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Hazaras and the absent state

Updated April 22, 2019

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“THE security forces are here, police are here. What more can we do?” asked DIG Quetta after the bomb attack in Hazarganji. Unfortunately, such targeted attacks are nothing new for Balochistan, especially its small Hazara population. From the two bus attacks in Mastung and Hazarganji in 2011 to the latest incidents in Quetta and Ormara, hundreds have lost their lives because of religion, sect, or state association.

In-depth: I am Hazara

One of the writers was a student at the Balochistan University of Information Technology, Engineering, and Management Sciences when travelling by bus suddenly became a perilous experience for his Hazara community. Militants would stop buses, separate Shia (mostly Hazara) passengers, and shoot them while ordering others to run. Imagine how students who commuted by bus felt — half of whom were Hazaras. Convinced that our bus would be next, we demanded security from the local political leadership. The ‘fear’ was not so much of being killed, but the gruesome manner in which it might happen.

Local politicians responded to the Hazara demand, provided armed guards and (subsequently) an escort vehicle. However, despite police protection, a suicide bomber attacked the same bus in June 2012, killing four students and injuring 72 others. Then came 2013. A series of targeted attacks, sometimes intermittent, has since continued. After another bus was attacked for carrying Hazara students, most non-Hazaras refused to travel in the same vehicles as the Hazara for fear of their lives.

It seems that very little has changed in eight years. The DIG expressed extraordinary helplessness, both of the security agencies and their practice of providing police escorts. Hazara vegetable vendors are indeed escorted by FC and police every day, and yet the terrorists reached them.

Situationer: For Hazaras, stepping out of their homes is a luxury

The gap between the Hazaras and other communities is now wider than it has ever been.

It, therefore, seems that the terrorists are winning this war. Their message is loud and clear: head to a university, a market, or even to other cities, and we will kill you in your taxis, vans, buses and motorcycles. When you get security, we will plant bombs in potato sacks and on roadsides. There is no escape.

Consider Quetta’s Hazara neighbourhoods, for example.

Despite permanent FC check posts at all entry points —10 check posts and 19 FC platoons in two settlements, according to the home department — more than 500 Hazaras have been killed and another 627 injured in only five years. The two settlements (Marriabad and Hazara Town) are almost 13 kilometres apart. Hazaras have friends and family across the two areas; however, Spinny Road, part of the only route we can take between the two, is like a death trap. A single 3km stretch, with three FC check posts, has seen more than 30 Hazaras killed in at least 10 attacks.

So it is that we are isolated from our Hazara friends and family, and also from our non-Hazara friends in Quetta. Those who wish to visit us in Hazara Town or Alamdar Road must deposit their CNICs at the FC check post and, in most cases, call their Hazara host from inside the ghetto. Outside these areas, non-Hazaras (including students) still refuse to share vehicles with Hazaras because doing so could make them collateral damage in the next terrorist incident. The gap between the Hazaras and other communities is now wider than it has ever been.

This gap has translated into socioeconomic tragedies, both for Hazaras and Quetta at large. Fearing for their lives, many Hazara students drop out of educational institutions outside their ghettos, leading to a steady decline in educational attainment. Hazara business owners in Quetta’s main commercial hubs have been targeted for years, forcing those who survived to relocate to a Hazara area or risk being killed. Many youngsters and families have fled to other cities and even countries, seeking asylum where possible.

It is not that security agencies haven’t tried. Hundreds of policemen and FC troops have been martyred, with police officers targeted on an almost daily basis. We can therefore comprehend the DIG’s helplessness, but should we take it that the state is admitting abject failure in protecting lives? The rot is so deep that our research revealed departmental apprehensions about hiring Hazaras within security agencies. In Quetta, for example, Hazara policemen need to be protected before they can offer protection.

Hazaras no longer have a choice but to question the allegiance of the state, its institutions, and major political parties to their community and other persecuted Pakistanis.

Elected chief ministers have mocked our sorrow, from offering tissues after hundreds died (Raisani) to claiming that Hazaras “want to remain in isolation” and are in their ghettos “by their own choice” (Abdul Malik). All parties have formed electoral alliances with proscribed organisations. Leaders of the ASWJ, who allegedly celebrated their ‘century’ after the massacre of more than 100 Hazaras in a single attack in 2013, are seen in photo ops with senior figures. Some of our judges (eg former Islamabad High Court justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui) have been more interested in inventing new forms of apartheid for minority communities, while civilian prosecutors fail to prove even self-confessed crimes by notorious terrorists.

While there are concerns that the godfathers of militancy are sometimes used to serve the state’s strategic ends, ordinary Hazaras, minorities, and police and FC personnel keep sacrificing their lives.

No number of barricades, check posts and escorts can justifiably create security. We don’t want special treatment that only suffocates Hazaras; in fact, the socioeconomic costs of security will continue to hurt the community for decades to come. If three check posts in 3km cannot keep them safe, can escorts, barriers and CCTVs do any better apart from putting those security personnel and gunmen at unnecessary risk?

A state loyal to its citizenry would take much less to understand that Hazaras will only be safe when everybody is safe; when purveyors and benefactors of hate and violence are dealt with appropriately; when law rules and extrajudicial and illegal security activity is nonexistent; when civilian institutions effectively deliver justice; and, basically, when the state itself is safe from itself.

Muhammad Aman is an educationist based in Quetta.

Faizaan Qayyum is a PhD student in urban/regional planning at the University of Illinois.

m.aman.hazara@gmail.com

Twitter: @amnoaman

faizaanq@gmail.com

Twitter: @faizaanq

Published in Dawn, April 22nd, 2019