Newspaper Articles

Shia Hazaras of Quetta at history’s crossroads – by Amir Mateen

Author: Amir Mateen (The News)
Source: Adapted and edited with some changes from The News, June 01, 2012

QUETTA: The dilemma of the Shias Hazara’s predicament is not that the solution is proving elusive, but that so far even the problem has not been fully understood. It’s a multifaceted issue. At a cursory glance, it may appears an ethnic issue, but it isn’t. They are being killed by Jihadi-sectarian militants (Lashkar-e-Jhangvi LeJ aka Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat ASWJ, and Taliban) because of their faith identity (Shia sect). Their racial features make them a soft target because nobody needs to check their identity card to establish their Shia identity. The Shia Hazara suffering in Pakistan is a critical element in resolving the larger Balochistan conundrum and one whose impact will be felt in Afghanistan, Iran and beyond.

The Hazara question is largely misunderstood and misinterpreted by a majority of Pakistanis. Hazara activists were asked at a seminar recently why they supported a separate province in the Hazara area of Pakhtunkhwa. It was difficult to explain to the supposedly learned members of the Islamabad elite that Hazara as a people had nothing to do with Hazara the area in Abbottabad.

Yet the human side of the issue first must be taken into consideration before delving into its strategic dimension. One cannot ignore the extent of the injustices and crimes that have been committed against the Shia Hazaras of Quetta in the last couple of decades.

In the first phase, between 1999 and 2003, the targets (of LeJ, ASWJ, Taliban terrorists) were high-profile Shia Hazaras. The first of the 17 such killings was that of Sardar Nisar Ali Khan, then provincial minister of education. He was shot along with two others right outside his house. In the next phase, the strategy was to provoke fear. The assailants would choose a strategic place in a usually crowded area, mark their victim, open heavy fire on them and then melt into the same crowd. A dozen Hazara police cadets were killed in an ambush. A Friday congregation was attacked with AK-47s and grenades, killing 47 men, women and children and injuring 68. It was obvious that Hazaras had been identified as the ‘softest’ of targets to kill. Shias — easily distinguishable because of their Mongolian features — and the majority residing in and around their ghettos of Mehrabad (Marriabad) and Hazara town were a highly visible target. About two hundred people died in such indiscriminate firing till 2008.

Over 300 Shia Hazaras have been eliminated under the rule of the new democratic government. Balochistan government ministers have publicly pointed the finger of blame towards Pakistan army, Frontier Constabulary in particular, which appears to be the real government in Balochistan. Lost in these figures is the unmitigated tragedy of hapless people who have neither attacked nor retaliated against any community. So far, that is.

Olympian Boxer Abrar Shah, who was an icon among Shia Hazara was gunned down in broad day light. The ensuing phase saw massacres that seem like a recreation of Hitler’s ‘final solution’ for Jews. Religious processions were targeted with suicide bombings; mosques were attacked in the middle of prayers; Hazara labourers were mowed down in firing sprees.

No confusion exists about the perpetrators. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) has accepted responsibility for every incident. Yet the rate of conviction is dismally low. Usman Saifullah Kurd and Shafiq Rehman were the deadliest of the perpetrators. During their brief conviction in 2006 and 2007, the sectarian attacks had virtually stopped. But then both Kurd and Rehman mysteriously escaped from their cells inside the ultra high security ATF prison, itself located deep inside the military cantonment of Quetta. A Minority Support of Pakistan (MSP) report says that all signs point to “orchestration from the upper most levels of the military establishment.” Shia Hazara leaders claim that another culprit, Hafiz Usman, has confessed in custody that he was trained (at a military-run Jihadi camp) in Azad Kashmir.

“Sometimes the same gang has struck thrice in the same day, same city,” said Hazara leader Ahmad Ali Kozad. “Sometimes the killers have brazenly shot Hazara right in the middle of a bazaar between two check posts; nobody tried to stop them.” He pointed fingers at the “agencies” for their involvement.

