A DESPERATELY sad sequence of events is playing out yet again in Quetta. In the bitter cold of winter, thousands of Shia Hazaras — men, women and children — are staging a sit-in on a highway that runs through the city. Amidst them are the coffins of the 11 coalminers from their community who were brutally slain on Sunday in Balochistan’s Bolan district.
Despite the efforts of the chief minister, several provincial ministers and some federal level government functionaries, the mourners had, until the time of writing, refused to bury their dead and call off their protest unless the prime minister came and met them. Imran Khan in a tweet yesterday vowed he would do so “very soon” to condole with all the victims but requested them to bury their loved ones “so that their souls find peace”.
After each of the two massive suicide bombings in January and February 2013 in Quetta in which over 200 Hazaras perished, the community had also staged similar days-long sit-ins with the victims’ coffins. Each time they were targeted in sectarian attacks, they appealed to the state to protect them. They were given assurances and promises, but these amounted to little more than empty words. In certain situations they were provided security by the government, but by and large, they stepped out of their barricaded ghettoes at their own peril.
In other words, the state took the easy way out. It did not take the more difficult path, which was to weed out and throw behind bars the violent extremists that often roamed free in the province, even holding rallies and openly threatening the community. Among those who have gathered in the frigid temperatures this time around, there is certainly grief, but underlying that is enormous anger.
Anger over the terrible, needless tragedies that have repeatedly befallen the persecuted Hazaras, anger over the sectarian killers who still manage to strike at will in a heavily militarised city such as Quetta and escape detection. And now the anger is spreading among the public, particularly the wider Shia community.
Protests against the massacre have spread in Karachi, with demonstrators taking to the streets for the second day running, burning tyres and wood and disrupting traffic. Having taken place after a lull, Sunday’s massacre reminds us how tenuous is the triumph over militancy. The Hazaras have suffered for too long; like the souls of their dead, the living must also find peace.
Published in Dawn, January 7th, 2021