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The Unabated Persecution of the Hazara Shia Community, Underlines the Reality That There Is No Place for Religious Minorities in Pakistan

By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty

April 13, 2019

The onslaught against the Hazara Shias in Balochistan by Islamist terrorists remains unabated. At least 20 persons, including two children and one Frontier Corps (FC) trooper, were killed and 48 persons, including four FC personnel, sustained injuries, in a suicide attack at the Hazarganji vegetable market of Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan, in the morning of April 12, 2019. Nine of those killed were members of the Hazara community. Qari Hussain Force, an affiliate of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), claimed responsibility for the attack.

The target of the attack was the Hazara Shias, as the Hazarganji area is dominated by the community and has witnessed similar attacks in the past as well. Hazara shopkeepers are provided a security escort to and from Hazarganji, since they are constantly under threat of attack.

Partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) indicates that at least 715 Hazara Shias have been killed between 2001 and 2019 (data till April 12, 2019). While only two Hazara Shias were killed through 2018, the number stood at 18 in 2017, seven in 2016, 20 in 2015, 18 in 2014, 234 in 2013, 98 in 2012, 95 in 2011, 70 in 2010, 13 in 2009, nine 2008, one 2007, and none in 2006 and 2005. In 2004, however, 42 Hazara Shias were killed; another 60 were killed in 2003; none in 2002; and eight in 2001.

These numbers seem to be gross underestimation as a report released by National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) on March 19, 2018, stated that 509 members of the Hazara community were killed and 627 injured in various incidents of terrorism in Quetta during the preceding five years. The NCHR report titled "Understanding the Agonies of Ethnic Hazaraz" lists the incidents of attacks on the community from January 2012 to December 2017, based on the data shared by the Balochistan Home Department. Narrating heartbreaking details about the plight of the Hazaras, NCHR official Fazeela Alyani emphasized, "All these precious lives were lost only in Quetta city." Many Hazaras are settled in Quetta, an estimated population of over 800,000, in close proximity to the Cantonment area, owing to their employment in the Army.

An October 22, 2017, report, quoting Hazara community members and elders, claimed that approximately 70,000 Hazaras have left the country to escape relentless persecution. At least 50,000 Hazaras have gone to settle in Australia, around 8,000 are stuck in Indonesia, while around 10,000 of them have gone to Europe. There are also those who have migrated to other cities of the country, since Quetta was no longer safe.

Indeed, SATP data shows that most of the Hazara Shias have been killed in Northern Balochistan, especially in the areas around Quetta. It is useful to recall that North Balochistan is afflicted by Islamist extremist groups such as the Islamic State (IS, also Daesh), TTP and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ).

Hazaras, who follow the tenets of Shia Islam, have a longstanding history of being subjected to sectarian violence by the TTP and other Sunni extremist groups in Balochistan. 

Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP), Akhlaq Ullah Tarar, who was posted in Balochistan, in a column in Dawn, on November 12, 2018, catagorised the wave of Hazara killings in three phases: first, with the radical Sunni propaganda that began during the regime of Gen. Ziaul Haq to counter the Soviet invasion. This radicalism sowed the seed of bigotry and fanaticism. The first message calling the Shia community ‘kafir’ was pasted on the walls of Quetta in 1981. The second phase is when the killings began, when Hazaras were specifically and premeditatedly targeted for attack. On October 5, 1999, the provincial education minister Sardar Nisar Ali Hazara was attacked along with his driver and bodyguard and shot at point-blank range. Though the minister survived the attack, it marked the beginning of a targeted killing spree against Hazaras, particularly high-profile members of the community. Doctors, engineers, bankers, businessmen and state functionaries alike were selected, attacked and killed.  The third phase is when the indiscriminate killings — i.e. the mass murder — of members of the Hazara community began.

The unabated persecution of the Hazara Shia community, with the state failing to take any visible action, underlines the reality that there is no place for religious minorities in Pakistan.

Tushar Ranjan Mohanty is a Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management

Source: South Asia Terrorism Portal