STRANGERS IN THEIR OWN LAND

August 18, 2018

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THE Nadra office in Model Town, Quetta.—Photo by writer
THE Nadra office in Model Town, Quetta.—Photo by writer

AS I walk down the narrow Alamdar Road, crossing Mailo Shaheed Chowk, I am greeted by Mohammad Hadi — a 30-year-old bodybuilder at the top of his form. When we begin our conversation, we inevitably discuss his troubles with the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra). His national identity card had been blocked for some time, and he’s full of misgivings about the attitude of the officials working there.

Merely stepping outside of the safety of his community — Alamdar Road and Hazara Town — is a grave risk, considering the way members of the Shia Hazara community have been hunted down in recent years. Nonetheless, Hadi has had to make frequent visits to Nadra offices in the city; in the effort to get a new identity card, he’s been asked to go from one Nadra office to the other. Each time, he says, he was ignored, shunned, and disrespected.

Hadi’s father, retired Havildar Mohammad Khan, is a war veteran who served both in 1965 and 1971. Amongst the Hazaras, he is called a ghazi. The havildar has also been awarded medals for gallantry. Despite his many services to the nation, his family says they remain victim to the discrimination that has become worryingly prevalent. “My national identity card was blocked in 2014, and I have only recently managed to get a new one,” says Hadi.

Hadi is accompanied by the 24-year-old Naveed Ali, who has been crowned Mr Junior Quetta — a bodybuilding title. In the wake of sectarian violence, his father fled the country and moved to Australia, where he was granted asylum. After Naveed was done with his 12th grade examinations, he ran into the problem of not having an identity card — which meant he could not continue his education.

Naveed says that the officials at Nadra are being uncooperative, to say the least. They’ve asked him to get his father to appear in person, along with all necessary documents. “But he is in Australia,” says Naveed. “I’ve been deprived of a national identity card. Most Nadra officials already know my family members have had to move to Australia. The sad part is, that is exactly why they keep asking me to get my father to come visit — because they don’t want to help us. This is just the excuse.”

Along Alamdar Road, it is difficult not to run into anyone who does not have — or has not had in the past — a problem with their identity card, and with Nadra. Retired army soldier Abdul Ali, who is now an activist of the Hazara Democratic Party (HDP), is infuriated by this blatant discrimination the community is being subjected to. On his identity card, a mix-up caused him immense embarrassment and and he says it took him two years to have the error rectified. Balochistan Nadra chief retired Col Abid-ur-Rehman refused to answer Dawn’s queries since he is not authorised to speak to the media.

Quetta’s Hazaras have always complained about the lack of attention they get from the media. News about their suffering, they say, just does not get out. There are many other problems beyond the ghastly sectarian violence they are subjected to, and hardly any of these are highlighted, they say.

Even so, people are hopeful that the newly elected assembly member in Balochistan’s provincial set-up, Ahmad Kohzad, will set things right. But he has been declared ‘non-Pakistani’ by the Quetta deputy commissioner.

The Hazaras can only hope that Kohzad will not be unseated because of the allegation, and are adamant that he is every bit as Pakistani as anyone else.

“Last December, I discovered that my national identity card was blocked,” he says. “So I appealed to the interior ministry. The application was under process when the elections were upon us. So, I appealed to the Balochistan High Court after being barred by the Election Commission of Pakistan.”

It is still unclear what action the ECP may take against Kohzad.

Kohzad completed his Master’s degree from the University of Balochistan, but has been politically active since his matriculation days in the mid-90s. Over the years, he has been a worker of the HDP, and has also managed to hold public office: he was mayor of the union council Shahdezai, and ran unsuccessfully in the 2013 general elections.

“I have had a Pakistani passport all my life,” he tells Dawn. “I’ve had it renewed four times. Back then I was Pakistani, but now that I am a member of the provincial assembly — suddenly they say I’m not from the country.”

Following both the Soviet invasion in 1979, and the American ‘war on terror’ in 2001, there has been a surge of Afghan Hazaras crossing over the border in search of peace. Consequently, Pakistani Hazaras have had to face many troubles. Activist Liaqat Hazara says: “We lost most of what we had to sectarian violence. It broke our infrastructure. Many of our elders have left the city, and they are being replaced by Afghan Hazaras. I fear they will soon outnumber the locals.”

Published in Dawn, August 18th, 2018