THE massacre of Hazaras has bored through the shock absorbers that we refer to as either resilience or apathy. Too late as usual.
This year marks a full decade since attacks against ethnic Hazaras in Quetta started. In July 2003, a Hazara mosque was attacked during Friday prayers leaving 50 dead. The police defused two bombs that would have otherwise killed those trying to flee.
In the month prior to that, 11 Hazara police recruits were shot dead while travelling in a van to their training centre. In March 2004, an attack on an Ashura procession of Hazaras combining bombing and firing led to over 40 deaths.
Since then, Hazara leaders, politicians, businessmen, labourers, vendors, sportspersons, artists and youth continued to be targeted and killed with 2012 the bloodiest year so far.
All the educated Hazaras I know have either left the country or are trying to leave, whether through asylum applications or as economic migrants. The women I work with are on a countdown to leaving, refusing marriage proposals and studying internationally marketable skills like foreign languages.
In response to Hazara community demands, governor rule has substituted the provincial government. Any resident or observer of Balochistan would admit that the provincial government was non-existent in any case.
The assembly was plagued by issues of quorum as parliamentarians would not attend sessions; hardly any legislative work was done and the writ of the provincial government was tenuous in Quetta and irrelevant everywhere else. In any case, it was unrepresentative.
The nationalist groups had boycotted elections, and all other ‘players’ of the Balochistan realpolitik are not a part of electoral politics. A vote of no-confidence should have been moved much earlier, but then there was no significant role of opposition in the provincial assembly either because of the boycott.
After Nawab Bugti’s assassination, the boycott logic was that polls under Gen Musharraf were unacceptable. But electorally engaged political parties got rid of him in less than a year after elections. A provincial political presence of nationalist groups could have led to legislation or commissions instituted to act on allegations against the security apparatus. All checks and balances available in a democratic, representative set-up were unavailable simply because it was not one.
But there is need for caution regarding the demand for army intervention in Quetta. Though the desperation of the Hazaras is valid and understandable, it must be considered alongside the other struggle in Balochistan — that of Baloch to rid the province of Frontier Corps and army control.
It is not about privileging one struggle over another, but a reminder that the Baloch have also been targeted and killed, scores of student leaders, politicians, academics, writers and youth have disappeared or their dead bodies found dumped across the province, and that they accuse the intelligence and security apparatus of these brutalities.
The Supreme Court has investigated this, the political parties have decried it and analysts commented on the war-like situation and people’s testimonies have caused national shudders. Farooq Mengal’s deposition in court still remains an inconclusive reference point.
In this context, inviting the army in could possibly result in historically unprecedented friction and conflict between Hazara and Baloch ethnicities. And the problem of needing a legitimate, effective government in Balochistan would remain unresolved.
The role of the security apparatus is a substantive contributor, and many would say the creator of the Balochistan crisis.
Additionally, open-ended governor rule has not worked before, not in Sindh and certainly not in East Pakistan. The best case scenario is of 2009, after the Sharif brothers’ disqualification by the Supreme Court, when governor rule in Punjab was imposed but was time-bound for two months. Mature political parties will understand the criticality of reverting to and strengthening the democratic process while addressing the equally critical security concerns without relying on non-civilian formulas.
At the national level, Pakistan is inching towards its most significant historic milestone — that of an elected government completing its term. Democracy has in-built measures and pressure valves to both absorb challenges and redress dissent.
Either we revive the doctrine of necessity and accept that the army must intervene everywhere that terrorism is present — which is pretty much the whole country — and ignore the Swat experience that shows army presence is no assurance against terrorist acts.
Or we start asking some tough questions, such as what happened to the billions of dollars of Coalition Support Funds that were meant to enable us to fight terrorism; what happened to all the police training and equipment that was meant to bolster civilian institutional capacity, when policemen in Peshawar still do not have bullet-proof jackets and police APCs in Karachi are made of tin and their mobiles run out of petrol.
That may also explain why Lashkar-i-Jhangvi leaders, who routinely accept responsibility of Hazara and other Shia killings, are running around rampant, and when arrested, manage to escape from jails located inside Quetta cantonment.
The writer conducts research and analysis in the social and development sector.