Hazara tribesmen under attack in Quetta

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* Hazara MPA says killings of minorities motivated by religion
* Says Quetta has been communally harmonious until recently

By Malik Siraj Akbar

QUETTA: Hazara tribesmen in Balochistan, numbering around 300,000, are currently living under unprecedented terror, uncertainty and insecurity.

The tribe, residing in Balochistan for more than a century, have been subject of discrimination by the majority Balochs and Pashtuns due to their ethnic background and religious affiliations. While a majority of Hazaras is Shia, local Baloch and Pashtun are Sunnis. The Hazaras in Quetta have been targeted by some religious quarters for some time now, with more than two dozen men from the minority tribe having been killed in the last two months. Lashkar-e-Jhangavi (LJ), a banned Sunni organisation has accepted responsibility for most of the killings.

The common notion that the LJ was solely targeting Shia scholars was negated when it claimed responsibility for the January 26 murder of Hussain Ali Yousafi, chairman of the Hazara Democratic Party (HDP) – an accepted and acclaimed secular and democratic leader.

Motivation: Syed Nasir Ali Shah, a Hazara and a member of the National Assembly, told Daily Times that the killings were not Hazara-specific. The slayings were religiously motivated, Shah said, adding the acts were being carried out by forces that wanted to convert Balochistan into a ‘Talibanised’ province.

“Those who are carrying out these assaults are trying to create sectarian disharmony between the Sunni and Shia sects in Quetta,” he said, adding that the target killings were meant to widen the gulf between the Sunnis, Shias and Hazaras against the local Baloch and Pashtuns.

Harmony: Shah said historically, Quetta had been communally harmonious. He said people from all sects used to participate in religious ceremonies of the others until recently.

Attacks on the Hazaras first began during the military regime of General Ziaul Haq. On July 6, 1985, the military government tried to forcibly stop a Shia procession in Quetta, when 30 people, including some policemen, were killed.

In 2001, eight Hazaras were killed when their vehicle was ambushed near the city’s Poodgali Chowk. Another 12 Hazaras, all police cadets, were gunned down on June 8, 2003 when they were on their way to a training centre near Sariab. On 4 July, 2003, in one of the worst acts of sectarian violence in the history of Pakistan, some 58 people, most of them Hazara Shias, were killed, while around 200 were injured when a suicide bomber attacked Imambargah-e-Kalan in Quetta.

Another 38 persons, mostly Hazaras, were killed in an assault on March 2, 2004. The incident left 200 people injured. On July 19, 2008, nine Hazaras were killed in Quetta in a clash between the police and Hazara protesters. HDP Secretary General Abdul Khaliq Hazara said sectarianism in Quetta increased during the regime of former President Gen (r) Pervez Musharraf.

“We are a liberal, secular people. Hazara community, however, entirely comprises of Shias. Now, some invisible forces are trying to target our democratic leaders on the simple grounds that our religious affiliations coincide with Shia Islam,” he said.

In his seminal book ‘War and Migration’, Alessandro Monsutti classifies the Hazara migration to Balochistan in the following phases:

From 1878-1891: Following the second Anglo-Afghan war, the first Hazaras came to Quetta to seek employment in British-run companies under the Raj. They are thought to have worked on the building of roads and the Bolan Pass railway as well as enlisting in the British army of India. At that time, there could have been no more than a few hundred Hazaras in Balochistan. From 1891-1901: The subjugation of Hazarajat by Abdul Rahman, between 1891 and 1893, triggered a mass exodus of Hazaras to Turkestan, Khorasan and Balochistan.

From 1901 to 1933: The situation in Afghanistan returned to normal under Habibullah (1901-1919), the son of Abdul Rahman. He offered amnesty to the Hazaras but this proved to be of little help in improving the lot of the Hazara community in Afghanistan. In 1904, the 106th Pioneers, a separate regiment for the Hazaras formed by the British, offered greater careers prospects, social recognition and economic success.

From 1933-1971: The regiment of Hazara Pioneers was disbanded in 1933. Deprived of this social and professional outlet, Hazaras went to settle in Quetta between the 1930s and 1960s, although the process of migration never completely dried up.

From 1971-1978: Following the 1971 drought, Hazaras then settled in Quetta or went to Iran in search of work. Between 1973 and 1978, tensions over the Pushtunistan issue between the Daud government and Pakistan were an additional factor in the Hazara migration. After 1978: Following the Communist coup in April 1978 and the Soviet Union intervention in December 1979, the migratory movement assumed hitherto unprecedented dimensions.

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