No Strategy to Combat Sectarianism in Balochistan

It is a shame that the government of Balochistan does not have an official strategy to grapple with the menace of sectarian terrorism. The province is experiencing an upsurge in violent attacks targeting members of the Hazara community and Shia minority sect of Islam from Sunni militant groups operating inside Balochistan with absolute impunity.

The failure of the provincial government to firstly acknowledge the seriousness of the matter and then to weed out sectarianism is highly depressing. This implicitly shows that the PPP-led coalition government in Balochistan is not bothered by the brutal killings of innocent people by religious fanatics. One reason for deliberately snubbing the issue is probably the PPP does not want to irk its right-wing ally, the Jammiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI). As luck would have it, our intelligence agencies and anti-terrorism units are also notorious for running a covert love-affair with Sunnia Jihadists.

The fresh attack on Shia mosque on the Eid day killed at least eleven people. All the victims were Shias and most of them belonged to the Hazara tribe. As usual, the governor and the chief minister of the province restricted their role in response to this heinous crime to media statements.

Moreover, the Hazra Demcoratic Party (HDP), the largest representative party of the Hazaras living in Balochistan, has vented its anger through peaceful democratic protests. As usual, the Balochistan police have failed to immure the masterminds of the terrorist attack. The perpetrators, on their part, are brazenly gaining more and more confidence and strength by the day considering the lack of official commitment to dismantle networks of religious terrorists.

The Eid tragedy struck barely a month after another callous assault on the Shia Hazaras which killed eleven people on July 30th. Earlier, two pilgrims were killed and eleven were injured when attackers suspected to have links with Sunni-militant group the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba, ambushed a bus carrying pilgrims to Iran.

According to senior journalist Zofeen Ebrahim, around 500 Hazaras have been killed and 1500 injured in the last ten years in Quetta’s  sectarian war.

Before proposing a solution to this worsening problem, one needs to understand a few basic facts.

The sectarian war in Balochistan is predominantly centered in and around Quetta, the provincial capital. There are very few Shias living outside Quetta in the districts of Sibi, Bolan and Loralai. Most of the Shias in Quetta belong to Hazara ethnic community but every Shia is not a Hazara. That said, there are Shias in Balochistan whose ethnic origin maybe Punjabi, Khandari or Kashmiri. There is no declared ethnic war against the Hazras. Instead, it is a declared war by the Sunni militant group against the Shias.

The Sunni militants use all tactics to pursue their agenda. They shoot individuals, ; carry out suicide bomb blasts on religious processions and mosques and detonate remote-controlled blasts.

The sectarian war, which began 1980s during the age of Isamization patronized by former military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq, has targeted the bulk of the Shia community which comprises of doctors, lawyers, politicians following Shia school of thought but hailing from assorted ethnic backgrounds have been victims of this cycle of violence.The biggest victim of this organized crime are the Hazaras.

We fully understand how much the Hazara community has suffered because of this war but this still does not qualify as an “ethnic war”. Ethnic tensions erupt only when two or more than two ethnic groups, not religious communities, clash each other.

The underground Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which is responsible for almost all of these tragic attacks, does not have any ethnic agenda. Its is the unacceptable goal of driving all the Shias of out of the country by employing violent means.

At the same time, we have seen a more disturbing trend: Hazaras getting agitated with the use of the term “Shia-Hazara”. While members of the HDP and many Hazara professionals are all secular, many of them now get offended by being ghettoized by the media as “Shias”. We live in bad times when moderate and progressive people take pride in introducing themselves as ‘non-nonpracticing’ and ‘secular’ members of a particular community because nobody loves extremists these days.

Nonetheless, let’s be clear that there is nothing wrong with being a Shia as there is nothing wrong with being a Sunni. A lot of progressive Hazaras will not be doing a favor to their brethren practicing Shias by disassociating themselves from those who are killed merely because of what they believe in. Disassociating from one’s ancestral religion is a personal choice but it is not a long-term solution to the problem we are faced with.

The idea of secularism is not based on the total rejection of religion. It is an idea which simply separates religion from the state. In a secular culture, everyone would and should be allowed to practice their religion freely without ridiculing the other’s beliefs. It  is not a ‘lesser crime’ to kill a Shia because they practice a different sect of Islam and a ‘greater crime’ to kill a progressive and secular Hazara democratic. The challenge we are confronted with as a society is intolerance based on religion. It is the  responsibility all members of the society to discourage hatred on the name of religion.

The role of secular political parties such as the Pakistan People’s Party, Balochistan National Party, the National Party, Pashtunkhawa Milli Awami Party, Awami National Party and Jamori Watan Party (JWP), to protest against sectarian killings has not been very forthcoming. They should take up this challenge and pressurize the Balochistan government to bring the perpetrators to book.

Quetta is too small a place for the religiously-motivated elements to hide. If the government and its secrete services commit themselves in earnestly fighting this battle, it does not take more than a few weeks to clean Balochistan from sectarian militants.


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