The Congressional hearing on Balochistan followed by introduction of a bill in the US congress on Balochistan’s self-determination created a huge hue and cry and sparked some unprecedented discussions in the Pakistani and as well as International media about Balochistan. On the other hand it delighted the Baloch nationalist leaders who had persistently demanded a greater autonomy or even self-determination. This action not only aroused the Govt to withdraw the cases against Baloch leaders and call an All Parties Conference to resolve Balochistan issues but also energized Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party’s Mehmood Khan Achakzai to heighten his campaign for the creation of a separate province for the Pakhtuns of Balochistan. Talking to Saleem Safi’s Jirga on Geo News, he threatened, rather indirectly, to part ways with Pakistan if his demands are not met.
However, almost nobody talks about the plight of Hazaras of Balochistan. TheUScongressmen ignored the systematic killings of Hazaras, perhaps due to a false perception that they are Shias and therefore pro-Iran or maybe they are unaware of the targeted killings (!?).Pakistan and its mainstream political parties have turned a blind eye to such killings because, probably, they consider this tiny community of no strategic and electoral importance.
The Persian (Dari) speaking Hazara people are considered to be genetically Turk-Mongol, and are mostly Shia with small Sunni and Ismaili minorities as well. They are predominantly dwelling inAfghanistan,Pakistan andIran, and have been one of the most persecuted & threatened communities on the surface of the Earth.
Hazaras in Afghanistan
According to Qaseem Akhgar, a prominent Afghan historian and political analyst, “the Hazara people have been living in Afghanistan for more than 2,000 (two thousand) years.” And their persecution began after the subjugation and incorporation of their land (Hazarajat) by Amir Abdul Rahman Khan in late 19th century. He committed genocide against the Hazaras. Hundreds of thousands of Hazara were killed, enslaved or forced to flee their homeland. Those who survived were persecuted by successive Afghan regimes. In 1933, a young Hazara highschool student Abdul Khaliq assassinated Nadir Shah, the king of Afghanistan, to avenge discrimination against his people.
The most recent spate of violence against the Hazara people began with the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. They killed thousands of Hazaras in Bamiyan, Yakaolang, Mazar-e-Sharif and rest of Hazarajat with impunity from 1998 to 2001.
Hazaras in Iran
In Iran, the Hazaras are known as Khawaris or Barbaris (Barbarian) by the Iranians, because of their phenotypic similarities with the Mongols. Most of them live in Mashhad–Iran’s second largest city, Turbat-e-jam, Darrah Gaz, Nishaboor. Despite being Shias, the Khawaris are kept marginalized, away from universities and official jobs. The Hazaras in Iranhave failed to protect their ethnic and cultural identities due to state repression. Iranalso hosts a significant population of Hazara refugees from Afghanistan, who are prejudiced, taunted and repeatedly deported to Afghanistan. In a single incident the Iranian forces massacred more than 630 refugees, mostly Hazaras in “Safed Sang Camp” detention center in 1998. A movie was supposed to be filmed inAfghanistan on this incident, but it has been purportedly halted after what insiders call the Iranian president’s “personal request” to his Afghan counterpart.
Hazaras in Pakistan
The Hazaras in British India were less marginalized and even joined the British Army. In 1904, Major C W Jacob of the 126th Balochistan Infantry, who later became Field-Marshal Sir Claude Jacob, raised the 106th Hazara Pioneers with drafts from the 124th Duchess of Connaught’s Own Balochistan Infantry and from his own regiment. They were a class regiment comprising eight companies of Hazaras.
According to Hazara community leader, Sardar Sa’adat Ali Hazara: “among those who were recruited in various arms of the Indian Defence Services during WW-II in 1939, was Gen.Musa Khan who later became the Commander-in-Chief of Pakistan army and commanded the Indo-Pak war in 1965 which resulted to India’s defeat and thus earned the title ‘Hero of 1965 war’ and ‘Hila-e-Jura’t’. He further adds “The Hazaras have always played a vital role in defence ofPakistanby sacrificing their blood”
However, Pakistan didn’t remain a merciful land for this community: “The killings of Hazaras began in 1998 when Hassan Musa (Gen.Musa Khan’s son) was assassinated in Karachi which intensified from July 04, 2003 when a suicide attacker blew himself up in Hazara Kalan Imrambargah on McCongi Road, Quetta, leaving at least 53 dead and 150 injured.” Says Sardar S.A.Hazara. Around 700 Shias, most of them Hazaras have been target killed in Balochistan since then. The nature of attacks has varied from gunshots, rocket attacks, mass-murder to suicide bombings.
The banned militant outfit, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi(LeJ), has claimed responsibility for almost all such attacks. The LeJ circulated a pamphlet in the Hazara localities in Quetta threatening to turn Pakistan into a “graveyard for the Shia Hazaras.” In another letter they asked the Hazaras to leave Pakistan by 2012.
“The locations of the hideouts and training camps of the groups involved in attacks on Hazaras are not secret,” Sardar Sa’adat said. “The government and the law-enforcement agencies seem to have no interest in protecting us.”
Such threats and systematic killings have prompted large waves of migrations. Hundreds of thousands have fled to Europe and Australia illegally while taking the risk of drowning, torture and even death. On December 20, 2011, fifty four (54) Hazara youth drowned in a sea near Java, Indonesia, of whom we have received only 07 dead bodies so far.” He had himself gone to bring the dead bodies. ‘The Indonesian Govt was not cooperative with us due to which we staged a protest in Jakarta” He says. Another 23 Hazaras were drowned inMalaysiaon 01, Feb, 2012 and only 05 dead bodies have been recovered.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan demanded urgent Govt action after Indonesia boat tragedy and stated: “That the Hazara young men chose to leave Pakistan by taking such grave risks is a measure of the persecution the Hazara community has long faced in Balochistan.”
A number of localities have become a no-go area for the members of Hazara community in Quetta such as Sariyab Road, where Balochistan University is situated. According to Asmat Yari, the president of Hazara Students Federation (HSF) “Almost 75% of Hazara students have quit the university and those who remain cannot attend classes because of fear.” School attendance has also decreased by 10 percent this year, and college attendance by 25 percent. Parents do not let their children take exams in centers outside of the areas deemed safe for the Hazaras.
It is therefore a matter of great concern and the responsibility of the government of Pakistan to eliminate fears of this community and ensure their protection.
An edited version of this article was published in The Friday Times.