Tolerance

Pakistan sets up fund to aid minority victims of terrorism in KP

By Adeel Saeed

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A woman in October 2013 prays for the victims of that year's twin suicide bombing at the All Saints Church in Peshawar. [Adeel Saeed]

PESHAWAR -- Pakistani authorities have established a Rs. 200 million ($1.3 million) endowment fund for members of minority communities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) who have been victims of terrorism.

Those eligible include injured survivors of terrorist acts and families of those who were killed.

The federal and KP governments set up the Endowment Fund for Rehabilitation of Minority Terrorism Victims, said Wazir Zada, a member of the KP Provincial Assembly and special assistant on minority affairs to the KP chief minister.

The two governments each contributed Rs. 100 million ($626,000) to the fund, he said November 10.

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A mourner at All Saints Church in Peshawar in October 2013 lights a candle to pay tribute to the victims of the September 2013 attack on the church, which killed 127 people and injured more than 250. [Adeel Saeed]

The endowment was established after Pakistan's Supreme Court ordered the formation of a fund to support the victims of a twin suicide bombing at All Saints Church of Peshawar in 2013.

More than 100 people were killed and more than 250 were wounded in the attack claimed by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) splinter group Jundullah.

"I took a personal interest in the activation of the fund, and I have finally succeeded," said Zada, who belongs to the minority Kalash community in Chitral District.

The KP Cabinet approved the fund. It will become available within a month after approval by the Provincial Assembly.

A case for more funds

Victims of the All Saints Church blast as well as of other bombings targeting minority groups will benefit from the fund, Zada said, adding that recipients may direct their compensation toward educational fees, health care and other expenses.

"We have records of all the members of minority communities who have suffered from incidents of terrorism," he said, adding that victims may request support from the fund by contacting the Auqaf, Hajj, Religious and Minority Affairs Department.

Haroon Sarab Dayal, a religious scholar and chairman of the All Pakistan Hindu Rights Movement, lauded the move to assist those in need.

"I cannot find the words to express our gratitude for this development aimed at the betterment of minority communities," he said.

While the fund to assist minority communities is "a positive step", Sarab Dayal said, a substantial increase is essential because KP alone has more than 500,000 minority community members.

He stressed the need for a proper distribution of the funds so that those in most need are the first to benefit.

In addition, the federal government should provide employment opportunities to thousands of jobless members of minority communities, he said.

The formation of the fund "was the demand of the Christian community after the devastating All Saints Church bomb blasts", said Augustin Jacob, a representative of the Christian community and president of the KP chapter of the Pakistan Minorities Unity Council.

"If the fund is properly distributed, it will heal the wounds received by the victims of the All Saints Church bombings," he said.

The Christian community has suffered many hardships due to the damage and devastation wreaked by the twin blast, which resulted in hundreds of orphaned children, widows and severely injured survivors, he said.

Although the KP government should direct more money to the fund to ensure proper rehabilitation of the survivors, minorities appreciate its launch and hope to see an increase in the fund eventually, Augustin said.

Return to a sense of normality

A number of Sikhs have been the victims of targeted killings and their families need support for rehabilitation and to help them return to a sense of normality, said Jatinder Sikander, a member of the Sikh community and a teacher at the Bhai Joga Singh School in Peshawar.

The formation of the endowment reflects the government's concern to improve the lives of those minority members who have suffered from terrorist and extremist attacks, he said.

The Sikh community fully welcomes the initiative and is grateful to those institutions and individuals who worked for its formation with the objective of helping minority community members, he added.

"This is a very welcome decision taken by the government, and it will promote a message of interfaith harmony in our society," said Abdul Ghafoor, a religious scholar, activist for interfaith harmony and former director of the Sheikh Zahid Islamic Centre at the University of Peshawar.

The establishment of the endowment will offset the message of discord promoted by extremist elements, he said.

The initiative proves that the Pakistani people and the government love peace, respect minority communities and consider them equals, Ghafoor said.

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