For Hazaras, a third century of persecution
Continuously under attack from Lashkare Jhangvi (LeJ) and spurned by the Baloch nationalists, Hazaras of Balochistan suffer from double jeopardy in the province. From 2003 to 2009, more than 260 members of the community were killed in Quetta and over 100 injured. According to the HRCP records, 211 more had died in bomb blasts and shooting by October 2011 taking the tally to 471.
The victims belong to all categories: traders, government officials, lawyers and prominent citizens. Pakistan’s top boxer Ibrar Hussain, who represented the country three times at the Olympics and won gold at the 1990 Asian Games, was shot dead in the city in June last year. Quetta has turned into the killing fields for the Hazaras.
A small group of the Hazaras from Afghanistan settled in Quetta in late 19thcentury. They were asylum seekers who had fled during the reign of the Shia baiter Amir Abdur Rehman known for his relentless use of despotic authority. Abdur Rehman had earlier forced those living in Afghan Kafiristan to adopt Islam, rechristening the district as Nuristan. He then conducted several campaigns against the Shia Hazaras and massacred thousands of them. Their wives and children were sold in Kabul as slaves. There was a massive migration of the community to several countries in the region. The persecution continued in various ways till the reign of Zahir Shah who imposed a special tax on the Hazaras. A state sponsored campaign to Pakhtunise Afghanistan led to the emergence of revolutionary groups in non Pashtun districts. Prominent among these were Sitame Milli (National Persecution) group and Shulae Javed (the Eternal Flame).
As immigrants Hazaras were hard working people and prospered as they found peace and opportunity to work in Quetta. Some joined the British military and civil administration. A few like Gen Musa Khan and Air Vice Marshal Sharbat Ali Changezi reached the upper echelons of the armed forces. With around 91 percent literacy rate, the community has produced several prominent figures who have served the country with distinction. Saira Batool, one of the first women pilots in Pakistan, being one.
Despite the presence of a vibrant nationalist movement in the province, both in the Baloch and Pashtun areas, the Hazaras faced no discrimination because the community was small, helpful and unassuming. The situation, however, underwent a major change with the arrival of the Afghan refugees of various ethnicities after 1979. The Pashtun Afghans who came in thousands tilted the fragile ethnic balance against the Baloch who started resenting the presence of all outsiders. This section of the Afghan refugees was, however, welcomed by the Pasthun nationalists who maintained that they were brothers who had just crossed from the other one side of the divided Pashtun land. The Hazra entrants, however, were looked at with resentment by both the Pashtuns and the Baloch.
The Pashtun refugees brought their age old sectarian prejudices to an otherwise secular Quetta. These were exacerbated during the civil war that raged in Afghanistan in the 1990’s, particularly after the Taliban started their jihad against the Iran supported Northern Alliance. The Hazaras in Afghanistan were an important component of the Northern Alliance. The Taliban subjected them to horrible ethnic cleansing, particularly after capturing Mazare Sharif in August 1993. In a dispatch weeks later, Ahmad Rashid maintained that 4,000 to 6,000 Afghan Hazaras were brutally massacred in the city.
The Taliban regime in Kabul had allowed Pakistani LeJ terrorists who also fought against the Northern Alliance to set up their camps in Afghanistan. Mullah Umar spurned the request of the PML(N) government in late 1990’s to hand over LeJ masterminds like Riaz Basra. With the fall of Taliban, the LeJ shifted its HQs to Pakistan’s tribal areas. Henceforth, they decided to concentrate on the Shias inside Pakistan. They targeted especially those in Kurrum Agency, Gilgit-Baltistan, Karachi and Quetta. The TTP provided them full support.
Throughout the 1990’s, sectarian terrorists killed scores of Shias in Punjab, NWFP and Karachi. However, secular leaders in power in Balochistan kept the province a peaceful haven for Hazaras. Prominent among others these leaders were Akbar Bugti and Akhtar Mengal. Attacks on the community started only two years after Musharraf’s coup. These coincided with the period when agencies were directed under a master plan to give religious parties and militant groups a free hand. Hazara killings became all too frequent after the killing of Akbar Bugti when the agencies diverted full attention and resources to brutal suppression of the Baloch nationalists. Henceforth, providing security of life to citizens was considered no more a responsibility of the state.
The writer is a former academic and a political analyst.