By Jamshed Jamshed
Evidently, Quetta’s Hazaras are the Mongols, who migrated from Central Asia to the Banyan District in Afghanistan. They belong to the Shia faction of Islam, Persian is their main language. Demographically, Hazaras live in three countries: Afghanistan (7-8 million); Iran (1.2 million) and Pakistan (0.7 million). In addition, a diaspora of approximately 400,000 to 500,000 is spread around in a number of Western countries. Hazaras have a long history of persecution at the hands of Afghans which dates back to 16th century. During the era of Amir Abdul Rahman (1880-1901), who is regarded as founder of modern Afghanistan, thousands of Hazaras were killed, expelled and enslaved. Almost half of the Hazara population was displaced to neighboring Baluchistan of British India and the Khorasan province in Iran. Hazaras shifted to Quetta, in numbers, from Afghanistan in 1840; and to avenge the Afghan atrocities, they joined the British army in flocks.
In 1904, the British raised an infantry unit, the “106th Hazara Pioneers”, comprising Hazara refugees in Quetta. Hazaras fought for the British during Anglo Afghan wars. Hence, they carry a historic baggage; whereby the Afghans do not tolerate their presence in Pashtun areas. Therefore, by default, it has become a fault line which can easily be triggered. And once ignited, it soon becomes self-sustaining through its own momentum and tempo. So far Hazaras have been on the receiving end; they have refrained from taking up organized armed struggle against the rival groups.
During this year, Hazaras of Quetta have been targeted mercilessly as if their lives are of no value. Earlier also, the Hazara community was hunted down, as a matter of routine. Previously, incidents were of the type of forced off-loading of Hazaras from public transport and killing them indiscriminately, like animals. Ostensibly, systematic targeting of Hazara community has many facets: local rivalries, sectarian sentiment, regional dynamics and fissures created by the Great Game. The Iranian Intelligence Agencies Itallat through its Quetta based consulate, Pasdarans (Iranians revolutionary guards) placed with Iranian Intelligence (cover) officers in Iranian Culture Centre of Quetta and Peshawar carries out discreet abortive attempts on Hazara Community thus killings scores of innocent Hazaras. Besides NDS, RAW and proscribed terrorist organizations including Baluchistan Liberation Army (BLA), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Ahle-Sunnat wal Jammat are also instrumental in Hazara’s assassinations. The land mafia / criminal elements are also involved in abductions and using coercive methods to grab valuable properties of Hazara’s spreading from Taftan border to Quetta including expensive huge warehouses in Chamman.
The facts are corroborated / substantiated by RAND (US Think Tank) scholar Christine Fair, a leading American expert on South Asia, Quote in a American journal Foreign Affairs that Pakistan has legitimate concerns about India’s involvement in initiating unrest in Baluchistan. She contended that “Indian officials have told me privately that they are pumping money into Baluchistan.” Kabul has encouraged India to engage in provocative activities such as using the Border Roads Organization to build sensitive parts of the Ring Road and use the Indo-Tibetan police force for security. It is also building schools on a sensitive part of the border in Kunar — across from Bajaur. Kabul’s motivations for encouraging these activities are as obvious as India’s interest in engaging in them.” Unquote
Recent increase in the massacre like events have come under the backdrop of weakening of our law enforcement agencies (LEAs) through a concerted campaign of smear propaganda. This campaign was particularly focused against Frontier Corps (FC) Baluchistan. Saner voices have all along been cautioning that exclusion of “B” areas form the jurisdiction of LEAs and handing it over to Levies and Khasadars would eventually result in handing over lambs to wolves, in the rural area. Demand for withdrawal of FC from Baluchistan is aimed at driving the chaos to unmanageable heights in urban areas as well.
As a consequence of the attacks, and the alleged impunity by which they are perpetrated, a large number of Hazaras have recently taken to the streets to protest against these ruthless killings of their community members. The protest sit-in on Alamdar Road, Quetta, saw active participation of citizens representing Hazara tribe, including women, children and the elders. Jalela Advocate, who has been active in the sit-in, told the media that the people of Hazara were aspirants of a peaceful Baluchistan and a peaceful Pakistan. The protest over the recent spate of targeted killings in the city was called off only after the meeting of the leaders of Shia Hazara community with Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, who gave an assurance that those behind the attacks shall suffer twice as much. As per the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR), during 46 incidents of target killing and bomb blasts in Quetta from January 2012 to December 2017, up to 525 were killed while 734 were injured. Where, more than 200 people of the Hazara community were killed in only two suicide bomb attacks.
Although large-scale attacks targeting the Hazaras saw a decline after the military operations against terror, targeted killing of the community never completely ended. And this raises serious questions about the government’s seriousness ascribed to this turmoil. Tribal leader Nawabzada Haji Lashkri Raesani said, “Increase in the number of incidents of terrorism is a challenge for the state.” For the dream of a peaceful Baluchistan to materialize, politicians should unite against the ongoing oppression in the province. The underlined implication is that there cannot be a complete peace in Baluchistan if the policy of giving space to extremist groups remains in place. Apart from improving the security situation and intelligence sharing to avoid targeted attacks in Quetta, a shift in policy on state level is also needed. On the supportive side, 19 platoons of Frontier Corps (FC) were deployed in Mureeabad and Hazara Town for security of the Hazara community. Other than this, officers of the law enforcement agencies provided security to visitors travelling from Quetta to Taftan. The Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar also took suo motu notice of the Hazara targeted killings.
As COAS Genreal Bajwa said, “the state is responsible for the security of its citizens, and each and every casualty, including from the Hazara community, is of concern to us. Through a unified national effort, we have turned the tide of terrorism; however, a lot is still being done against inimical designs to reverse the gains by exploiting various fault lines.” Hence, the government should take up the responsibility of citizens and should act fast before the troublemakers’ take further advantage of the situation in Baluchistan.