By Malik Siraj Akbar
The Hazara tribe in Balochistan numbering around three hundred thousands is living these days under unprecedented terror, uncertainty and insecurity. The members of the tribe, who have lived in Balochistan for more than a century, have been facing discrimination on the basis of their different ethnic background against the majority Baloch and Pashtoon tribes and their religious affiliation. While an overwhelming majority of the Hazaras is Shia Muslims, their fellow Baloch and Pashtoon neighbors in Quetta, on the other hand, are Sunnis.
In the recent months, the Hazaras in Quetta have come under fire from some militant religious quarters. More than a dozen of Hazaras have lost their lives in the past two months in Quetta. Divergent reasons are given for these ‘target killings’. An underground banned Sunni organization the Lashkar-e- Jangavi has accepted responsibility for the murder of the majority of Hazaras in Quetta. Initially, many believed that Lashkar’s war was solely against the Shia religious scholars but they had to review their opinion once Hussain Ali Yousafi, the chairman of the Hazara Democratic Party (HDP), a secular and democratic leader, was gunned down in Quetta on January 26 for which the Lashkar too claimed responsibility.
Syed Nasir Ali Shah, a Hazara member of the National Assembly, says that these attacks are not Hazara-specific. Instead, they are religiously motivated. In his views, the recent cycle of target killings has been unleashed by the forces who want to convert Balochistan into Swat and make it a Talibanised province.
“Those who are carrying out these assaults are trying to create sectarian disharmony in Quetta city where differences could break up between the Sunni and the Shias given the fact that two ethnic majorities belong to Sunni sect,” he points out, adding that the target killings are meant to widen the gap between the Sunnis and Shias and Hazaras against the local Baloch or the Pashtoons.
Historically, Nasir recollects, Quetta had always enjoyed tremendous communal harmony. When the Shias used to take out their religious processions in the month of Moharram some decades ago, the Sunni young and old fellows used to jubilantly go on the top of their houses, shops and plazas to view the procession with unflinching excitement.
“Sunnis and Shias in Quetta lived like brothers in the past. There were no differences among them. I am a Hazara but my father struggled on the platform of the Awami National Party (ANP) of the Pashtoons and extended support to the Balochs fighting for their rights,” Nasir added.
Attacks on the Hazara Shias started first during the military regime of General Zia-ul-Haq and continue till today. For instance, on July 6, 1985, the military government of General Zia-ul Haq forcefully tried to stop a Shia procession in Quetta city. The incident led to the killing of 30 persons, including some policemen.
In 2001, eight Hazara-Shias were killed when their Suzuki was ambushed on Poodgali Chowk. Another 12 Hazaras, all police cadets, were gunned down on June 8, 2003 while on their way to a training centre near Sariab. On 4 July, 2003, in one of the worst sectarian assaults in the history of Pakistan, some 58 people, most of them Hazara Shias, were killed while around 200 were injured when a suicide bomber attacked Imambargah-e-Kalan in Quetta. Another 38 persons, mostly Hazara Shias, were killed in a sectarian assault on March 2, 2004. The incident left 200 people injured. On 19 July, 2008, Nine Hazaras were killed in Quetta in a clash between the police and the Hazara protestors. Hence, violence continues unabated in 2009.
In his seminal book “War and Migration”, Alessandro Monsutti, classifies the Hazara migration to Balochistan in the following phases:
From 1878-1891: Following the second Anglo-Afghan war, the first Hazaras came to Quetta to seek employment in British-run companies under the Raj. They are thought to have worked on the building of roads and the Bolan Pass railway as well as enlisting in the British army of India. At that time, there could have been no more than a few hundred Hazaras in Balochistan.
From 1891-1901: The subjugation of Hazarajat by Abdur Rahman, between 1891 and 1893, triggered a mass exodus of Hazaras to Turkestan, Khorasan and Balochistan.
From 1901 to 1933: The situation in Afghanistan returned to normal under Habibullah (1901-1919), the son of Abdul Rahman. He offered amnesty to the Hazaras but this proved to be of little help in improving the lot of the Hazara community in Afghanistan. In 1904, the 106th Pioneers, a separate regiment for the Hazaras formed by the British, offered greater careers prospects, social recognition and economic success.
From 1933-1971: The regiment of Hazara Pioneers was disbanded in 1933. Deprived of this social and professional outlet, Hazaras went to settle in Quetta between the 1930s and 1960s, although the process of migration never completely dried up.
From 1971-1978: Following the 1971 drought, Hazaras then settled in Quetta or went to Iran in search of work. Between 1973 and 1978, tensions over the Pushtunistan issue between the Daud government and Pakistan were an additional factor in the Hazara migration.
After 1978: Following the Communist coup in April 1978 and the Soviet intervention in December 1979, the migratory movement assumed hitherto unprecedented dimensions.”
Abdul Khaliq Hazara, the secretary general of the Hazara Democratic Party (HDP), which was founded on 7 July 2003, told this writer that sectarianism in Quetta gained momentum during the regime of former President Pervez Musharraf. “We are a liberal, secular people. Hazara community, however, entirely comprises of Shias. Now, some ‘invisible forces’ are trying to target our democratic leaders on the simple grounds that our religious affiliations coincide with Shia Islam. These people consider us a threat before them because we preach tolerance, liberalism and co-existence in our Hazara communities against the agenda of Talibanization, sectarianism and intolerance pursued by the sectarian elements,” he remarked.
Another Hazara leader from the Pakistan People’s Party, Jan Ali Changazi, who is presently serving as the minister of quality education, is very skeptical of the provincial police towards arresting the actual culprits of the Hazaras in Quetta. Despite being a part of the provincial cabinet, Changazi told this writer that he had no qualms admitting that the provincial police had “utterly failed” to bring the culprits to book.
“The most irritating thing is the drama the police keeps staging every time soon after a terrorist attack takes place in the provincial capital,” complains Changazi, “in the first place, the police gives a safe passage to the real murderers and arrests the innocent people in order to show that it is acting against the terrorists and then releases them the next day by saying that the arrested people included none of the actual culprits.”
Changazi points out a notorious criminal Usman Saifullah, who reportedly heads the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in Balochistan, was deliberately helped by the government functionaries to escape from an Anti-Terrorist Force (ATF) jail on 18 January, 2008. Saifullah, who comes from Kurd Baloch tribe, is believed to be involved in an attack on a Shia mosque in Quetta in 2003, which killed 53 people, and killing of 13 Shia cadets in Quetta. He was arrested by the police in June 2006 from Karachi. However, the young militant, in a death row, stunned everyone when he managed to escape a Quetta jail. Since then, he is at large. Balochistan department of home and tribal affairs has been continuously advertising in the local Urdu newspapers seeking public assistance for information about Saifullah in return of a bounty of Rs. One million in return of any information about the missing militant.
A young Hazara journalist working in Quetta told this scribe that the unabated target killings of the Hazaras and the inability of the police to curb the sectarian crimes was exceedingly affecting the educated young Hazaras. Disillusioned over the state of affairs, he informed, most of these Hazaras were now packing their bag and baggage to leave this country and permanently settle in Australia, where a considerable population of the Hazaras have already sought political and religious asylum.