Shia genocide: what’s in a name?
Is it Shia genocide or is it the genocide of the ethnic Hazaras of Quetta? What about the Gilgiti, Balti and Peshawari Shia then, or the Pashtun Shia of the Turi and Bangash tribes? Is it genocide at all? Why call it genocide when the state is allegedly not involved or supporting the perpetrators? And so continues the debate over the semantics of mass murder. As much as the killers are calm, cool, collected and calculated; the response is disjointed, if any at all, and the responders disparate and bickering.
Last year, I had noted in these pages that human rights activists, for various reasons, balk at calling the wholesale killings of the Pakistani Shia as genocide. But it is not just the nomenclature. The fact is that the two major international human rights organizations, viz Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are constantly remiss in reporting in a timely manner the atrocities perpetrated against the Pakistani Shia. For example, the recent massacre of the Shia at Babusar Top was widely reported by the international media and condemned even by the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, but not so much as a denunciation has been issued by these two outfits. I understand that it might not be a grand scheme to not record and report the systemic slaughter of the Shia underway in this country but it certainly is disconcerting to note such omissions. The two groups have a dismal record of reporting the four-year siege of the Shia of upper Kurram and their deaths in thousands. If the idea of highlighting an issue is to chronicle it in a ‘country report’ the following year, then clearly there is a level of dysfunction in these outfits that should raise a flag.
I had also previously noted that a working definition provided by Professors John Thomson and Gail Quets serves as a useful template in Pakistan’s case. Thomson and Quets had stated: “Genocide is the extent of destruction of a social collectivity by whatever agents, with whatever intentions, by purposive actions, which fall outside the recognised conventions of legitimate warfare.” For all intents and purposes, the Shia of Pakistan constitute a social collectivity that has been under a systematic assault by non-state actors operating outside the norms of conventional and legitimate warfare, while the state has either stood idle or even worse, aided and abetted the perpetrators. The intensity of the atrocities has varied over roughly the last 27 years but the intent has clearly been to identify and, wherever possible, physically eliminate the Shia. This is not to say that the Shia are being thrown into gas chambers but let it be very clear too that for the systematic killings of a community to qualify as genocide, every single one of its members does not have to die.
The man who coined the term genocide, Raphael Lemkin, had taken great pains to note, “Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. It is indented rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. The objectives of such a plan would be disintegration of the political and social institutions of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups.” Lemkin’s work dealt predominantly with the Jewish population but subsequent scholars expanded the target populations from a nation or ethnicity to include political or religious groups and even social classes.
Article II of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide thus states: “Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious groups as such: a) Killing members of the group; b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; d) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; e) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. Article III of the same Convention goes on to list the following acts as punishable: a) Genocide; b) conspiracy to commit genocide; c) direct and public incitement to commit genocide; d) attempt to commit genocide; e) complicity in genocide.
The simple point is that to prevent and/or contain genocide, it has to be identified and named correctly. The viciousness of the atrocities against the Shia is incremental. From the inception of the first openly anti-Shia terrorist outfit in 1985 to a plethora of such gangs today, thousands of Shia have perished at their hands and scores have fled their locales and, when possible, the country. Those who live and stay behind, live in a state of constant fear. For the first time in the history of Pakistan many Shia, in areas where their numbers are smaller, have now been forced to conceal their religious identity or at the very least not announce it. In the event that their physical characteristics are a giveaway, as in the case of Quetta’s Hazara population, the ethnic dimension is an added risk that cannot be averted. Many Hazara thus face a double ethno-religious whammy in their already ghettoised environs.
The chances, unfortunately, are that the situation for the Shia of Pakistan is going to get worse before there is even a possibility of any improvement. They would be well advised to coordinate with other vulnerable groups as similar forces persecute and eliminate them. But more importantly, the Shia community of Pakistan has to come up with an indigenous leadership and advocates. When media misrepresents or obfuscates information about mass murders, human rights activists and honest witnesses hold its feet to the fire. But when advocacy groups get cold feet or are derelict in reporting in an honest and timely manner, the victim communities must bring forth their own Raphael Lemkins. The debate over semantics perhaps cannot be resolved but at least an honest first draft of an unfortunate history can be preserved.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets at http://twitter.com/mazdaki