However, non-Hazara Shias too are being killed in Balochistan by LeJ-ASWJ-Taliban militants. Shia Muslims of all ethnic backgrounds are being killed in all parts of Pakistan, a phenomenon which some activists now describe as Shia Genocide. Needless to say, Hazaras of Quetta, Toori Pashtuns of Parachinar and Baltis of Gilgit Baltistan are not being killed due to their ethnicity. Their enemies want to kill them due to their faith (Shia sect). This is clearly a case of target killing of Shia Muslims, Shia Genocide.

Shia Hazara are also the victims of a more insidious problem: the Pakistani state’s inability to prosecute sectarian murder and hate crimes and its demonstrated tendency to support known terrorist groups and individuals for so-called strategic purposes, says the MSP report. The report mentions that Lashkar-e-Jhangvi’s main leader Akram Lahori “purportedly continue to direct LeJ operations from their comfortably fitted jail cells, cell phones and private visitation rights. Heavy weights Malik Ishaq, along with his second-in-command Ghulam Rasool Shah have both been freed from house arrest and are currently travelling the country freely, giving sermons and convening large rallies.”

A spill over of the Afghanistan war is definitely at work. A mass migration of Hazara from Bamiyan and Hazarajat in Afghanistan, mostly because of Taliban persecution, has taken place. A new township of Hazara Town, which developed over the last 20 years may have irked some. Hazara in Afghanistan are seen more as allies of the Northern Alliance than Pakistan’s so-called strategic assets — Taliban, the parent organization of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

Often media persons misrepresent LeJ-ASWJ as Sunni organizations, they are not. At the most, they represent a fringe Jihadi-Deobani sub-sect which has nothing to do with Sunnis. However, Jihadi-Deobandi extremists are not the only enemies Hazaras have. Some Baloch militants, particularly those infiltrated by the establishment, see the Hazara as supportive of the establishment. This helps in creating more chaos and mess in Balochistan in order to exonerate the real killers of Shia Hazaras, i.e., LeJ and its mentors and supporters. Hazaras may have the highest per capita representation in Pakistan Army. Almost 50 per cent of Balochistan’s army quota is availed by Hazaras, who may have at least 150 officers in the armed forces, 18 of them just in Quetta. Baloch also see better qualified Hazaras as competition in jobs and services. While some LJ members have been found to be Baloch, most leaders of LeJ including Malik Ishaq, Qari Saifullah Akhtar, Akarm Lahori etc are Punjabi. The infiltration of sectarianism in Balochs is a new phenomenon as Baloch have always known to be secular, let alone religious hardliners. And it is mostly from LeJ-ASWJ militants hiding in Baloch areas around Spinay Road and Brewery Road that Hazara get fired upon.

Pashtun also see Hazaras as competition in business and real estate. The location of district quotas as opposed to merit quotas has cut down Hazara representation drastically in government services. Supported by remittances from abroad, largely Australia, they are beginning to muscle their way into local business. This is increasingly bringing them into clash with local Pashtuns.

The arrival of Bamiyan Hazara may have also disturbed the ethnic balance in Quetta, which is contested by all communities. At the moment Hazara with two MPAs and one MNA seat are seen as overly represented in the Assemblies. Since both the Baloch and Pashtun nationalists boycotted the last elections, Nasir Shah Hazara managed to win the hotly contest Quetta seat. This has not gone down well with Baloch as well as Pashtun who have bigger claims on Quetta.

As if this was not already complicated, the FIA also keeps an eye on massive human trafficking and smuggling taking place among Hazaras. It’s a conduit point for many Afghan Hazaras who either get Pakistani passports to leave for Australia or Canada or try crossing over to Iran to enter Europe via Turkey. [Abdul Khaliq Hazara of Hazara Democratic Party (a pro-establishment ethnocentric group) is known to be involved in such human trafficking.]

