Hazaras: an endangered community of Balochistan
By Muhammad Akbar Notezai
Hazaras, who are overwhelmingly the shias (Shiites), have been under constant attacks in Balochistan, particularly Quetta, where they are densely populated in its western and eastern sides: Mariabad and Hazara Town. On January 10, 2014, Shia Hazaras mourned the first anniversary of the Alamdar Road in which over 100 people belonging to the Shia Hazara community were killed and injured critically more than 120 in a twin blast. Unfortunately, this tragic incident was not even expunged from the Shia Hazaras’ mind that a suicide bomber blew himself up near the bus of the Shia Hazara pilgrims in Mastung District of Balochistan on January 21, 2014. This ugly attack killed 28 Shia Hazara pilgrims, including children and women, and injured almost 40.
As usual, after the attack, relatives of the Shia Hazaras staged a sit-in protest on Alamdar Road along with the dead bodies. And Hundreds of people belonging to the Hazara community joined them in their sit-in protest that continued for two days.
Despite the Chief Minister Dr Abdul Malik Baloch’s assurance to address their grievances, the affected families did not agree to bury the victims. But, later on, they agreed to end the sit-in protest and buried the victims amidst tears and mourning when the Interior Minister Chaudry Nisar arrived in Quetta on the directives of the prime minister and negotiated with them that the government would take strict action against the perpetrators.
Similarly, when the former prime minister Raja Parvez Ashraf reached Quetta previously and paid a visit to the Shia Hazaras on January 13, 2013, on Alamdar Road. He also talked of the same “assurance and strict action” as this time the Interior Minister Chaudry Nisar did in his visit to the Alamdar Road. Moreover, he also dismissed the provincial government of Nawab Aslam Raisani and imposed Governor’s rule in the province. Despite it, nothing changed. After that, Shia Hazaras were again targeted on February 16, 2013, at a vegetable market in Hazara town. The attack killed at least 81 and left over injured 192. So, in this way, what can the present government do this time to address the Shia Hazaras’ grievances? Or, like the previous government of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Dr Malik Baloch’s government has also failed to provide security to the Shia Hazaras as they have so far been making merely lips services to them.
And Very surprisingly, Dr. Malik Baloch did not include any ministers in his cabinet who represent the religious minorities and minority sects, such as the Shias, despite their manifold challenges.
Besides these all, it is to be noted that the relentless wave of sectarian violence is not new in Balochistan. It commenced during the dictatorial days of General Zia-Ul Haq back in (1977-1988) when intolerance and fanaticism towards other sects and religions began to evolve. And it popped up in 2001 when unknown assailants opened indiscriminate firing on a Suzuki pickup carrying the Shia Hazara passengers on Spinny Road, killing at least 11 Shia Hazaras. After that, piece by piece, attacks on the Shia Hazaras continued. The wave of sectarian violence spread out in Balochistan and engulfed its neighboring districts after the cold blooded murder of Balochistan’s former chief minister, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, on August 26, 2006. Therefore the Baloch nationalists say that the Shia Hazaras’ genocide is intentionally being used to counter and enervate the Baloch movement, internationally.
But after the Nawab Bugti’s killing, in 2007 and 2008, 37 Shia Hazaras were targeted. And their fatalities increased tremendously in 2009. So far, more than 1, 200 Shia Hazaras have been slain in Balochistan, but not a single perpetrator has been brought to book. Unfortunately, most of the victims include women and children.
Dishearteningly, the interminable wave of sectarian violence has badly affected the Shia Hazara students’ education in the province. In recent years, there were around 250 Shia Hazara students, mostly the girls, at the University of Balochistan (The largest and oldest state-run varsity in Balochistan). But presently, a handful number of Shia Hazara students attend the varsity. Almost all of them left the varsity due to the security reasons.
A large chunk of the Shia Hazara students would be enrolled at the BUITEMS (Balochistan University of Information Technology, Engineering and Management Sciences), but their number also dwindled after a suicide car bomb blast that ripped through the university bus on June 18, 2012,which was carrying the Shia Hazara students. The deadly attack killed 5 Shia Hazara students and left over injured 70.
As far as the Shia Hazara female students are concerned, they are also terrorized while going to the Sardar Bahadur Khan Women University, which is sole girl-only university in Quetta. The Shia Hazara female students remained fortunately safe in an attack on the bus due to miscalculation. In reality, the attack on the women university bus on June 15, 2013, in which 11 female students were killed, was to target the the Shia Hazara female students’ bus.
Due to these reasons, Shia Hazara students are going out of the province to get education if they can afford their educational expenses. Rest of them, who cannot afford their educational expenses, say dropout. Also, most of youngster ones illegally flee to Australia and other countries by overloaded ships. Many of the youngster ones, belonging to the Shia Hazara community, have died when the overloaded ships capsized.
In these circumstances, all the Shia Hazara community members of Balochistan are now living dangerously. They have to wear sunglasses, hats and helmets in order to hide away their distinctive facial features while travelling from Hazara town to Mariabad and other parts of Quetta. They can neither go to market to run their shops nor do they go to their offices to perform their duties. In this way, 6 000 Shia Hazara have abandoned Quetta and gone to Australia, but, unfortunately, their whole half million population cannot go to Australia to seek asylum. They all need security as they are also equal citizens of the country too, and it is the responsibility of the state to address their grievances. In doing so, they may again live a peaceful and fearless life.