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Bury your dead

Opinion

January 18, 2021

“Bury your dead and I shall arrive”. This is what the Hazara community was told after eleven Hazara coal miners were blindfolded and slaughtered.

The prime minister of our country pretty much blackmailed a persecuted community, feigning concern that their dead should rest in peace. No one – least of all those in government – had the right to tell families that had lost their loved ones how to grieve. Yet, it was done. And it has (rightfully) left a bad taste across the country.

The Hazara community has been targeted for decades for ethno-religious reasons. This genocide has never been acknowledged by the state but if one looks at the figures and the intent behind their killings, it becomes clear that the definitional criteria for genocide is satisfied. Under Article II of the Genocide Convention 1948, a list of acts that constitute genocide is provided, subject to the requirement that these acts be carried out “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”.

In 2003, over 60 Hazaras were targeted and killed and in 2004, over 60 Hazaras faced the same fate. Fast forward to 2010 and 73 Hazaras were killed. In 2011, over 40 Hazaras were specifically targeted and murdered. In 2012, around 40 members of the community were targeted and killed. In 2013, over 100 Hazaras were killed and in 2014, over 60 Hazaras were targeted and killed. Unfortunately, it is true what Stalin said (albeit in a different context): “a single death is a tragedy, a million are a statistic”.

The acts listed in Article II of the 1948 Convention have certainly been perpetrated against the Hazara community with the intent to destroy them, including “killing members of the group”, “causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group”, “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”.

Just last year, during the month of Muharram, massive anti-Shia rallies were allowed to proceed across Pakistan, including in the federal capital and Karachi. Under Article III of the Genocide Convention, “direct and public incitement to commit genocide” and “complicity in genocide” are both punishable. At these rallies, there was clear incitement to violence, where Shias were deemed kaafirs. That such hate speech and incitement to violence went unpunished indicates our state’s complicity. But even more concerning is why these rallies were granted permission to incite violence against an already persecuted community.

After all, it is not by chance or out of the blue that these targeted attacks have been, or continue to be, carried out. Religious hatred and sectarianism have been cultivated over the decades, leading us to where we stand today. We have been well aware over the years that there is a particularly dangerous threat faced by the Hazara community – even more so than other members of the Shia community because Hazaras are easily identifiable. However, despite this, the state has failed to protect them, and the mainstream media has failed to cover their plight adequately.

More than five years ago, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ) had declared that it would turn Quetta into a “graveyard for Shias”. Despite the fact that they had effectively announced their intent, the LEJ and SSP rebranded themselves as the Ahle Sunnah Wal Jammat (ASWJ) and even competed in the 2013 and 2018 general elections under the Pak Rah-e-Haq Party (PRHP) banner.

We should have realized when the persecution of the Ahmadi community began that it was only a matter of time before other communities were targeted.

Between 2013 and 2015, LEJ carried out some of the deadliest attacks against the Shia community. It proudly claimed responsibility for these attacks. We are not speaking here just of a targeted killing on the streets of Quetta (which is horrific enough); we are talking about the systematic targeting and elimination of people based on their belief.

In 2013, a bomb blast targeted a bus from Sardar Bahadur Khan Women’s University, which resulted in the deaths of 14 female students. When the injured students were transported to Bolan Medical Complex, the hospital was targeted with gunfire and an explosion resulting in four nurses being killed. It wasn’t enough for LEJ that they had killed Shia students – they also then had to ensure that those who needed to give medical attention to the injured were also deterred from doing so.

This group and variations of it continue to operate with impunity across the country today. Factories of hate continue embedding within children this concept of killing in the name of religion. So why has this been ignored? The simple answer is that most major political parties have benefited from maintaining these extremist vote banks (and also that the Hazaras do not form a ‘solid’ enough vote bank for them) and that there is a continued mistaken belief that these groups are our ‘strategic assets’.

In light of the circumstances discussed above, it is appalling how the government of Pakistan handled the aftermath of the massacre of 11 Hazara coal miners. It appears that only those with religious clout and armed protesters, such as the TLP, will be taken seriously by the state.

Those who have remained peaceful despite the genocide against their community were not even given the dignity of deciding how to mourn their dead. “Bury them”, they were told. After decades of persecution, intimidation and attacks, they still remained peaceful and complied. Perhaps the state should learn a lesson or two in dignity and grace from this community – it is, after all, the very least it can do.

The writer is founding partner of Mazari-Hazir Advocates & Legal Consultants.

Email: [email protected] gmail.com

Twitter: @ImaanZHazir