THE emergency measures taken after the nationwide protest at the latest round of killing of pilgrims in Mastung district offer little assurance that a way to end the ordeal of the Hazara community has been found.
While no breakthrough in efforts to nab the culprits has been reported public attention has been focused on the air-lifting of hundreds of pilgrims from Dalbandin to Quetta. Welcome though this operation has been it has also thrown up a few disquieting issues.
First, the volume of the annual pilgrim traffic to and from Iran has proved to be quite large, and the need to manage it has obviously been ignored year after year. Secondly, the administration has conceded its inability to guarantee security of road travel. And, thirdly, there is a danger that a large piece of territory may pass into the hands of militants determined to harass the governments of Pakistan and Iran both. Neither air flights nor a ferry service along the Makran coast will alter the situation.
This means that the anti-Hazara militias will have greater freedom and capacity to continue their murderous attacks on the beleaguered community. What does this portend for the Hazaras (the Shia majority among them, as the small number of Sunni Hazaras are not targeted) and Balochistan?
Since no firm attempt has been made to subdue them, the gangs engaged in massacring the Hazaras consider themselves free to persist in their criminal acts and the threat to the Hazaras remains unabated. The seriousness of this threat can be gauged only if one takes stock of Hazara losses since 2003, when their mass killing began. Forty-seven people were killed in July 2003 in an attack on an imambargah; 36 perished in March 2004 when the Ashura procession was attacked; 63 were killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up in a Youm-i-Quds procession in 2010; 26 pilgrims were killed in Mastung in September 2011 and more than 100 were killed in the Alamdar Road massacre last year.
In addition many prominent Hazara professionals and community leaders have fallen victim to targeted killing over the past 15 years. It is necessary to realise that this huge loss of life has been caused not only to the Hazara community but to the whole of Balochistan and Pakistan.
Further, the entire community has been condemned to live all the time in fear of liquidation. They have lost the right to earn their livelihood in peace and thir freedom of movement has been severely curtailed. A large umber of the Hazara have chosen to seek security of life in foreign lands, and many have perished at sea in their attempts to reach Australia in unsafe vessels.
The government has never assessed the economic cost to the country caused by the loss of skilled human resources, the closure of Hazara-owned mines and other enterprises, the stoppage of remittances the expatriate Hazaras’ used to send from the Gulf states and other foreign countries, and the decline in the Hazaras’ share in services. No society can afford the loss of human resources at this scale, and certainly not Balochistan.
The Hazaras have also contributed a great deal to Balochistan’s social development. As they are not a land-owning community they have had no part in sustaining the tribal-feudal tradition. They have distinguished themselves in services and in the field of education. They have established schools and colleges where the young ones of all communities are accommodated.
Their boys and girls are still keen to go to the universities and institutions of higher learning but transporters have been frightened into declining to serve them. Their women are far more liberated than others and have acted as agents of female emancipation.
The Balochistan government, and to a greater extent the federal authorities, have a duty not only to protect Hazara Shias and guarantee them their rights and freedoms, but also to revive their hope of a decent future as full citizens of Pakistan. Their feelings of helplessness and hopelessness stem not only from the state’s failure to protect their lives and property, they emanate from their belief that the state agencies protect their tormentors.
The case of Usman Saifullah Kurd and Shafiq Rahman destroyed the Hazaras’ faith not only in the administration’s competence but also in its sincerity in offering them a fair deal. The two prominent members of a banned outfit were tried in 2007 for attacks on Shias and found guilty. Both confessed to their crimes and bragged about killing more Shias. Kurd was awarded the death sentence and Shafiq life imprisonment. The way they escaped from a high security prison in January 2008 still rankles in each Hazara heart. The community is convinced that the convicts were enabled to escape by the authorities themselves.
Even otherwise, the Hazaras question the failure of the all-powerful Frontier Crops to go for the trigger-happy members of the Punjab-based militia that enjoys the freedom of not only Mastung and Khuzdar but also of Quetta. They make no attempt to conceal themselves or hide their weapons in the street or the mosque. They have already destroyed Balochistan’s reputation as a peaceful multicultural society.
There is every reason to apprehend that the Hazaras will not be the only victims of their violence. The governments of Pakistan, Punjab and Balochistan must together realise the consequences of tolerating the anti-Hazara forces. Hitherto the world has tended to treat the Hazara killings as manifestations of sectarian intolerance. If the killings are not ended the verdict against Pakistan could be much harsher.