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'Under siege': Fear and defiance mark life for Pakistan's Hazaras

"We want to serve Pakistan and despite suffering tragedies and incidents, our love for peace has not diminished."
Published Jul 05, 2019 11:29am

High walls around the neighbourhoods of Pakistan's embattled Hazara community in Quetta are designed to protect them from extremist militants, but also serve as a constant reminder of the threat they face.

Soldiers and security checkpoints greet visitors to Hazara Town, one of two large guarded neighbourhoods in the capital of Baluchistan, where religious and sectarian groups often target the mostly Shia Hazaras with bombs and guns.

Armed guards, who provide security for Abdul Khaliq Hazara, politician and chairman of the Hazara Democratic Party (HDP), chat with each other at his residence. ─ Reuters
Armed guards, who provide security for Abdul Khaliq Hazara, politician and chairman of the Hazara Democratic Party (HDP), chat with each other at his residence. ─ Reuters

Despite improved security in recent years, partly because most Hazaras have moved into the guarded enclaves, hardline militants keep up attacks, such as a blast in April that killed 24 people, among them eight Hazaras.

Sardar Sahil sports his licensed gun as he gets ready to leave for office, at his home. ─ Reuters
Sardar Sahil sports his licensed gun as he gets ready to leave for office, at his home. ─ Reuters

"We are living under siege for more than 1-1/2 decades due to sectarian attacks," said Sardar Sahil, a Hazara lawyer and rights activist.

"Though all these checkposts were established for our security, we feel we were ourselves also cut off from other communities."

Sahil carries a pistol whenever he leaves home, and relies on his faith as a second layer of security.

Sahil kisses his mother's hand. ─ Reuters
Sahil kisses his mother's hand. ─ Reuters

"I kiss my mother's hand and she kisses me too, and says goodbye with her prayers and good wishes," Sahil told Reuters at his home.

Hazaras, said to be descendants of the Mongols who swept out of central Asia to rule the subcontinent for many centuries, are easily distinguishable in Pakistan by their facial features.

That has made them vulnerable to attacks by groups such as Pakistan's banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), and Sunni militant group Islamic State, which has attacked them in both Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan, also home to many Hazaras.

A woman ascends a flight of stairs as she walks home on a hilltop in Mariabad. ─ Reuters
A woman ascends a flight of stairs as she walks home on a hilltop in Mariabad. ─ Reuters

Many community businesses that flourished in Quetta's bustling wholesale markets have shuttered and relocated to Hazara Town or Mari Abad, another Hazara neighbourhood.

But the community is defiant. Some still venture out into Quetta in search of work, while others keep businesses running.

The Quetta community held its first Hazara Culture Day this week to celebrate and showcase its history, music and traditions.

A Hazara man reads the Quran along a passageway with photos of deceased victims who lost their lives during target killings and bomb attacks, at the graveyard called Shuhda Qabristan (martyred graveyard) in Mariabad, Quetta. ─ Reuters
A Hazara man reads the Quran along a passageway with photos of deceased victims who lost their lives during target killings and bomb attacks, at the graveyard called Shuhda Qabristan (martyred graveyard) in Mariabad, Quetta. ─ Reuters

The community strives to keep its protests peaceful, despite unrest stirred up by militants looking to pit people of different sects against each other, said Abdul Khaliq Hazara, chairman of the Hazara Democratic Party (HDP), which has two provincial assembly representatives.

Domestic media often portray the Hazaras as targets of sectarian attacks or holding sit-ins to demand greater protection, but the community is developing and growing, said martial arts specialist Nargis Hazara.

"Every one of us has a dream, a target and aim in our heart, to change the image of Hazaras in the world, and especially in Pakistan," added the 20-year-old who last year became Pakistan's first winner of an Asian Games medal in karate.

Nargis Hazara works on her computer as she sits beside her portrait at her home. ─ Reuters
Nargis Hazara works on her computer as she sits beside her portrait at her home. ─ Reuters

Many Hazaras have joined the armed forces in Pakistan, where the community's past and future will stay rooted despite any violence, said another martial arts expert, Mubarak Ali Shan.

Shaolin Kung Fu Grandmaster Mubarak Ali Shan poses for a photograph at his office. ─ Reuters
Shaolin Kung Fu Grandmaster Mubarak Ali Shan poses for a photograph at his office. ─ Reuters

"We want to serve Pakistan and despite suffering tragedies and incidents, our love for peace has not diminished," he added.