April was a particularly grim month for the besieged ethnic Hazara community in the Pakistani city of Quetta.
It began with the targeted killing of Nazar Hussein, a taxi driver in the city. At the end of the month, two Hazara men were shot dead in their electronics shop in another attack based on sectarian logic. In total, the community suffered four separate “targeted killings” during the month. The killings triggered several protests, most notably a women-led hunger strike that was called off after strikers secured a meeting with Qamar Javaid Bajwa, the Army's Chief of Staff.
Read more: Hazara women end hunger strike against targetted killings
Given this background, the decision of Pakistan's Chief Justice to issue an unprecedented suo moto notice regarding the killings was significant and broadly welcomed by members of the community.
The killings, said Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar on May 11 were tantamount to “ethnic cleansing.”
“We have no words to condemn the killings of Hazaras,” said Nisar, before adding: “We have to protect the lives and property of the [people of the] Hazara community.”
Appreciate the sou motu notice of CJP on hazara comunity target killing Quetta
— Sabahat (@Sabahat19766450) May 3, 2018
Finally voice of Hazara people heard. Army chief gives them assurance of security and safety. While Chief Justice Of Pakistan takes notice of the killing of Hazara people. Took us several years. Extremely shameful
— Hassaan Niazi (@HniaziISF) May 2, 2018
Will anything change?
The notice issued by the Chief Justice means that various authorities in Balochistan, the eastern region of Pakistan where the city of Quetta is located, should now submit reports on the killings to the court.
Whether this will lead to any positive changes is unclear for the moment. The central government's control over Balochistan has long been weak. So has political will to protect the Hazara people.
Over the past 15 years, 190 attacks have taken the lives of 1,500 Hazaras, and over 3,500 have been wounded in a sustained campaign of targeted attacks and bombings across Balochistan, according to Daily Times.The most lethal suicide bombing against Hazaras came in January 2013, killing more than 96 people in a local snooker club. A month later, 84 people were killed in an attack on a crowded vegetable market mostly used by ethnic Hazaras. They have been killed in mosques, markets, snooker club, streets, shops, everywhere and anywhere.
The series of bombings, suicide attacks, and targeted assassinations has seen the community forced to dwell in two heavily protected enclaves on either side of the city: Hazara Town and Mari Abad. Human Rights Watch referred to this tendency as “ghettoization” in its June 2014 report, adding that ‘there is no travel route, no shopping trip, no school run, no work commute that is safe.’
Fearing further atrocities and with few opportunities in the country, 70,000 of the reportedly 900,000 Hazaras that live in Balochistan have taken a precarious migration route in a bid for a better, safer life.
The journey over the ocean to Australia has seen hundreds drowned along the way.
Lashkar-e Jhangvi, a militant extremist Sunni Deobandi group, has claimed responsibility for most of the attacks on Hazara in Balochistan along with Pakistan Tehrek-e Taliban (TTP) Jaishul Islam and Sepeh-e Muhammad. In recent years, the so-called Islamic State in Khorasan (IS-K) has also begun claiming attacks.
For these groups, it is mostly the overwhelming Hazara adherence to Shia Islam that mark them out as heretics deserving of slaughter.
The Hazara community in Pakistan has been there since the 1880s, after migrating from next door Afghanistan.
Hazara remaining in the old country have fared no better. Since 2015, the so-called Islamic State of Khorasan (IS-K) has orchestrated at least 19 big attacks against Hazaras, leaving 544 dead and over 1000 injured. The community was already a prime target for the Taliban, which is dominated by ethnic Pashtun and fundamentally anti-Shia.
The government in Kabul has restricted itself to “condemning in the strongest terms” such attacks, while the government's own discrimination against Hazara, particularly in education and employment, was flagged in a recent report by the US Department of State.
With the seemingly unstoppable rise of sectarian military groups in both countries, protecting Hazara rights will take the kind of strength and will that neither Kabul or Islamabad have shown in the past.
Who is behind Hazara’s Killing?
Evidently, Quetta’s Hazaras are the Mongols, who migrated from Central Asia to the Banyan District in Afghanistan. They belong to the Shia faction of Islam, Persian is their main language. Demographically, Hazaras live in three countries: Afghanistan (7-8 million); Iran (1.2 million) and Pakistan (0.7 million). In addition, a diaspora of approximately 400,000 to 500,000 is spread around in a number of Western countries. Hazaras have a long history of persecution at the hands of Afghans which dates back to 16th century. During the era of Amir Abdul Rahman (1880-1901), who is regarded as founder of modern Afghanistan, thousands of Hazaras were killed, expelled and enslaved. Almost half of the Hazara population was displaced to neighboring Baluchistan of British India and the Khorasan province in Iran. Hazaras shifted to Quetta, in numbers, from Afghanistan in 1840; and to avenge the Afghan atrocities, they joined the British army in flocks.
