October Issue 2018

By | Cover Story | Published 3 weeks ago

 

Sardar Soran Singh

“If those who confessed to the crime have been freed, then who killed my father?” asks Ajay Singh, son of Sardar Soran Singh, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) MPA and advisor to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) chief minister, who was assassinated in 2016. Singh’s alleged killers were acquitted by an Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) in Buner district in April 2018. The police have not been able to identify any other suspects since. Ajay and his mother, Daleep, have been running from pillar to post seeking justice. “Our PTI affiliation has ruined us,” cries Daleep. “We were once a happy family, despite the ups and downs of life.”

At dusk, on April 22, 2016, Sardar Soran Singh was making his way home down a narrow street of Muyano Cham, in Pacha Kalay, Buner district. Just a few feet from his doorstep, unknown gunmen opened fire on him. Residents of the neighbourhood rushed towards the sound of the gunshots. They found Ajay, his sister Rasta Kaur, and their mother, wailing over Soran’s dead body. In no time, the news of Singh’s assassination spread and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) immediately claimed responsibility.

“Usually, the ATC takes three months to decide a case, but in my father’s case it took two years,” says Ajay, who is a 12th grade student at Edwardes College, Buner. “It raises questions regarding the verdict.” Needless to say, he has reservations regarding the ruling. According to initial media reports, the local police had alleged that the late MPA was killed by members of his own party – in fact, another minority worker, Baldev Kumar, who had allegedly hired assassins for the job. The culprit who pulled the trigger had allegedly confessed to this, according to the police statement.

The police also revealed that the head money of a million rupees was distributed between five people. These findings were lauded as a great achievement on the part of the KP police and two officers were awarded Quaid-e-Azam medals for it. 

The trauma of his father’s tragic murder, coupled with the lax Pakistani legal system, had an inevitable impact on Ajay’s performance in the exams. “From the lower courts, to the Supreme Court, I will fight my case until the killers are unveiled,” he says, his resolve firm. 

Radesh Singh Tony, a Peshawar-based human rights activist, is not happy with the ATC ruling either. He demands that the perpetrators be brought to justice. “A question mark hangs over the entire police investigation,” he says.

A close friend of Soran’s, Mehboob Buneri, a local journalist, highlighted the deceased’s struggle up the socio-political ladder – from a bus cleaner, to a vendor, to a member of the KP Assembly. “He was a true son of the soil,” says Buneri, “and was never ashamed of talking about his humble origins, even at public gatherings.” When Soran was a schoolboy, he could not play during recess like the other students, he recalls. Instead, he spent those 40 minutes selling custard to help his family make ends meet. He later became a certified hakeem and also worked as a journalist for the Pashto news channel, Khyber TV.

Buner district, to which Soran Singh belonged, was part of the Princely State of Swat, prior to its amalgamation with Pakistan in the late 1960s. In 1992, Soran and his maternal uncle migrated to India for business purposes, but soon returned to their home turf. Historically, Buner boasts a secular, pluralist society, where both Sikhs and Muslims have lived in harmony for decades. About 60 Sikh families currently reside in Pacha Kalay. Their population in the district is estimated to be approximately 800 people.  

Sardar Soran Singh’s son, wife and mother.

Soran began his political career in the Jamaat-e-Islami and was a member of the taluka council during  General (R) Pervez Musharraf’s reign. In 2013, he joined the PTI during the party’s historical Lahore rally. In the aftermath of the 2013 election, when the PTI emerged as the major party in the KP, he was allocated a reserved seat for minorities and later became advisor to the chief minister, Pervaiz Khattak.   

During his brief political career, he worked with zeal to address the long-standing demands of the deprived minorities. He helped renovate and construct the Hindu cremation ground and a children’s graveyard. The centuries-old Mardan cremation ground had been occupied by the land mafia, but Soran retrieved it with the help of the Auqaf Department.     

Qaiser Khan, one of Soran’s neighbours, remembers him as a lively and hospitable person. “His assassination was mourned not only in Pacha Kalay, but also in the surrounding villages,” he says. Khan described the deceased as a down-to-earth person, who lived in a rented house, which was a testament to his honesty. 

When Soran was advisor, the top brass of the party and the provincial administration referred to his son Ajay as their “son.” After his father’s death, however, he tried to meet Imran Khan many a time, but was not allowed to enter Bani Gala or the PTI secretariat. “The PTI, the police and the court system left us in an abyss,” he said, wiping his tears. For three days, it was just the locals who stood with Soran Singh’s family, in keeping with the local tradition of Pakhtunwali. 

Mrs Singh not only condemned the investigation report, but also cursed the court’s decision. During the Senate elections, the then chief minister tried his best to bring Baldev Kumar, Singh’s alleged assassin, to the provincial assembly to cast his vote in favour of the PTI candidate, but due to strong resentment and the fear that he would be manhandled, the police took him back to prison. “Imran Khan’s decision hurt us badly,” says Soran’s wife. “The PTI no longer stands for justice. It follows the path of hypocrisy like all the other parties.” Referring to the Supreme Court, she says, “We will take this case to the last powerful house of the country; we will not spare the killers.” 

At the time of his assassination, Soran was 48. His fragile and paralysed mother cries; she misses her only son. She looks up at the cloudy sky as if seeking justice and murmurs something under her breath.