Nowhere is safe for Pakistan's Hazaras
By Syed Fazl-e-Haider
KARACHI - Thousands from the Hazara minority in Quetta have again refused to bury their dead after Sunni militants on Saturday turned the Pakistan city into another bloodbath, killing at least 89 people including women and children. The terror revisited Quetta just five weeks after twin blasts killed more than 100 and injured over 150 there, leading the Shi'ite community to repeat its demands for military intervention in the sectarian flashpoint.
An Hazara sit-in at Quetta, the capital of Pakistan's southwestern Balochistan province, entered its fourth day on Wednesday. Hazaras find themselves in the same state of insecurity as they were last month when the dead bodies of 86 victims went unburied in protest at government inaction. In Saturday's attack, a water tank packed with one ton of explosives was detonated in a
crowded market. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), a banned Sunni militant outfit, claimed responsibility for both atrocities.
Human Rights Watch criticized the government for its persistent failure to protect the minority Shi'ite community from sectarian attacks by Sunni militant groups.
"They [Hazaras] live in a state of siege. Stepping out of the ghetto means risking death," The Express Tribune reported HRW's Pakistan Director, Ali Dayan Hasan, as saying. "Everyone has failed them - the security services, the government, the judiciary. January 10's attacks
demonstrated that even staying within the ghetto is not safe: the assailants will come to them."
Hazaras under siege
Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf last month dismissed the chief minister Aslam Raisani-led coalition government of Balochistan and imposed governor rule in the province, as country-wide protests and sit-ins were held over January 10 sectarian killings in Quetta. The imposition of governor rule, however, could not halt the violence.
Shi'ite Muslims are under attack from the radical Sunni militant groups across the
country, yet the violence against Hazaras has continued unabated. Last year, more 400 Shi'ite Muslims
were killed, out of which over 120 were killed in Balochistan, mostly from the Hazara
community. Over 1,200 Hazara people have been killed during the past decade.
With seemingly no end to the bloodbath, the government is being pressed to take stern
action against extremist groups involved in the Hazara killings. The country's civil society, media, liberal political parties, and moderate religious clerics have fully supported the dozens of sit-ins in major cities including Karachi, the country's commercial capital, even as the demonstrations have brought normal life to a halt. That unanimous stand may yet spur action by a government under increasing pressure to prevent sectarian violence.
Pakistan's apex court on Monday took suo moto notice of the Quetta bombing and issued notices
to the Balochistan Advocate General, and the Attorney General of Pakistan asking them to
appear in the court for a hearing. The Supreme Court held the Federal government responsible
for the failure to prevent Saturday's deadly bombing.
A three-member bench of the apex court led by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry on
Tuesday pointed out that the ex-chief minister Nawab Aslam Raisani was held responsible for
the previous attack on Hazara community last month, and asked why the prime minister
and governor should not accept responsibility for failing to prevent the latest incident.
Beleaguered Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf on Tuesday ordered the security forces to
launch targeted operations in Quetta. During operation carried out Tuesday on the outskirts of
Quetta, the security forces killed four men belonging to LeJ and arrested seven others, including the
purported mastermind of Saturday's attack.
The question arises as to why were these targeted operations not launched immediately after the
January 10 twin attacks on Hazaras? It means the government acts seriously but only under
What can really stop the violence against the Hazaras is the government's political will to
establish its writ in the face of recalcitrance of the militant outfits. Swat, the Taliban's former
stronghold, in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province was the harder challenge than that
of Quetta. Pakistan army launched a decisive military offensive against militants in 2009 and
succeeded in clearing it from the Taliban, who had to leave the area.
The state authorities have blatantly failed to protect Shi'ites, particularly Hazara people against
Islamist extremists. More than half million people from the Hazara Shi'ite community live in Quetta. Hazara emigrated
from Afghanistan a century ago and settled in Balochistan. Persian-speaking Hazaras are easily
identified by their Turkish face and outlook; hence in most of the cases they were sorted out
among bus passengers, lined up and shot dead.
The sense of insecurity and vulnerability among Hazaras has become acute. They feel unsafe
even in their own areas and report being virtually under siege.
