THE lot of the Shia Hazaras in Pakistan is defined by relentless persecution in one form or another. Indeed, it is as though they exist in some sort of limbo, beyond the pale of the fundamental human rights guaranteed in the Constitution.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court during a suo motu hearing on targeted killings of Hazaras and a petition seeking recovery of missing persons from among the community censured the IG Balochistan on the lack of progress in the cases. The wife of one of the victims informed the court that he went missing in 2013 and the suspect in the case was subsequently released by law enforcement. Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed also expressed surprise that four of the missing men who had been recovered and were present in the courtroom had no idea who had abducted them — despite the fact they had been in their custody for three years. Further, the men complained they had not received their salaries for three years because their bank accounts had been frozen on the orders of the National Counter Terrorism Authority — which indicates Nacta also had a hand in their disappearance.
The Shia Hazaras’ history is tragic, marked by ethnic violence, internal displacement and forced migration to what appear to be safer shores. That is what drove many of them from Afghanistan to Pakistan in the 19th century to settle in Quetta, with a more recent second wave triggered by massacres at the hands of the Afghan Taliban in the 1990s. However, this country has long ceased to be a refuge for them.
Read: The wounded Hazara
As takfiri ideology proliferated over the last decades and Balochistan became a melting pot for all manner of militant outfits, the Hazaras were subjected to barbaric violence, including suicide bombings and targeted killings. Livelihoods, educational opportunities were eviscerated as the community, in a desperate attempt at security, isolated itself within two barricaded ghettoes in Quetta — open-air prisons, stepping outside of which can still mean a death sentence. To cite but the latest depredation against them, on Jan 3 this year, 11 Hazara coal miners had their throats slit in an attack in Balochistan’s Machh area.
The carnage, claimed by the IS, brought home once again the callousness of the state towards its Hazara citizens. When the grieving community refused to bury their dead until Prime Minister Imran Khan came to meet them in person, he told them to refrain from “blackmailing the premier”, even as he denounced the attack. Several years back, after another massacre, a Balochistan chief minister had also responded inappropriately to their anguish, saying he would send them “a box of tissues”. The fact is that the Hazaras are paying the price for the state’s failure to deal with violent extremist outfits. When will it ensure that members of this law-abiding community can live life in Pakistan like ‘normal citizens’?
Published in Dawn, October 4th, 2021