Singh was the most down-to-earth politician he had ever met. “He was very accessible.”
“Before Soran Singh, the role of minority members in the parliament was symbolic. He changed the tradition and became a real voice of minorities,” said Haroon Sarab Dial, a Hindu rights activist from Peshawar. Frederick Azeem, a Christian lawmaker in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly, demanded exemplary punishment for his killers.
Before he was a popular politician, Soran Singh was known for hosting a television show on a Pashto channel Khyber News. While the show was centered on the theme of diversity and interfaith harmony, he also reported for the same television network.
“Being a professional journalist, he promoted the cause of interfaith harmony,” said Mubarak Ali, the director of Khyber News. “He was a jolly man who always amused people with his witty remarks and jokes.”
“I love journalism, and after I complete my term, I will join you people again,” he had told his former boss in their last telephone conversation. When he asked Soran Singh to be more careful about his security, he declined. “I am a poor man and no threat to anyone. Why would someone kill me?”