Murtaza Haider, the blogger on Dawn.com wrote,
"In the two consecutive months this year, bomb blasts have killed hundreds of Shia Hazaras in
Quetta, a Garrison town where each and every street is manned by intelligence operatives. Still,
the militants operate with impunity. Saturday's bomb blast, which has killed over 80 and injured
hundreds, occurred almost within a month of the last bomb blast that delivered even a higher
death toll. Space is fast running out in Shia graveyards in Quetta. It may be the time for Shias to
relocate to protect their next generation."
Saturday's attack was the worst sectarian attack that brought a human disaster in Hazara town
locality in Quetta. The bomb exploded near the pillar of a building in the market that collapsed
trapping some people inside.
Amin Shaheedi, a Shia cleric, on Monday demanded that the army put a stop to ongoing violence in
Balochistan. He called for targeted operations on hiding places of people preparing suicide bombs and those
responsible for sowing the seeds for sectarian violence.
"The government is responsible for terrorist attacks and killings in the Hazara community
because its security forces have not conducted operations against extremist groups," Reuters
reported Aziz Hazara, vice president of the Hazara Democratic Party as saying. "We are giving
the government 48 hours to arrest the culprits involved in the killing of our people and after that
we will launch strong protests."
Nawab Zulfiqar Ali Magsi, the governor of Balochistan, admitted that Saturday's terrorist
attack on Hazara community was a failure of the intelligence and security forces.
"Repeated occurrence of such attacks is a failure of our intelligence agencies," said Magsi while
talking to journalists late Saturday. "Our security institutions, police, FC [Frontier Corps] and
others are either scared or cannot take action against them."
Daily Times in its editorial said,
"There is dire need for change in the way our intelligence and security agencies are handling the
situation. Sectarian war is being waged in the country and the intelligence network has proved
itself as inefficient and incompetent when it comes to protecting the citizens, particularly the
Hazara community, which has seen too much of its blood spilt recently - from deadly suicide
and remote controlled bomb attacks to gunmen routinely gunning down busloads of Hazara
passengers. The fact that these attacks continue unabated should have served as an eye-opener
to our intelligence agencies a long time ago but we still see gruesome crimes like the one on
Saturday [February 16]."
It further said,
"Extremist groups and radical individuals were already targeting the Ahmedi community, Hindus
and Christians in Pakistan and now it is time for the Shias to bear the torture of what it means
to be a minority in Pakistan. It is high time our security and intelligence agencies cut out the
nonsense that disguises itself as strategy, planning and securing the citizens. It is time these
agencies started working for the good of their people, particularly those who are in a minority in
what is fast becoming an extremist society. How many more people have to die before a change
LeJ that claimed responsibility for all the previous attacks on Hazaras has become a major
security threat particularly in Balochistan. The anti-Shiite LeJ has turned Quetta a sectarian
flashpoint in the country. The Hazara localities in Quetta are under attack. Last month, the
terrorists targeted Hazaras in Alamdar Road and this time Hazara town was bathed with blood.
Most of the incidents of Hazara-targeted killings took place in Mastung, the home district of
Balochistan's former chief Minister Raisani. Mastung is considered as the headquarters of the LEJ in
The News commented,
"Over 200 Hazara Shias have died so far this year in sectarian attacks. Nobody has been
arrested. No suspects named and the killers trumpet their success. The suspicion that somebody
somewhere is not trying very hard to do anything about this is inescapable. It is clear that the
governor's rule imposed in Balochistan has solved nothing. It was never going to. The dismissal
of an inept government does not mean things will change as if by magic. In fact we can say with
certainty that there will be more death in Quetta. But this is not destiny. We can change reality
rather than live with it. We need to ask why there has been no action against top LeJ leaders in
Punjab, Balochistan and elsewhere. Why are they tolerated? The answer to sectarian killings is
to go, with force, after those who perpetrate them and take pride in doing so. Should there be a
sense of shame somewhere in the state's corridors of power?"
Syed Fazl-e-Haider ( www.syedfazlehaider.com ) is a development analyst in Pakistan.
He is the author of many books, including The Economic Development of Balochistan,
published in May 2004. E-mail, email@example.com
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