By Dr Fawad Kaiser
November 11, 13
The government’s consistent failure to protect the Hazara community from sectarian attacks by Sunni militant groups amounts to complicity in the brutal killing of Pakistani citizens
The Hazaras constitute a distinct ethnic group. Hazaras are of Mongolian and Central Asian descent and legend has it they are descendants of Genghis Khan and his soldiers who invaded Afghanistan in the 13th century. Almost all belong to the Shia Muslim sect, speak a dialect of Farsi, and are also concentrated in central Afghanistan. There are some 600,000 to 700,000 Hazaras in Pakistan. In Quetta, many of them live on the Alamdar Road. Human Rights Watch (HRW) research indicates that at least 275 Shias, mostly of Hazara ethnicity, have been killed in sectarian attacks in the south-western province of Balochistan alone since 2008. Sectarian preference is a form of racial prejudice, and like prejudice, it is closely linked with the urge to obtain and keep power over others.
Ethnicity is usually defined as that part of a person’s identity that is drawn from one or more ‘markers’, like race, religion, shared history, region, social symbols or language. It is distinct from that part of a person’s identity that comes from, say, personal moral doctrine, economic status, civic affiliations or personal history. Parlaying these into a concept of ethnic nationalism is tricky however; growing hatred as an ends-based concept does not make any sense if the motivating purpose of contention is some matter of specific relevance to an ethnic group. The inherent complexity and dynamism of ethnicity itself makes understanding this concept difficult. Constructing superior racial or religious ethnicity is a dangerous and contested target and so explanations of ethnic conflict with reference to such ethnic nationalism is liable to produce ominous harm. Unlike ‘class conflict’, which can be proved or disproved by using pretty stable measures of the people involved, like income, education, occupation, etc, the same cannot be said of ethnicity. Prejudices against other ethnic groups that appear ‘essential’, wax and wane as conditions change but the mere existence of conflict with other ethnic groups may shift the meaning of ethnicity on all sides. It is crucial that we focus on ethnic prejudice, and specifically on the sociological understanding of prejudice against certain minority groups.
Ethnic nationalism is one of the main causes of the present plight of the Hazara community and the increasing flow of immigration to Europe and Australia. This kind of nationalism emerges from biased ethnic beliefs among certain groups in the community towards other ethnic groups through vernacular mobilisation of ancient deeply held religious concepts. Self-introspection and de-politicising ethnic nationalists and its members would draw into purifying the concepts prescribed in Islam and its elements, which, in turn, may lead to protecting against the expulsion of communities like the Hazaras in Pakistan. The Australian government has offered asylum to 2,500 Hazara families of Pakistan who have been affected by terrorism on humanitarian grounds. Many young Hazaras have left Quetta, and it is estimated that 90 percent of those fleeing the violence do so illegally. Widespread fear of harassment, discrimination and killings has made Hazaras escape their plight.
The Hazaras, who are Shias and are distinguishable due to their features, have been a target of ethnic cleansing by militant organisations for political and religious ideological reasons. ‘Outside hands’ being behind the violence cannot be underestimated, and such perceptions are not as simple because the sources of violence in Balochistan are multi-factorial in themselves. Grouping up of militants in Balochistan has certainly contributed to an increase in the Hazara-Shia violence and is evident in many ways, such as the relations between the Hazara and Baloch communities. Moreover, it could also be inflamed by the current demand for military intervention by the Hazaras in the province. This promulgates its own set of violence against Baloch nationalists, and thus draws the rift between the two communities even deeper.
Shias and other minority communities say banned Sunni militant organisations like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT)/Jamaat-ud-Daawa (JuD) are those behind the violence. These groups have been banned by the Pakistani government, but the LeT has rebranded itself as the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat. The fact remains that the Let/JuD has not withdrawn a fatwa condemning Shias to death. Geo-political influences sour the analysis with the notion that the Hazara killings are an extension of the old Iran-Saudi cold war, and Sunni militant organisation leaders get funding from Saudi Arabia. There are some who would suspect Hazaras getting money from Iran as a possible reason for being targeted. The Iran gas pipeline and Gwadar port project have significant geo-political significance and add to the continuing domestic terrorism in subtle ways. There is a deep-set suspicion that Iran may be interfering in Pakistan’s security establishment, which dates back to the confrontation over Afghanistan and the Taliban. Moreover, easy trade through a functional Gwadar Port would draw another dimension to the strategic importance of Balochistan province.
The Pakistan government has faced widespread criticism for its inability to stop the violence. Pakistan government cannot ignore the innocent killing of the Hazara community, and has to investigate these killings. As Hazaras continue to be slaughtered in cold blood, the callousness and indifference of the authorities offers a damning indictment of the state, its military and security agencies. Pakistan’s tolerance for militant extremists is not just destroying lives and alienating entire communities, it is destroying Pakistan’s image across the world. Government has to make transparent efforts to promptly apprehend and prosecute those responsible for attacks and other crimes targeting the Hazara population. The government’s consistent failure to protect the Hazara community from sectarian attacks by Sunni militant groups is reprehensible and amounts to complicity in the brutal killing of Pakistani citizens.
The extreme violence in Quetta means many Hazaras are fighting for survival and feel pessimistic about their future in Pakistan. Faced with the security risks, Dr ZZ (name cannot be disclosed due to security reasons) had to give up his years of successful GP practice in Quetta and is now residing in the UK, desperately demanding justice from the Pakistan government for the loss of his homeland and years of true love for his country. He is hopeful to reach the oasis but is worryingly afraid of his fast growing unforgiving anger. Dr ZZ is just an example of the hundreds of Hazaras who would love to live in Pakistan, adore their country, want to be treated like normal human beings and would like to see a safe homeland.
Ethnic conflict might be defined as a sustained and violent conflict by ethnically distinct actors, in which the issue is integral to one ethnicity. It seems at least possible that some longstanding disputes seen in recent years are enduring enough to qualify. The Ayodhya temple, the Temple Mount and the Orange Day parades may suggest this kind of ethnic conflict purely identificational, often irrational, and deeply impervious to amelioration. Yet such instances are rare. Chronicles of Serbian aggression against Kosovars in terms of the ‘ancient hatreds’ of Yugoslavia were seen in history but Bill Clinton’s words fell silent when the Serbians voted their tyrant Slobodan Milosevic out of office in 2000, and sent him to stand trial for war crimes. Distinctive political systems have spawned religion-based civil wars not because ‘religious identity is fixed and non-negotiable’ but because basic human rights freedoms are fixed and non-negotiable. Religious identity is almost certainly dynamic and elastic and ancient hatreds are simply the ignored chapters in social phenomena.
Dr Fawad Kaiser is a member of the Diplomate American Board of Medical Psychotherapists Dip.Soc Studies, member Int’l Association of Forensic Criminologists, associate professor Psychiatry and consultant Forensic Psychiatrist at the Huntercombe Group United Kingdom.