ISLAMABAD: The killing of Hazara Shia labourers in Quetta on Monday has reopened the wounds of this oft-persecuted community, whose members are forced to live in self-exile away from their homes and loved ones for the sake of their security and well-being.
“The Hazara community in Quetta has been targeted since 1999,” says Fatima Atif, a human rights activist who has been based in Islamabad for 15 years. “There have been three major waves of targeted killings and social persecution since then. But members of our community started migrating from Quetta to other cities after the bloodbaths in 2010.”
Even though the pursuit of higher education was the main reason for them to leave Balochistan, most migrants who manage to make it to Islamabad are generally from well-off families and can afford an education in the federal capital.
“Two years ago, we estimated the number of Hazara migrants in Islamabad is around the 500-mark,” Ms Atif told Dawn.
Hazara Shias living in self-exile say they don’t feel safe in Balochistan
Those who do not escape became “imprisoned in their own homes” after such incidents of violence.
Ms Atif says that even though Hazaras have been migrating to other countries for a long time, moving around within the country was usually by force rather than by choice.
“Although migrating to other places with more economic opportunities is to be expected, migration on such a large scale is a serious problem for the community. I think it will severely impact our identity,” she said, worried about the changing demographics of Quetta’s Hazara quarter.
Those that try to make a better life for themselves elsewhere do not fare too well, either. “About 1,000 to 1,500 Hazaras have perished while attempting to migrate to other countries, specifically to Australia,” she says.
“I have met families in Islamabad who have lost one or more of their loved ones to targeted killings. But owing to fear, they avoid appearing in the media and telling their stories.”
Yasin Nadir, who has a Masters in Peace and Conflict Studies from the National Defence University, told Dawn he was a student of economics at the Balochistan University of Information Technology, Engineering and Management Sciences (Buitems) when a university bus was attacked by terrorists in 2012. Most of the students on the bus were Hazaras.
“Luckily, I was not on the bus that day,” Mr Nadir said. Due to the fragile security situation, he stopped going to the varsity and appeared as a private BA candidate.
“The Hazaras feel totally ignored in Balochistan. Some Hazara girls have brought back gold medals for the country, but not even a single official, from the federal or the provincial government, greeted them on their return.”
He blames the government for not doing enough to ensure the safety of the Hazara community.
“If you ask me who is responsible for the target killing of Hazara people, the answer is simple: who is responsible for security? We pay taxes, so our security is the responsibility of the state.
Ali Raza, a lecturer in applied mathematics at the Islamabad Model College for Boys, told Dawn he preferred to live and work in Islamabad due to the insecurity he felt in Balochistan.
He recalls how, in 2012, he and a friend had applied to become lecturers at the ill-fated Buitems. Although his friend was accepted, he turned down the offer to teach there. As a result, he was not on the university bus that was attacked. However, his friend was, and was injured in the attack.
“I just feel lucky I was not on that bus,” he says.
Sajjad Hussain Changezi, who works at the Alif Ailaan education campaign, told Dawn: “They target more resourceful members of the Hazara community first. For example, they killed Ahmed Ali Najafi, the owner of a wood factory and other businesses. Then, they killed a renowned lawyer, Advocate Walahet, and also targeted those who prosecuted cases against a banned outfit. They even killed lawyers who were not Hazara, but took on the cases of Hazara people. They do not even spare police personnel.”
Mr Changezi also spoke about the difficulties one of his close friends faced. “Amjad Hussain, a journalist from our community, was threatened the very night the son of a renowned Hazara was murdered. In reporting on the miseries of the community and experiencing death threats, Mr Hussain became traumatized and left Pakistan out of fear for his life.”
But even though they are less insecure here, the Hazaras in Islamabad are quite concerned about the safety of their loved ones back home.
“Security should be for everyone; Islamabad is not more important than the other cities. Every citizen should be treated equally,” concluded Mr Nadir.
Published in Dawn, October 10th, 2017
Dear visitor, the comments section is undergoing an overhaul and will return soon.