India on Sunday said it has registered a “strong protest” with the Pakistan government hours after two Sikh men were shot dead in broad daylight by unidentified gunmen in Peshawar city in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

“We call upon the authorities concerned to sincerely investigate the matter and take strict action against those responsible for this deplorable incident,” External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said in a statement. “We expect that the Government of Pakistan, in discharge of its responsibilities, will look after the safety, security and well-being of its minority communities.”

The deceased men 42-year-old Suljeet Singh and 38-year-old Ranjeet Singh owned spice shops in Batalal locality, Peshawar Capital City Police Office Ijaz Khan told Dawn.

Officials have sent their bodies to a local hospital for an autopsy and are collecting evidence from the crime scene. “CCTV cameras from surrounding areas are also being checked,” Khan said. “Those involved in the incident will soon be unmasked.”

A search party has been formed to trace the absconding suspects.

The two men were sitting at their shops in Batta Dal Chowk in the Sarband area on Sunday when two unidentified gunmen arrived on a motorbike and shot them dead, The Indian Express reported. No group has taken responsibility for the murders.

Meanwhile, members of the Sikh community staged protests in Peshawar against the killings.

Leaders condemn the incident

Several political leaders, including Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, condemned the attack.

“Pakistan belongs to all its people,” the prime minister wrote on Twitter. “Have ordered a high level inquiry to ascertain facts. The killers will be arrested and meted out exemplary punishment. My most sincere sympathies to the bereaved families.”

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Mahmood Khan asked the police to take strict action against the culprits, Dawn reported. He called the killing a conspiracy to disrupt inter-faith harmony in the province.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said that Sunday’s attack was not an isolated incident and asked the police to immediately arrest the perpetrators. “The government must make it clear that violence against religious minorities will not be tolerated,” the panel said in a tweet.

Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann and former state chief minister Amarinder Singh also condemned the incident.

Mann requested Foreign Minister S Jaishankar to take cognisance of the matter and raise it with Pakistan to ensure the protection of Hindu and Sikh minorities, while Singh asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take note of the killings.

This incident follows a string of minority killings in the country. “Sadly, this is not the first such case or a rare occurrence,” India’s foreign ministry spokesperson said in Sunday’s statement.

In September, a well-known Sikh “hakeem” (Unani medicine practitioner) was shot dead by unidentified gunmen inside his clinic in Peshawar, PTI reported.

In 2020, news channel anchor Ravinder Singh was killed in Peshawar. In 2018, Charanjit Singh, a prominent Sikh community member, was killed by unknown men in the city.

In 2016, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf National Assembly member Soren Singh was also killed in Peshawar, PTI reported. As many as 15,000 Sikhs live in Peshawar. They are mostly involved in running businesses and some own pharmacies.

Hindus constitute the largest religious minority in Pakistan, followed by Christians, according to the 2017 census, PTI reported. The Sikhs, Ahmadis and Parsis are also among the notable religious minorities in Pakistan.