Some misinformed or ill-intending journalists and analysts think that Shia Hazaras are a proxy of Iran. Such analysts ignore the linguistic, religious and historic relations between Farsi speaking Shia Hazaras and Iranians. Just because they are Shia makes them enemies of all those groups vying for Saudi funding. Amongst other factors, it also appears that the Hazara may just have landed at the crossroad of history at the wrong place, wrong time.

———–

Original (unedited) version

Hazaras at history’s crossroads

Amir Mateen
Friday, June 01, 2012
From Print Edition

QUETTA: The dilemma of the Hazara’s predicament is not that the solution is proving elusive, but that so far even the problem has not been fully understood. It’s a multifaceted issue. At a cursory glance, it appears a simple sectarian issue, but it isn’t. It is a critical element in resolving the larger Balochistan conundrum and one whose impact will be felt in Afghanistan, Iran and beyond.

The Hazara question is arguably a complex one. Hazara activists were asked at a seminar recently why they supported a separate province in the Hazara area of Pakhtunkhwa. It was difficult to explain to the supposedly learned members of the Islamabad elite that Hazara as a people had nothing to do with Hazara the area in Abbottabad.

Yet the human side of the issue first must be taken into consideration before delving into its strategic dimension. One cannot ignore the extent of the injustices that have been committed against the Hazaras in the last couple of decades.

In the first phase, between 1999 and 2003, the targets were high-profile Shia Hazaras. The first of the 17 such killings was that of Sardar Nisar Ali Khan, then provincial minister of education. He was shot along with two others right outside his house. In the next phase, the strategy was to provoke fear. The assailants would choose a strategic place in a usually crowded area, mark their victim, open heavy fire on them and then melt into the same crowd. A dozen Hazara police cadets were killed in an ambush. A Friday congregation was attacked with AK-47s and grenades, killing 47 men, women and children and injuring 68. It was obvious that Hazaras had been identified as the ‘softest’ of targets to kill. Shias — easily distinguishable because of their Mongolian features — and the majority residing in and around their ghettos of Mehrabad (Marriabad) and Hazara town were a highly visible target. About two hundred people died in such indiscriminate firing till 2008.

Over 300 Hazaras have been eliminated under the rule of the new democratic government. Lost in these figures is the unmitigated tragedy of hapless people who have neither attacked nor retaliated against any community. So far, that is.

Olympian Boxer Abrar Shah, who was an icon among Shia Hazara was gunned down in broad day light. The ensuing phase saw massacres that seem like a recreation of Hitler’s ‘final solution’ for Jews. Religious processions were targeted with suicide bombings; mosques were attacked in the middle of prayers; Hazara labourers were mowed down in firing sprees.

No confusion exists about the perpetrators. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has accepted responsibility for every incident. Yet the rate of conviction is dismally low. Usman Saifullah Kurd and Shafiq Rehman were the deadliest of the perpetrators. During their brief conviction in 2006 and 2007, the sectarian attacks had virtually stopped. But then both Kurd and Rehman mysteriously escaped from their cells inside the ultra high security ATF prison, itself located deep inside the military cantonment of Quetta. A Minority Support of Pakistan (MSP) report says that all signs point to “orchestration from the upper most levels of the military establishment.” Hazara leaders claim that another culprit, Hafiz Usman, has confessed in custody that he was trained in Azad Kashmir.

“Sometimes the same gang has struck thrice in the same day, same city,” said Hazara leader Ahmad Ali Kozad. “Sometimes the killers have brazenly shot Hazara right in the middle of a bazaar between two check posts; nobody tried to stop them.” He pointed fingers at the “agencies” for their involvement.

Shia Hazara are also the victims of a more insidious problem: the Pakistani state’s inability to prosecute sectarian murder and hate crimes and its demonstrated tendency to support known terrorist groups and individuals for so-called strategic purposes, says the MSP report. The report mentions that Lashkar’s main leader Akram Lahori “purportedly continue to direct LeJ operations from their comfortably fitted jail cells, cell phones and private visitation rights. Heavy weights Malik Ishaq, along with his second-in-command Ghulam Rasool Shah have both been freed from house arrest and are currently travelling the country freely, giving sermons and convening large rallies.”

