A strong protest

January 17, 2021

Initially, members of the Hazara community blocked the Quetta-Sibi highway near Mach, they later set up a large protest camp on the Western Bypass with bodies of the victims

In a gross violation of basic human rights, 11 Hazara coalminers were brutally killed. Later, an Islamic State offshoot, the Islamic State of Khorasan Province, claimed responsibility for the brutality.

The Mach incident triggered a strong protest from the Hazara community of Quetta. Initially, members of the community blocked the Quetta-Sibi highway near Mach. They later set up a large protest camp on the Western Bypass with bodies of the victims. After a couple of days, other Shia groups started sit-in protests in different parts of Karachi and other cities across the country.

The provincial government in Balochistan was quick to reach out to the protestors. However, the protestors demanded an audience with Prime Minister Imran Khan. The Protestors Action Committee also presented a 10-points charter of demands which included sacking of civil and paramilitary officials and a payment of Rs 5 million as compensation to families of the slain coalminers.

The protestors included three points in the demands about the release of nine Hazara men (who were allegedly involved in the lynching of a Pashtun youth, Bilal Noorzai), unblocking of CNICs of Hazara community, and the release of all Shia missing persons —most of whom are suspected of having links with Shia militant groups in Iraq and Syria. The Hazara Democratic Party (HDP), which is a part of the ruling coalition in Balochistan, disassociated itself from the protests and accused the Majlis-i-Wahdat-i- Muslimeen (MWM), a Shia religious-political party, of hijacking the protest. The HDP claimed that Hazara Grand Jirga had decided to bury the victims soon after the incident. However, it said the MWM then hijacked the issue for its purposes.

While the internal politics of Hazaras marred the protest, Prime Minister Imran Khan was adamant not to visit Quetta on the demand of the protestors. He even said that demanding that the prime minister should come to Quetta amounted to blackmail. He was widely condemned for this comment across the country. Despite the condemnation, the prime minister did not show up in Quetta until after the burial of the victims. Right after these remarks by the prime minister, a Hazara activist, Sajjad Changezi, along with his friends, set up a hunger strike camp in Quetta to protest the apparent insensitivity of the PM’s words. He was demanding that the PM should apologise to Hazara people for calling them blackmailers.

On the night of January 9, a delegation led by the chief minister of Balochistan negotiated with the protestors and persuaded them to end the protest. In return, the Balochistan government announced the formation of a Joint Investigative Team (JIT) to probe this incident. The government also agreed to form a high power commission under the leadership of the home minister to keep track of the investigations.

Hassan Raza Changezi, an author and social commentator, told TNS that “it is really good that people from all over the country condemned the incident and expressed solidarity with marginalised Hazaras”. He also appreciated the inter-ethnic harmony displayed by members of other ethnic groups in Quetta. Commenting on the intra-Hazara political differences during the protest, Changezi called it most unfortunate. “When political parties [such as the HDP] are in government they support the government’s line and when in opposition [such as the MWM] they are sympathetic to the people,” he said. He also remarked that this sort of politicking is bad for society.

When asked if this protest can bring an end to attacks on Hazaras, he responded that only state and law enforcement agencies can provide an answer to this, as it is them who are ultimately responsible for the protection of the Hazara community.

The writer is a freelance journalist and columnist based in Quetta, and Editor of Balochistan Voices, an online newspaper. He can be reached at Adnan.Aamir@Live.com     or @iAdnanAamir

Mach massacre: A strong protest