VIEW: Who to blame for ethnic persecution of Hazaras?
By Liaquat Ali Hazara
Government of Pakistan must also be pressured to the extent of taking reasonable steps against the terrorists, executing targeted operations in the areas of Quetta in which attacks have occurred frequently
The incessant targeted attacks on the peaceful denizens of Quetta city have mostly hit the Hazaras who have lived there for centuries. Numerous authors, writers, intellectuals and columnists analyse the ethno-religious killings of this under-represented and oppressed ethnic group based on reviews and published articles, but I will try to look into it from a different perspective as I hail from the same ethnicity and city.
On various occasions, I have seen terrorists perpetrating acts of targeted attacks and then leaving the scene without fear of being caught by the law enforcement agencies. For instance, the incident of June 8, 2003 when 13 Hazara police cadets were gunned down on Sariab Road, Quetta in broad daylight, which left seven others critically wounded. In less than a month, the terrorists broke into the Grand Mosque on Prince Road, known as Imam Bargah Hazara Kalan, to wreck the Friday congregation prayers with suicide bombing and fierce firing on worshippers, killing about 67 people and injuring about 70 others. The third major attack happened on March 2, 2004 when terrorists targeted the annual Ashura procession in Liaquat Bazar with hand grenades and AK-47s, killing 45 and injuring 100 people. The third orchestrated attack could not have happened without the support of the intelligence agencies of Pakistan as all entry and exit routes around Quetta city were sealed off by the law enforcement agencies three days prior to the main procession. All adjacent hotels, restaurants and inns were being checked several times a day to ensure security measures are in place.
Thousands of paramilitary troops and police were deployed with barbed wire, blockades and obstacles blocking the important routes to avoid any untoward situation. Nonetheless, the terrorists successfully struck the heart of the procession with hand grenades and automatic weapons to murder innocent people. The firing of terrorists, in the third instance, did not kill as many people as the targeted firing of the anti-terrorist force (ATF) — the elite commando group to combat terrorism — killed innocent people. For obvious reasons, the fire orders could not have been executed without the instructions of their superiors. Government immediately announced to probe the Ashura carnage under a serving high court judge, which took months of inquest to complete but without bearing fruit as the report was never made public. I later learned through some well-placed friends that the judgment too was implicated as it blamed the mourners for the mass human loss.
In the above mentioned first and second example, I was not at the scene of the crime but I reached about half an hour after the incidents, among mayhem, to shift the dead bodies and the injured to the Sandeman Provincial Hospital, who were later referred to the Cantonment Military Hospital for better care and treatment. In the third instance, I was literally at a distance of 10 metres from the main scene of the crime when terrorists were firing at people. Fortunately, my friend and I were standing in the opposite direction of the culprits’ firing and due to restricted hand movement, they were unable to fire in our direction. Later that day, I witnessed how the members of the ATF were shooting at the protesters from armoured vehicles and many succumbed to their injuries instantly. Shahbaz Mandokhail was the superintendent of police (ATF), but no government official was ever investigated or held responsible for the killings of those innocent people.
Since then, the perpetual targeted killings of the Hazaras have touched new heights with new tactics and a renewed gusto from the terrorists. The number of death casualties for this oppressed ethnicity has crossed the figure of 700, with double this number injured. Most of them are paralysed for life, due to unaffordability of medical bills by the victims and their families.
Then another tragic incident occurred in the heart of Quetta city, which killed six innocent Hazaras and several others were critically injured. Reliable sources have confirmed that the terrorists came on two motorcycles and fired on a shoe shop to target the Hazaras.
In three weeks in just the month of March, Hazaras were attacked four times in different areas of Quetta city. A simple arithmetical calculation reveals that it comes to burying one person a day. Most of the human loss consists of young adults whose estimated age is18-25.
The Pakistani media is deliberately silent, mostly, about these atrocities. The federal government, including the president and the former prime minister of Pakistan, were content with verbal consolation to the victims’ families and condemned these incidents, without any directives to arrest the perpetrators.
The Balochistan Chief Minister, Aslam Raisani, who hits headlines with his preposterous statements about the loss of Hazaras’ lives, spends most of his time in the capital Islamabad, which evidently depicts his interests in running the affairs of the province. Instead of seeking an amicable solution to these problems, he was quoted as saying last September that he would send a truckload of tissue paper for the victims and their families and that killing of some people would not affect the overall population of the province.
These religious fanatics were produced under the patronage of the Pakistani intelligence agencies, with financial support of some Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia. In a terrorist attack that targeted a moving Suzuki pick-up van on Spini Road, Quetta, on March 29, 2012, the police check post was literally at a distance of 15 metres from the main scene of the crime. This check post is manned 24 hours a day but the security personnel turned a blind eye to the scene. Had they counter-fired on the terrorists, they could have thwarted their plan to kill innocent people.
The provincial government claimed to have deployed about 3,000 paramilitary troops and police in Quetta city but they could not stop these heinous attacks. The provincial Interior Minister Mir Zafarullah Zehri spoke in TV interviews, numerous times, about the involvement of provincial ministers in these targeted killings and kidnappings of innocent city dwellers, but still the government and the judiciary showed passiveness to take any action against the culprits and their supporters.
It is high time Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other human rights organisations as well as the international community exerted meaningful pressure on the government of Pakistan to protect the lives of minorities. Government of Pakistan must also be pressured to the extent of taking reasonable steps against the terrorists, executing targeted operations in the areas of Quetta in which attacks have occurred frequently.
The writer is a London-based freelance journalist and the Chairman of Hazara United Movement (HUM) — a political organisation working for the rights of the Hazara Diaspora with its head office in London