Monday June 17, 2024

No end in sight

By Mushtaq Rajpar
October 19, 2017

Life in Quetta is so hard for the Hazara Shia community, which is targeted for its beliefs. The systematic and sustained killing of this community has been termed ‘ethnic cleansing’ by many.

The BBC had, in a report back in 2013, called Quetta “hell on earth”. The nearly half a million Hazara are Quetta’s most vibrant community – educated, hardworking and socially open, with impressive women’s literacy figures. They take pride their women being part of the labour force and their women work in hospitals, schools and universities. This community of forward-looking people is being buried beneath. For what reason?

Last week, Federal Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, in his speech at Washington’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) mentioned a decline in sectarian strife. Listening to him, I thought his presentation was drafted by someone living in a state of denial, as just two days before that four Hazaras had been killed in Quetta. On September 9, three people were shot dead. Since 2002, close to 3,000 Shias have been killed, most of them belonging to the Hazara community.

The Hazara people, fearing attacks, live in a prison-liken enclave called Hazara town. Their freedom of movement is limited and many have fled the country. And how can we forget our social activist and human rights defender Irfan Ali Khudi, a brave voice for human rights, who was blown away in a suicide bomb blast in January 2013 at Alamdar Chowk, one of the deadliest attacks. On his Twitter intro Irfan had written: “I am born to fight for human rights and peace. My religion is respect and love all the religions.” At Karachi’s Pak-India Social Media Mela (organized by the late Sabeen Mahmud), he was one of the speakers at a session.

Who else would have a better insight of the Hazara situation than Irfan? He was blunt in his views and very critical of the failure of the authorities in protecting the Hazara of Quetta. He saw every attack as an attack on Quetta’s diversity. Despite the presence of a large number of security personnel, the targeted attacks on the Hazara have not ended. The nature of attacks is not sporadic and is in fact well coordinated. That cannot be possible without sustained availability of information, and a lot of coordination work.

The Hazara have been targeted for the past 15 years. There is hardly a family within the community that has not lost a loved one in suicide attacks, ambushes, bus attacks and attacks on funerals. Who is their enemy? Who is after them?

Human stories get lost in numbers. The Hazaras are one minority community in Pakistan whose stories not many are paying attention to. The state has miserably failed to move beyond condemnation and pledges of justice. What kind of justice are we talking about? Security personnel make some arrests and ministers hold press conferences, a repeated exercise that does neither gives hope to the Hazara nor ends the mindless killing of innocent people.

The Hazara community knows why it is being killed, but those who are targeted do not know why they are chosen to be massacred. The labourers who were out in the vegetable market to sell vegetables and earn a living for their children do not return home alive. How does one explain to their children that for some they do not belong to this land? Do they have to search for another place for refuge?

People in power talk about the sacrifices this country has given in this endless war against violent extremism, call it sheer and naked terrorism, but does this help victims understand why this is happening to them? Or why they have been chosen to be sacrificed? Why do they have to pay with their lives, their dreams slaughtered due to the failure of the state? Killing of Hazaras is nothing, but a complete failure of state apparatus, whose primary responsibility is to protect lives of citizens.

There is no end in sight of the slaughter of this community. The various civil and military institutions have not been able to trace the roots of terrorism targeting these people. Who is behind it? Who nurtures these terrorists and the ideas that nurture them? What are they are trying to achieve? Is there a timeframe to wipe out these killers? At the end of the day, whose failure is this?

If the state cannot protect half a million people in Quetta, which is aware of the pattern of the attacks, and possibly of enemies too, who can we turn to? Let us not forget the today we live in is a consequence of yesterday’s policies and choices.



Twitter: @MushRajpar