Early May, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff Gen Bajwa met the protesting Hazara community in Quetta. Separately, the Chief Justice of Pakistan taking suo motu notice of the Hazara violence stated: “I have just met members of the Hazara community; they are so scared that they are not even approaching the Supreme Court. They can't go to schools or hospitals.” He asked a crucial question: “Are they not citizens of Pakistan?”
Who are the Hazara? Why are they being targeted? Who are the perpetrators? And why is the Pakistan State and Nation ignoring the Hazara?
Who are the Hazara?
Hazara is one of the Shia communities in Pakistan numbering around 900,000, with a majority of them living around Quetta in Balochistan.
Historically, the Hazara moved from the Hazarajat region in Central Afghanistan to today’s Pakistan in three distinct waves. The first two waves took place during the British period. The first wave was a trickle and voluntary, which moved into British India, primarily to work as labourers in the infrastructural projects, mainly the railways in Balochistan along the Bolan Pass.
The second wave of Hazara migration into British India was substantial and forced. There was ethnic cleansing in Afghanistan following a domestic upsurge in the Hazarajat during the reign of Amir Abdul Rehman in the 19th century. While a section looks at this attack as ethnic cleansing, others analyse the same as a part of Amir’s efforts to bring the region under his control, following the Second Anglo-Afghan war that ended in 1880. According to available reports, half of the Hazara population was either killed in Afghanistan or forced to flee the country. This was the original sin; efforts to understand the reasons behind violence against the Hazara community will have to start from here.
The third wave of the Hazara movement into Pakistan was sectarian and an exodus. It took place during the Taliban rule in the 1990s and continued during the last decade.
Anthropologically, the Hazara community is linked with the Mongols and Central Asian Turks. They are believed to be the descendants of a 1000 soldiers unit of the great Mongol Genghis Khan. “Hazar” refers to 1000 in Persian (and also in Urudu). Mughal Emperor Babur mentions their presence for the first time.
The Quetta Violence against Hazara
Though the Hazara community has been living in and around Quetta in Balochistan for the last few hundred years, there was rarely any organised violence against them in Pakistan. It is a recent phenomenon, especially since 2011.
Since 2011, there have been regular and systematic attacks on Hazara; some are huge attacks using suicide bombs, the rest are regular indiscriminate firing but target specific. There have also been frequent gun attacks by motorbike-borne assailants on Hazara youths, businesspeople and pilgrims.
Some of the above attacks had a massive casualty in a single bombing. Consider the following: the June 2012 suicide bombing in Quetta killed more than 15; the multiple bombings in January 2013 on the same day killed more than 110; the February 2013 bombing in Quetta killed more than 70; a suicide attack in June 2013 killed more than 30.
One could see a pattern in violence against the Hazara community in Balochistan. And the violence is just not physical through bombings and indiscriminate firing. Physical violence against the Hazara has a collateral on emotional balance, business opportunities and more importantly, the right to move without fear. Many Hazara parents are worried about sending their children to schools, as they consider the place as insecure for the young ones. None other than the Chief Justice of Pakistan has commented early this week about the Hazara fear over getting their children educated.
Motorbike borne assailants and their targets in marketplaces have impacted the small Hazara businessmen and workers. There have been a series of attacks on markets where the Hazara community either do business or go there to buy essential commodities.
Thus the violence against the Hazara community is not only physical. It is also emotional and economic.
Who is targeting the Hazara in Balochistan? And Why?
While the Hazara violence has been adequately captured in the recent years, two questions are yet to be explored sufficiently: Who is targeting the Hazara in Quetta? And why?
Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) - a sectarian militant group with its base in Punjab has been predominantly believed to be the primary perpetrator behind the Hazara violence. There have been a few statements attributed to the LeJ leaders on the killings of Hazara community in Quetta. During the recent months, the ISIS in Pakistan has also claimed responsibility for violence in Balochistan, but need not necessarily against the Hazara. The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is considered to be the primary perpetrator of violence against the Hazara.
Now, the critical question – why does the LeJ consider the Hazara as a threat? Or, what motivates the LeJ to target the Hazara community in Quetta? Since LeJ is a Punjab based organization and the cadres are also considered to be from the same province, the question assumes even more importance. Why should a Punjab-based sectarian organization, target a community that lives in Balochistan?
The above question assumes importance with the LeJ’s background. LeJ was founded in Punjab, and was an offshoot of the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP). Both organizations targeted the Shia community in Punjab, during the late 1980s and 1990s, especially around the Jhang region. The Hazara were not a part of their target during the 1980s-90s.
The LeJ targeting the Hazara in Balochistan could be seen as a part of post 9/11 developments across the Durand Line. It is widely believed that the LeJ during post 9/11 militant realignment across the Durand Line started fighting along with the Taliban franchisees in KP and FATA. It cannot be a coincidence that the Taliban leadership moved into Balochistan to form the Quetta Shura and there has been a sudden outbreak of violence against the Hazara in Quetta. Perhaps along with the Quetta Shura, the LeJ should have also moved into Balochistan and made it a new base.
But, the above still does not answer the question why. What threat does the Hazara pose to LeJ? Perhaps, the LeJ led violence against the Hazara is not about the threat that the latter pose, but more to do with the ideology of the former – anti-Shia.
Perhaps, Hazara is also an easy target for the LeJ. With a weak government in Balochistan and with the security forces tied up in KP and FATA, the Hazara community could be bulldozed. Since there is no one who can speak for the Hazara either inside in Balochistan or the rest of Pakistan, LeJ finds them an easy human prey.
The lack of support for the Hazara – both at the national and international levels makes the LeJ attack them with impunity.
What about the State and Nation of Pakistan?
For the State – the security forces, or the Deep State that includes the intelligence agencies and the Establishment, neither the Hazara community is a priority, nor the violence in Quetta. The only violence that would perturb the Deep State in Balochistan will be that led by the Baloch nationalists and insurgents. Violence led by the sectarian militants or the ISIS against the minority communities in Balochistan should be of secondary and tertiary importance to the Deep State. Moreover, the Deep State is concentrated on addressing violence across the Durand Line and in KP and FATA.
If the Deep State is concerned about the violence in KP, FATA and Punjab, rest of the nation is yet to sympathise with the Hazara community. For the Pakistani nation violence against either the Baloch or the Hazara have rarely been the mainstream news. The big media houses are based in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad; hardly, any regional newspaper is published from Quetta. The Deep State has targeted even the online editions. The Baloch have been fighting this national indifference for a long time. The relatives of the disappeared would travel to Karachi to protest in front of the press so that the media can cover their problems.
The Supreme Court in the past did take suo motu notice on the disappearances in Balochistan. Ten years ago, the then Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry did make an effort. But nothing much came out of the process. The reason is simple: Balochistan is no Punjab or Sindh or KP. And the Deep State is too strong.
Perhaps Balochistan receives better attention than those living in the two Kashmiri geographic identities within Pakistan; when compared to the other three provinces, the Balochistan attracts less attention, and the Baloch are secondary citizens – socially and politically. The Hazara within Balochistan have an added disadvantage – they are not even Baloch!
Finally, there is no international attention on the violence against Hazara. Except for a few reports by the Human Rights Watch (“We are the Walking Dead”) and the BBC (“Hell on Earth”), there has not been adequate international attention against the Hazara violence. For the international community, neither Balochistan nor the Hazara is a “strategic” issue.
As a result, despite the recent statements by the Chief Justice and Army Chief of Pakistan, violence against Hazara will continue. It will be on our collective conscience. If we have one.