Monday, May 17, 2021
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By Manzoor Ahmed

The killing of eight Hazaras who had gone to buy vegetables in Hazarganji, a suburb of Quetta, early this week has exposed Prime Minister Imran Khan’s claim of making a `naya` (new) Pakistan and his government’s failure to rein in extremist elements which have been targeting minorities, including the Hazara Shias, for decades now. Although eight others had also died, the sole target of the attack was the Hazaras who have been living in the shadow of death and humiliation for decades.

What is their fault? First and foremost, they are Shias, a minority sect among Muslims who have been the target of extremist groups in Pakistan for long. Extremists, encouraged and supported by the military, and the political parties, have been carrying out a slow genocide in a bid to `cleanse` the country of all those who are not Sunnis. The Shias top the list of their target for the simple reason that despite being Muslims, they refuse to accept the Sunni creed of Islam.

The next in line have been the Ahmadis who are today, by law, outcastes and are officially discriminated against in education, employment and other state facilities. They cannot even pray openly and have no freedom to call themselves Muslims. But unlike the Shias, they are fewer in number and largely poor, and hence have easily been subjugated by the terrorising marauds, with the active support of the state, over the years.

The other minorities like the Hindus and Christians, have been targeted with reprehensible laws like the anti-blasphemy act and assault by extremist groups. Scores have been packed into jails, often for fake complaints of acts of blasphemy. Some face death penalty. The Hindu community live in fear across Pakistan, In Sindh, where they have a substantial population, the Hindus are being systematically targeted by the state as well as extremist elements. They are often dubbed as anti-national and face the stigma of holding on to their faith.

No one remembers that the Hindus, despite having the choice of going to India, had decided to stay back for their love of the land of their ancestors. They had voluntarily chosen to be Pakistani citizens and have remained extremely loyal to the state. No Hindu has ever been charged for treason in Pakistan till date.

But for the Hazaras, their Shia identity alone is not the reason for being the easy target of extremist elements. They look different—they trace their genetic routes to Central Asia and hence stand out by their sharp features. Every since Zia-ul Haq decided to punish the Shias for challenging his authority, the Shias have been at the receiving end of extremist groups sponsored for this very purpose by Pakistan Army. The rabid anti-Shias groups like Anjuman Sipah-e-Sahaba, its offshoot, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and other similar outfits, were created by the army to teach the Shias a lesson for laying siege to Islamabad when Zia decided to impose Islamic laws across the country.

Shias in large numbers were killed either in targeted killings or in bombings in market places in Shia-dominated areas or on their shrines. Shia professionals like lawyers and doctors then came into the crosshair of the extremists. Several hundred doctors and lawyers were gunned down openly, with not one assailant captured or charged with murder. The state’s complicity in these targeted killings became apparent subsequently. But by then, the Shia community, like the Ahmadis, were already suppressed so violently that they stopped even coming out in protest at the killing of Shias.

The Hazaras are now facing the same weapon. Although the state claims to protect the Hazaras, and heavily armed policemen could be seen all over Hazara dominated areas, there has been no stop to their killings. In fact, so omnipresent is the armed police in Quetta and other Hazara living quarters, the area look more like an internment camp than residential township. For an ordinary Hazara, it is difficult to step out without the armed security personnel either escorting them or hovering around them.

Speaking to the media, a distressed Hazara, Haji Changezi, let out that “they have found a great way to keep us safe. They have made us prisoners in our own homes. If I want to go to my neighbourhood shop, I can’t because there is a wall on the way now. A few days ago I tried to walk past the checkpoint and they had their guns pointed at me. You can’t leave without your gunmen. Not even ten steps. No.”

Writing in the Express Tribune, an English daily, on April 16, 2019, a lawyer practising in Lahore, Hassan Niazi, lamented that `` This is no way to live. It is a denial of the basic responsibilities that a State owes to its people. Decades of violence against the Hazara because of their Shia faith shows just how paper thin the promise of religious liberty has become in Pakistan. It is hard to deny the State’s total abdication of responsibility when talking about the Hazara.``

This colossal failure on the part of the state has forced over 100,000 Hazaras to flee their homeland. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, several thousand Hazaras have left their towns, their jobs, their old parents, their wives and children to find a safe future in distant lands, using dangerous routes through ocean and road, often dying midway. Those who managed to survive, have found themselves at the mercy of human traffickers and other exploiters and forced to live a humiliating life, merely to survive and hope for a better future in places like Australia and New Zealand.

The failure of successive governments has been undeniable. There was some hope from Prime Minister Imran Khan. He made right noises to win the elections. But, after becoming the Prime Minister, he has fast turned himself into the very political rivals whom he opposed and challenged. For instance, in 2017, Imran Khan asked why Nawaz Sharif, who was then the Prime Minister, could not find time to visit the bereaving families of the Hazaras killed in an attack. Was he not the Prime Minister for the people of Balochistan, Imran Khan had asked. Prime Minister Imran Khan has not found time to console the Hazara families who have lost their loved ones in another attack.

The Prime Ministers have changed, but not the attackers. Life, for Hazaras, and other minorities, in Pakistan remain a constant game of hide and seek, from bullets.

(The author is a Kashmir based journalist)

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