Quetta calling

Published January 7, 2021
The writer is a member of staff.
The writer is a member of staff.

AS of writing this, my city, the largest in the country, is seeing protest camps spring up in multiple locations (at least 11 as of last count) in solidarity with the mourners from the Hazara community in Quetta who have refused to bury their dead from a ghastly terrorist attack last Sunday.

The last time this happened was in February 2013, when a mass casualty terrorist attack left around 90 people dead as a bomb was smuggled into Hazara Town in a water tanker and detonated. A month earlier, a suicide bombing at a snooker club killed around 96 people (according to a tally compiled by Human Rights Watch) and left around 156 injured.

Those twin bombings were the pinnacle of a rising arc of sectarian attacks across Balochistan. In 2012, for example, HRW documented 450 sectarian murders, and another 400 in 2013. Since 2008, HRW counted around 500 Hazaras had been killed till 2014.

The protests that broke out after the February bombing in Hazara Town spread like wildfire across Pakistan. “Anger and outrage replaced shock and grief as tens of thousands of people took to the streets across the country on Monday to protest over the mass killing of Shia Hazaras in the suicide attack in Quetta three days ago,” went a report in this newspaper on Feb 18, 2013. “From Karachi to Parachinar, and Hyderabad to Multan, Rawalpindi and Islamabad, people staged sit-ins, blocking main thoroughfares.”

That evening, Imran Khan tweeted, “I wish I could physically be at all the countrywide protests.”

That evening, when those protests spread, Imran Khan tweeted, “I wish I could physically be at all the countrywide protests against the killings in Quetta. PTI is present everywhere as am I in spirit.”

After the first mass casualty attack in January, then prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf visited the mourners within days, sat in a mosque not far from the site of the attack, and listened quietly as the leaders of the Hazara community spoke about their plight and fears against the rising arc of violence directed against them.

Among the demands of the protestors was the sacking of the provincial chief minister, Aslam Raisani, who had issued the most insensitive and outright vile statements in response to an earlier attack in Mastung in which a bus was stopped, the Hazara members among the travellers were filtered out, and shot dead on the roadside. “I will send them a truckload of tissue paper,” Raisani had said, adding that among the millions of people who live in Balochistan, “40 dead Hazaras are not a big deal”.

“When you will awake in the morning,” Ashraf said in a statement after his meeting, “Governor rule would have been imposed in Balochistan province.” Raisani was sacked the same day, and squealed out a few protests over the phone from England, where he was at the time, complaining about why other chief ministers were not dismissed when terror attacks occurred in their provinces.

Raisani was possibly the most crass and insensitive leader on Pakistan’s political landscape at the time. By contrast, Imran Khan offered his condolences, and specifically mentioned the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi as the culprits, demanding strict action against the group. “Terrible tragedy in Quetta,” he tweeted on the night of Jan 10, 2013, when the first mass casualty attack happened. “Over 50 dead including a courageous cameraman. Complete failure of govt. Deep sympathies with the bereaved.”

Three days later, he went to Quetta to join the protesters. “Went to Quetta today to express my profound grief and sympathy with the Hazara community and take part in their dharna,” he tweeted that afternoon.

During his visit, he had an opportunity to speak to the cameras, and in his characteristic style, he did not hold back to use the opportunity to also attack the government. “Asif Zardari is responsible for this,” he said. “Asif Zardari is the president of this country, he has made a corrupt man, who is involved in the rental power scam, the prime minister… How many times has he come to Balochistan? Why doesn’t he come at this time and look at the people who are sitting with the dead bodies… All the parties are in power in Balochistan, the N League has two ministers, the People’s Party has its ministers, the Q League has theirs, what are they doing? All these parties are responsible… .”

Then a reporter asked him whether he has a plan to end the terrorism and he said, “We will end terrorism, you will see, I have said it before, it can be ended in 90 days… .” Then he goes on about how you need an independent police force, punish the culprits, “Who is behind this terrorism? Who stands behind them? Who is behind the terrorists in Karachi?”

A reporter interrupts him and asks, “Who is behind Aurangzeb Farooqui, sir?” He does a double take, asks “Who?” and the reporter repeats “Aurangzeb Farooqui, sir”. He shakes his head, “I have no knowledge of any of that.”

Please recall that in June 2020 an accountability court acquitted Ashraf and all other accused in that rental power cases. NAB filed an appeal, but in November their prosecutor removed himself from the case. Nothing further has happened.

A few years later, when another terror attack targeted the lawyers’ community of Quetta and Justice Qazi Faez Isa issued the report from his inquiry into that incident, Khan tweeted the following: “The Justice Isa Report on 8 Aug Quetta carnage is an unequivocal indictment of the govt’s failure to enforce ATA & NAP [against] militant groups”.

We all know what happened to Justice Isa once Khan came to power and his government tried to unseat the judge via a presidential reference. The night of the snooker club bombing in 2013, Khan had asked, “Where is the state?” in a tweet. Today the Hazaras are asking the same question, as they endure yet another cold and bitter Quetta night surrounded with the bodies of their loved ones killed mercilessly by terrorists.

The writer is a member of staff.

khurram.husain@gmail.com

Twitter: @khurramhusain

Published in Dawn, January 7th, 2021

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