A spill over of the Afghanistan war is definitely at work. A mass migration of Hazara from Bamiyan and Hazarajat in Afghanistan, mostly because of Taliban persecution, has taken place. A new township of Hazara Town, which developed over the last 20 years may have irked some. Hazara in Afghanistan are seen more as allies of the Northern Alliance than Pakistan’s so-called strategic assets — Taliban, the parent organization of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

Sunni extremists however are not the only enemies they have. Baloch see the Hazara as supportive of the establishment. Hazaras may have the highest per capita representation in Pakistan Army. Almost 50 per cent of Balochistan’s army quota is availed by Hazaras, who may have at least 150 officers in the armed forces, 18 of them just in Quetta. Baloch also see better qualified Hazaras as competition in jobs and services. Baloch resent Hazara’s lobbying for merit based jobs and quotas as they cannot match them in competition. Incidentally, most LJ members have been found to be Baloch and not Punjabi. It’s a new phenomenon as Baloch have always known to be secular, let alone religious hardliners. And it is mostly from Baloch areas around Spinay Road and Brewery Road that Hazara get fired upon.

Pashtun also see Hazaras as competition in business and real estate. The location of district quotas as opposed to merit quotas has cut down Hazara representation drastically in government services. Supported by remittances from abroad, largely Australia, they are beginning to muscle their way into local business. This is increasingly bringing them into clash with local Pashtuns.

The arrival of Bamiyan Hazara may have also disturbed the ethnic balance in Quetta, which is contested by all communities. At the moment Hazara with two MPAs and one MNA seat are seen as overly represented in the Assemblies. Since both the Baloch and Pashtun nationalists boycotted the last elections, Nasir Shah Hazara managed to win the hotly contest Quetta seat. This has not gone down well with Baloch as well as Pashtun who have bigger claims on Quetta.

As if this was not already complicated, the FIA also keeps an eye on massive human trafficking and smuggling taking place among Hazaras. It’s a conduit point for many Afghan Hazaras who either get Pakistani passports to leave for Australia or Canada or try crossing over to Iran to enter Europe via Turkey.

Finally, Hazaras may have come in the middle of the perpetual proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Just because they are Shia makes them enemies of all those groups vying for Saudi fundingAmongst other factors, it also appears that the Hazara may just have landed at the crossroad of history at the wrong place, wrong time. http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-2-111735-Hazaras-at-historys-crossroads

About the author

Jehangir Hafsi

8 Comments

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  • Well analysed and well presented. Mr. Amir Mateen we (Hazaras) are very thankful to you for raising voice for us and highlighting the facts. Pakistan really needs true and honest journalists like you. Your work is appreciable. Well done.

  • what a shame you LUBP are. That is what kind of pakistan you are building??
    Jehangir how much you get from LeJ?? Shame on you

  • Mr. Amir Mateen thanks for such a nice column but could you please explain or give proofs of HDP’s chairman Mr. Abdul Khaliq Hazara involved in Human Smuggling…!

  • Dear Matin Sahib, It is good that you have indicated the problems of Hazaras in Quetta, I can observe that you have indicated that Hazara population is effected from the new Hazaras came from Bamyan, If you kindly note one thing,we are almost 90-95% educated, we are peaceful not matter how much more comes here, there are more tribes who have come in here 10 times more then our people, I suggest you to read more about our history. In order to represent that our people are completely under target and we are innocent. Thanks for supporting us in this bad times.

  • Dear Matin! your article is well written and you have tried to get the sympathy of Hazara community by raising their voice but your intention is pro-establishment,this is your real face:((

  • it has been brought to my notice about a few harsh things that I was alleged to have written. The article presented here is not original; somebody has settled score with others using my name. I never wrote a few things mentioned here and it is easy to confirm from from the original site of The News-for example this line about Abdul Khaliq Hazara. I have respect for this web site and i expect you to change it with the original or remove this. thanks.