In 1904, the British raised an infantry unit, the “106th Hazara Pioneers”, comprising Hazara refugees in Quetta. Hazaras fought for the British during Anglo Afghan wars. Hence, they carry a historic baggage; whereby the Afghans do not tolerate their presence in Pashtun areas. Therefore, by default, it has become a fault line which can easily be triggered. And once ignited, it soon becomes self-sustaining through its own momentum and tempo. So far Hazaras have been on the receiving end; they have refrained from taking up organized armed struggle against the rival groups.
During this year, Hazaras of Quetta have been targeted mercilessly as if their lives are of no value. Earlier also, the Hazara community was hunted down, as a matter of routine. Previously, incidents were of the type of forced off-loading of Hazaras from public transport and killing them indiscriminately, like animals. Ostensibly, systematic targeting of Hazara community has many facets: local rivalries, sectarian sentiment, regional dynamics and fissures created by the Great Game. The Iranian Intelligence Agencies Itallat through its Quetta based consulate, Pasdarans (Iranians revolutionary guards) placed with Iranian Intelligence (cover) officers in Iranian Culture Centre of Quetta and Peshawar carries out discreet abortive attempts on Hazara Community thus killings scores of innocent Hazaras. Besides NDS, RAW and proscribed terrorist organizations including Baluchistan Liberation Army (BLA), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Ahle-Sunnat wal Jammat are also instrumental in Hazara’s assassinations. The land mafia / criminal elements are also involved in abductions and using coercive methods to grab valuable properties of Hazara’s spreading from Taftan border to Quetta including expensive huge warehouses in Chamman.
The facts are corroborated / substantiated by RAND (US Think Tank) scholar Christine Fair, a leading American expert on South Asia, Quote in a American journal Foreign Affairs that Pakistan has legitimate concerns about India’s involvement in initiating unrest in Baluchistan. She contended that “Indian officials have told me privately that they are pumping money into Baluchistan.” Kabul has encouraged India to engage in provocative activities such as using the Border Roads Organization to build sensitive parts of the Ring Road and use the Indo-Tibetan police force for security. It is also building schools on a sensitive part of the border in Kunar — across from Bajaur. Kabul’s motivations for encouraging these activities are as obvious as India’s interest in engaging in them.” Unquote
Recent increase in the massacre like events have come under the backdrop of weakening of our law enforcement agencies (LEAs) through a concerted campaign of smear propaganda. This campaign was particularly focused against Frontier Corps (FC) Baluchistan. Saner voices have all along been cautioning that exclusion of “B” areas form the jurisdiction of LEAs and handing it over to Levies and Khasadars would eventually result in handing over lambs to wolves, in the rural area. Demand for withdrawal of FC from Baluchistan is aimed at driving the chaos to unmanageable heights in urban areas as well.
As a consequence of the attacks, and the alleged impunity by which they are perpetrated, a large number of Hazaras have recently taken to the streets to protest against these ruthless killings of their community members. The protest sit-in on Alamdar Road, Quetta, saw active participation of citizens representing Hazara tribe, including women, children and the elders. Jalela Advocate, who has been active in the sit-in, told the media that the people of Hazara were aspirants of a peaceful Baluchistan and a peaceful Pakistan. The protest over the recent spate of targeted killings in the city was called off only after the meeting of the leaders of Shia Hazara community with Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, who gave an assurance that those behind the attacks shall suffer twice as much. As per the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR), during 46 incidents of target killing and bomb blasts in Quetta from January 2012 to December 2017, up to 525 were killed while 734 were injured. Where, more than 200 people of the Hazara community were killed in only two suicide bomb attacks.
Although large-scale attacks targeting the Hazaras saw a decline after the military operations against terror, targeted killing of the community never completely ended. And this raises serious questions about the government’s seriousness ascribed to this turmoil. Tribal leader Nawabzada Haji Lashkri Raesani said, “Increase in the number of incidents of terrorism is a challenge for the state.” For the dream of a peaceful Baluchistan to materialize, politicians should unite against the ongoing oppression in the province. The underlined implication is that there cannot be a complete peace in Baluchistan if the policy of giving space to extremist groups remains in place. Apart from improving the security situation and intelligence sharing to avoid targeted attacks in Quetta, a shift in policy on state level is also needed. On the supportive side, 19 platoons of Frontier Corps (FC) were deployed in Mureeabad and Hazara Town for security of the Hazara community. Other than this, officers of the law enforcement agencies provided security to visitors travelling from Quetta to Taftan. The Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar also took suo motu notice of the Hazara targeted killings.
As COAS Genreal Bajwa said, “the state is responsible for the security of its citizens, and each and every casualty, including from the Hazara community, is of concern to us. Through a unified national effort, we have turned the tide of terrorism; however, a lot is still being done against inimical designs to reverse the gains by exploiting various fault lines.” Hence, the government should take up the responsibility of citizens and should act fast before the troublemakers’ take further advantage of the situation in Baluchistan.