There is an overwhelming perception backed by intelligence-based statements of the government functionaries that target killing of members of different sects, especially the Shiite, is part of the game to divide the Pakistani society. To keep Baluchistan on boiling point is also in the interest of those international players who are against Iran-Pakistan pipeline and handing over of the management of Gwadar port to the Chinese firm.
Prudent manner in which the leaders of Hazara community as well as the Shiite leadership managed the crises arising out of two recent major attacks against Hazara people is commendable. Shiite community throughout the country expressed its anger through peaceful protests and sit-ins. Their farsightedness has indeed frustrated the designs of the enemy. A national salute is due to the Hazara leadership for their maturity, perseverance and national spirit.
It is also heartening that on both these incidents, the entire nation closed ranks and expressed its heartfelt condolence on the tragic loss of precious lives and destruction of property. People of Pakistan unanimously denounced these barbaric acts of terrorism and condemned the design of the perpetrators and executors of these heinous crimes against the humanity. Instead of Shia or Hazara tragedies, both the events took the colour of national tragedy.
Ethnically, Quetta’s Hazaras are the Mongols, who migrated from Central Asia to the Banyan District in Afghanistan. They belong to the Shia faction of Islam, Persian is their main language. Demographically, Hazaras live in three countries: Afghanistan (7-8 million); Iran ( 1.2 million) and Pakistan(0.7 million). In addition a diaspora of approximately 400,000 to 500,000 is spread around in a number of Western countries.
Hazaras have a long history of persecution at the hands of Afghans which dates back to 16th century. During the era of Amir Abdul Rahman (1880-1901), who is regarded as founder of modern Afghanistan, thousands of Hazaras were killed, expelled and enslaved. Almost half of the Hazara population was displaced to neighbouring Baluchistan of British India and the Khorasan province in Iran. Hazaras shifted to Quetta, in numbers, from Afghanistan in 1840; and to avenge the Afghan atrocities, they joined the British army in flocks. In 1904, the British raised an infantry unit, the “106th Hazara Pioneers”, comprising Hazara refugees in Quetta. Hazaras fought for the British during Anglo Afghan wars. Hence, they carry a historic baggage; whereby the Afghans do not tolerate their presence in Pashtun areas. Therefore, by default, it has become a fault line which can be easily triggered. And once ignited, it soon becomes self sustaining through its own momentum and tempo. So far Hazaras have been on the receiving end; they have refrained from taking up organized armed struggle against the rival groups.
During this year, Hazaras of Quetta have been targeted mercilessly as if their lives are of no consequence. Earlier also, the Hazara community was hunted down, as a matter of routine. Previously, incidents were of the type of forced off-loading of travelling Hazaras from public transport and killing them indiscriminately, like animals. The January 10 massacre has set a new tempo and tenor; incident resulted in the death of over 100 innocent people. The provincial government was dismissed; shameless members of provincial assembly maintain that the action was uncalled for; they even went to streets for restoring the government. These legislators, who had displayed indifference towards the killing of Hazaras, suddenly became united to demonstrate and protest against the dissolution of the provincial government and imposition of Governor’s Rule. They found a sizable number of supporters in the federal government too.
Unfortunately, Governor’s rule did not accompany the required strategy and measures to stem violence in the province. As a consequence, governor’s Waterloo was also not far away. On February 16, another bomb explosion wreaked havoc, this time casualties were a combination of Hazaras and Pathans. All intelligence agencies as well as watch and ward personnel were proverbially caught, with their pants down, as a would be suicide bomber drove a water tanker laden with more than one ton of explosives in the midst of a crowded market in Quetta that killed 85 persons.
On both these occasions, Baluchistan government displayed callousness and apathy towards the families of the victims. Even the federal government, took inordinate time to respond. Survivors of hapless victims weathered rain and sub-zero temperatures, refusing to bury the dead till punitive action was taken, and army was called in. It was only when the issue started drawing international attention that the governments sprang into action.
Having attracted more than due share of criticism over previous military operations in Baluchistan, army has no love lost for another venture. From Army’s perspective, undoing of the turmoil in Baluchistan would necessitate a Herculean effort; and Army already has its platter full. Indeed Army is overstretched, and deeply embroiled. Political governments in the province and in Islamabad are also averse to calling in Army out of the fear that once started, the scope of military action would virulently spread to other trouble spots as well. Hence creating a raison d’être for postponing the elections indefinitely.
Amidst widespread speculation that the security establishment may be attempting to delay the upcoming polls, Army has declared its support for the continuity of democratic setup and holding of free and fair elections: “We have been supporting the current democratic setup during the past five years and we will support elections to take place on time…Army will have no benefit if the elections are delayed,” said Director General Inter-Services Public Relations. When asked about the Hazara demand for the army to be deployed in Quetta, the Director General said the army had no qualms about taking over the security of Quetta, but the government had decided against such a move. He further added that the decision to impose Governor’s rule in Baluchistan was purely ‘political’, and Army had nothing to do with the decision.
Systematic targeting of Hazara community has many facets: local rivalries, sectarian sentiment, regional dynamics and fissures created by the Great Game. Recent increase in the massacre like events have come under the backdrop of weakening of our law enforcement agencies (LEAs) through a concerted campaign of smear propaganda. This campaign was particularly focused against Frontier Corps (FC) Baluchistan. Saner voices have all along been cautioning that exclusion of “B” areas form the jurisdiction of LAEs and handing it over to Levies and Khasadars would eventually result in handing over lambs to wolves, in the rural area. Demand for withdrawal of FC from Baluchistan is aimed at driving the chaos to unmanageable heights in urban areas as well. Though FC has its structural and functional limitations, warranting corrective action; its outright condemnation has done no good. It has certainly lowered the morale of the troops. Nevertheless, the FC has set up 19 additional posts in Qalat and Quetta divisions to further strengthen the security situation in the province, and a targeted operation led by the FC and supported by the police and intelligence agencies is underway in the province. Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has carried out 130 intelligence operations in Baluchistan and prevented several terrorist attacks in the past four months.
Prudent and professional handling of the threat to Hazara people can bring an early end to their hardship; blame game would only prolong their suffering.