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The Curse of the Minorities

By Yaqoob Khan Bangash

October 11, 2011

Everyone in this world is a minority in one way or the other. In a society, men are either the majority or the dominant sex, one religion outnumbers another, one sect has more followers than the other, or one ethnicity overwhelms another smaller one numerically. In civilised societies and mature democracies, the emphasis for the last few decades has been to recognise such differences and to take steps to offer equal opportunities to everyone. Belgium, for example, has developed a complex federal system where the three linguistic communities have maximum autonomy within the Belgian constitution. Obviously, these systems do not make everyone happy, but their evolution exhibits attempts by countries to evolve in ways so that no one feels like a minority — everyone feels, and is effectively, a full citizen of the country.

Pakistan is the creation of a minority complex. The Muslims in India were fearful of the numerical majority of the Hindus, post the British departure, and therefore wanted a separate homeland for themselves so that they could safeguard their interests. So, in the words of the Muslim League, India was inhabited by only two communities: Muslim and Hindu, where both needed separation.

What the Muslim League forgot in this ‘Two Nation’ theory was the fact that the Muslims were not a homogenous community. There were a lot of internal fissures amongst the Muslims and several sections of the Muslim community were oppressed and discriminated against. Differentiation on the basis of caste, sect and ethnicity ran deep amongst the Muslims of South Asia.

When Pakistan was created, only people belonging to non-Muslim religions were considered minorities. Therefore, Christians and Hindus became easy targets for anti-western and anti-India attacks respectively. They were also clearly discriminated against in the constitution, the civil services, education and in general. Hence, when human rights groups focused on ‘minority persecution’, the gaze easily centred on these embattled communities.

But in the supposed ‘one’ Muslim nation there were, and still continue to be, several other minorities too. They might be Muslim, but they too were discriminated against. The Hazaras of Balochistan (and Afghanistan) are one such community. They are Muslim, but they are Shia. They are Pakistanis, but they are of Mongol descent. These simple, yet critical sect and ethnic descent disparities have made them an easy target of Taliban’s attack, both in Afghanistan and Pakistan. There are nearly a million Hazaras living in Pakistan who are easily recognisable because of their Central Asian features. However, their religious sect has made them liable for extermination in the eyes of some co-religionists.

Always poor and oppressed communities, rampant attacks on the Hazaras have become increasingly common in Balochistan. In an environment overrun by military and Para-military personnel, the cold blooded killings of Hazaras just because of their religious affiliation has showed either the connivance of the government or their utter inability to control such acts — but most probably both.

The need for the immediate protection of the Hazara community is self-evident. However, what is of long-term importance is the recognition of the plight of the Hazaras, who live in constant fear, and for concrete steps to be taken to bring them into the mainstream of Pakistan.

Pakistan is a country which does not like to accommodate difference, and cannot tolerate diversity. Tolerating difference, of any kind, is unknown in Pakistan, and immediately one is labelled as the ‘other.’

Pakistan can only hope to climb out of this quagmire if we begin to accept everyone who lives, works in, and loves this country, as a full Pakistani citizen — or else most of us will only remain as embattled minorities and never full citizens.

The writer is a historian at Keble College, University of Oxford

Source: The Express Tribune, Lahore