Pakistan Reader# 145, 10 January 2021
D. Suba Chandran
On 3 January 2021, in the Machh region of Balochistan, in yet another case of targeted sectarian killing in the province, the extremists kidnapped and massacred ten miners belonging to the Shia Hazara community. The families of the deceased and the larger Hazara community who were mourning, refused to bury the dead, demanding that the Prime Minister listens to their problems. On 9 January, after a week of protests, they buried the dead, as Imran Khan refused to meet them.
Earlier, on 8 January, in what is widely referred to as an insensitive remark, Imran Khan made a following statement on the Hazara demand: "We have accepted all of their demands. [But] one of their demands is that the dead will be buried when the premier visits. I have sent them a message that when all of your demands have been accepted [...] you don't blackmail the prime minister of any country like this…Anyone will blackmail the prime minister then." (Dawn, 8 January 2021) However, Imran Khan did visit on 9 January, after the dead were buried, and met with the mourning families.
There are three issues in this context: the continuous killing of Hazaras in Balochistan; the Hazara demand asking Imran Khan to meet with them; and the PM calling the same as blackmail.
Targeted killing of the Hazaras in Balochistan: Not the first time, and it won't be the last
The killing of ten members of the minority Shia Hazara community in Balochistan is not the first one in the province. During recent years, there have been multiple killings of the Hazara community in Balochistan. These were targeted killings, as a part of a sectarian vendetta against the Hazara community, who are Shias.
The Hazara community in Balochistan lives primarily in and around the Quetta town. They belonged originally to the Hazarajat region of Afghanistan and had migrated to Balochistan in two major streams. The first stream came much before the formation of Pakistan; in the 1880s, in a large exodus due to persecution in Afghanistan, they escaped to settle in Balochistan. Under the British colonial rule, the region witnessed the Hazara community working in the infrastructural projects, especially the railways, and in the coal mines of Balochistan. The second exodus of the Hazaras came during the recent decades, during the 1990s, when the Taliban was targeting the community, as a part of their sectarian agenda.
In Balochistan, the Hazaras were living primarily in and around the Quetta town. There have been a series of sectarian killings in Balochistan targeting the Hazaras during the last decade; the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi earlier and the ISIS now is believed to be the primary perpetrators of these targeted killings.
The Hazara protest with the dead bodies: We won't bury the dead, unless the PM visit and hear us
The Hazara community's decision to protest with the dead bodies of the ten miners is not related to the latest killing in January 2021. It is to protest against what is happening to them and how they have been targeted. More importantly, the inability of the State to protect them.
So their demand for security and a meeting with the Prime Minister is justified. However, the Prime Minister is not the primary problem of the Hazara issue, and as an extension, cannot be the primary answer. Two major actors should share the responsibility for the Hazara problem – the State in Balochistan, and the Deep State in Pakistan.
In the aftermath of an earlier massacre of the Hazaras in 2019, a Dawn analysis identifies the problem: "The most important cause of the relentless assault on Hazaras is the inadequate response and ineffective strategy of the state. Despite the initiation of the National Action Plan, sectarian militant groups continue to operate in Balochistan. Over the past few years, the footprint of the militant Islamic State group, which has joined hands with Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and sectarian groups, has increased in the province. Moreover, the state has failed to bring perpetrators of sectarian violence to justice. Repeated attacks on Hazaras have gone unpunished. The First Information Reports are almost always lodged against unknown persons. Pakistan's domestic policy has been found wanting as far countering terrorism is concerned. We stand accused of pursuing a policy that distinguishes between 'good' and 'bad' terrorists." (Rafiullah Kakar, "The relentless assault on Hazaras continues. What can be done to stop it?," Dawn, 17 April 2019)
The Prime Minister responds: "You don't blackmail the prime minister of any country like this."
More than the killing of the miners by the extremists, the response from the Prime Minister should have hurt the Hazaras more. In an absolutely insensitive remark, Imran Khan called the Hazaras' demand to meet with him before burying the killed, as a "blackmail." Earlier, he had promised them to pay a surprise visit, which did not address the concerns of the protesters.
Finally, Imran Khan did visit Quetta on 9 January. There was a widespread condemnation to the PM's statement and his position to visit them later. The Hazaras were not expecting a surprise visit by the Santa Claus to celebrate; they were expecting their Prime Minister to share their pain, and convey that they are being prosecuted and the State response has not been sufficient.
Imran Khan, according to a Dawn report, has promised the following: "I want to make it clear though, that I was fully informed [of the situation] and was in touch with my federal ministers and security agencies. I was following this and looking at all developments …We have a whole programme prepared [in this regard] and a security forces cell is being made which will look at providing you [Hazaras] with protection and pursuing those responsible [for the attack]."
Dawn also quoted Imran Khan stating that he has "no doubt in my mind that what happened is part of a bigger game."
So what is the bigger game involved in which the Hazaras are getting killed? Who is playing the game? And for whom?
It is easier to blame external actors or agencies; it is tougher to address the internal factors and the domestic game, though the causes, objectives and the actors of the sectarian game are well known.