Testing the Hazara Patience
The death tool following three bomb blasts in Quetta on Thursday, January 10, has exceeded 100 while nearly two hundred people are injured. The unprecedented terrorist attacks have also led to unprecedented protests from the Hazara, Shia community. In a unique pattern of protest, the victims’ relatives are unwilling to bury their slain family members until, as they demand, the Pakistan military takes control of Quetta city. Thousands of people, including women and children, have spent sleepless nights in the blistering winter in Quetta to ask for justice.
Abdul Khaliq Hazara, chairman of the Hazara Democratic Party (H.D.P.), has embarked upon a 30-day long hunger strike to persuade the government to act against those who are responsible for an unending cycle of attacks on Balochistan’s Hazaras and Shias. Similar to the protests held in Quetta, people elsewhere in Pakistan, mainly in the major cities of Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar, have gone on the roads to express solidarity with those who have lost their loved ones. The Baloch nationalist political parties have strongly condemned the attacks while the Pashtunkhawa Milli Awami Party has called for a complete shutter-down strike on January 13.
The Balochistan government is hiding somewhere unknown to the masses at this time of great tragedy. The country’s President and the Prime Minister apparently have no time to visit Balochistan where more than one hundred people were killed in a single day. The Chief Minister is reportedly in Dubai and his cabinet members are pretending not to know what has actually happened in their province. The shrewd governor does not mince words in condemning the provincial government of its poor performance. “We have failed,” he admitted on Friday. The governor, however, immediately reminds those who ask him tough questions that governance is none of his business because he is only the constitutional representative of the President of Pakistan. While Governor Magsi is not expected to or technically capable of doing much in terms of improving the state of law and order, his response to the tragedy has been more professional and caring as compared to Balochistan Chief Minister Nawab Mohammad Aslam Raisani. That said, Balochistan is currently left in the hands of senseless murderers and helpless protesters. Neither the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the terrorist group responsible for the mass murder of the Hazaras, Shias, shows any gesture of mercy nor do the brave families of the victims demonstrate any signs of giving up their absolutely legitimate battle.
One fully shares the anguish and the frustration of the Hazara, Shia community. It is not easy to get inside their hearts to feel the pain they are currently going through while delaying the burial of their dead people. According to the Islamic practices, the best favor done to a dead person is to offer him an immediate burial. The protesters, certainly cognizant of this ritual obligation, must be going through an unimaginable agony by employing this ‘unique’ style of protest. After all, they have utilized every platform and every pattern of protest to seek an end to the violence against their community but nothing has deterred the Islamic extremists from their brutal attacks on the unarmed civilians. While the battle for the future generations still needs to be fought and won, the Hazara and Shia scholars should decide to bury the dead not as a concession to the government but as a gesture of good ethical behavior toward the dead. They should stop punishing the departed souls.
The community under attack truly deserves every kind of protection that the Pakistani State or even the United Nations can provide. We fully support all measures that can protect the Hazaras, Shias and dismantle networks of terror. However, some naive clergymen from the community seem to be swept away by their emotions and they are passionately and stridently asking the Pakistani military to take control of the Quetta City. The protesters have been saying for the past two days that they would not suffice with anything less than the deployment of the military in Quetta. According to an online poll on the Express Tribune, nearly 90% of the paper’s readers supported the deployment of the Pakistan army in Quetta. Negotiations between the protesters and Syed Khurshid Shah, the federal minister for religious affairs (Pakistan People’s Party), ended inconclusively because the protesters did not give up their earlier demand.
The fallacy that the Pakistan army can fix every problem is absolutely dangerous. The military has spent decades to create such an amazing public image but it is far from reality. The military, just like every other institution in the world, is trained to do a specific job. In Pakistan, the military attempted several times in the past to rule the country and run its businesses instead of guarding its frontiers but military government’s failed to leave an impressive legacy. While we fully respect the genuine complaints of the Hazaras, Shias, we would like to remind them that the military’s role vis–à–vis rising religious extremism is extremely controversial and it cannot be posed as a remedy to the problem. After all, there is a school of thought in Pakistan, also among the Hazaras, Shias, that believes that Sunni militant groups are sponsored and protected by the military and its intelligence agencies. If that is true, then the deployment of the military in Quetta is going to add to the problems of the Hazara, Shias rather than ending their miseries. Keeping the traditional blame game aside, it is also important to realize that the military, just like the Frontier Corps (F.C.) is not fundamentally trained to perform the job of a community police. The army has no search and investigation skills and capabilities like the police.
Expecting the Pakistan army and the F.C. to do commendable policing is like expecting a strong bodybuilder to perform a successful heart surgery.
The prudent among the Hazaras and Shias should come forward and discourage the demand for military intervention in Quetta. They should understand that they are not alone in this hard time as everyone across the world stands with them at this tragic moment but they should refrain from adding to Balochistan’s causes of instability by calling the military in politics. Such demands, and worse if they are met, are catastrophic for Balochistan.
In the meanwhile stark official negligence and scant media coverage to the Hazara sufferings shows that we are testing the patience of this peaceful community. This community has suffered enormously in the most inhuman ways. Inaction to the the demands of the Hazaras may ultimately force them to look around their neighborhoods to follow some extreme reactionary models such as the armed Baloch nationalists. If the Hazaras are pushed to the wall and compelled to follow the footsteps of armed Baloch nationalists or, on the semi-political front, the Muthida Quomi Movement in Karachi, they can turn out to be a deadly force because this is a community where women, children, elderly, professionals, youths have all lost their lives or have all lost a very dare one either in their homes or certainly in their vicinity.
Originally published in The Baloch Hal on January 12, 2013