Pakistan Reader# 223, 7 October 2021
The Hazaras in Pakistan have faced endless persecution despite state measures to protect the communityAbigail Miriam Fernandez
On 30 September, the Supreme Court while hearing a case relating to targeted killings of the members of the Hazara community in Quetta ordered the Balochistan Inspector General to look into the matter and ensure that the abductors are brought to justice and dealt with in accordance with the law. Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed while heading a three-judge SC bench stated, “It is strange that abducted persons [who] remained in abduction could not identify who abducted them.” He also said, “The police lack the capacity to investigate because the urge to initiate action against the accused has dried up. The superior judiciary has taken a number of initiatives, including holding a number of seminars; besides, the state has spent millions of rupees on training of the officers and sent them abroad, but still the police have no idea how to conduct proper investigations,” adding, “It is a matter to worry that despite the fact that the wife had given the name responsible for the abduction of her husband to the police, they had failed to recover the missing person. This is a total failure on the part of the police.” Further, he regretted, “They have no respect for the law and have put the country at the verge of destruction,” adding that it was usual that the accused eventually get released because of want of evidence.
What do the questions reveal?
First, the prevailing impunity. The statements from the CJP shows that the preparators behind the persecution of the community go unpunished. The fact that most perpetrators of the barbaric attack on Hazaras are still not brought to justice. This is a key issue that the Hazara community has raised concerns about.
Second, the lack of enforcement. Another issue that the CJP’s statement highlights is the failure of the authorities to address the issue. Although provisions have been made particularly to help and protect the Hazara community, authorities have failed in assuring security to the Hazara but also seems unbothered in delivering justice to the persecuted community.
Who are the Hazaras?
The Hazara community belongs to the Shia sect of Islam. The population of Hazaras living in Pakistan is estimated to be between 600,000 and one million, around half a million Hazaras live in Quetta, Balochistan, and other areas like Sanjawi, Much, Zhob, Harnai, Loralai, and Dukki. Apart from these areas, the Hazaras also concentrated in Parachanar, Karachi, Sanghar, Nawabshah, Hyderabad, different parts of Punjab and Gilgit Baltistan.
The Hazaras are said to have migrated from Afghanistan to Balochistan about 150 years ago, with the mass migration of Hazara population to Balochistan, taking place in the late 19th century after King Abdul Rahman declared war on the Hazara people driving them to the fringes of the state near Iran and Pakistan, the large cross-border community of Hazaras being in Quetta.
Later, the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan and their persecution of Afghan Hazaras had caused a spillover effect on the sectarian situation of Pakistan in particular to Balochistan. Then, post the 9/11 incident and the War on terror in which religious extremists and terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan have joined hands to destabilize the region, and as a result of these threats, the Hazaras in particular were forced to migrate internally and to foreign countries across Pakistan.
Persecution: Numbers | Reports | Issues
In the recent past, the Hazara community has become more vulnerable and a soft target for militant outfits owing to its small size and limited territory. These atrocities committed against the Hazara community have negatively impacted their education, health, livelihood, and mobility. The community has been persecuted because they are Shia, as claimed by their perpetrators. However, according to the National Human Rights Commission report for 2018, most members of the Hazara community are of the view that their persecution is not just sectarian arguing that other Shia groups are living peacefully in Dera Murad Jamali and Jafarabad in Balochistan, which shows that these killings are not religiously-motivated against Shias as only Hazaras are being targeted. They also argue that another reason for their persecution could be associated with the socio-economic prosperity which they enjoy.
The existing situation of the Hazara community is dangerous, from facing enormous difficulties in exercising their fundamental rights to having limited social opportunities due to fear of violence. The most worrisome aspect is the isolation of the Hazara community. They have been forced into ghettos in two Hazara neighbourhoods in Quetta’s Marriabad and Hazara Town. This enforced ghettoisation and isolation has restricted movement and created economic hardships and affected access to basic health and education services. Most of them refrain from stepping outside of their areas around the city because their distinct facial features make them easily recognisable targets. Apart from the external threats, the Hazaras fear for their lives even within their own ghettoised towns.
Who are the perpetrators?
While there is blatant persecution of the Hazaras in Pakistan, the more alarming fact is that the perpetrators have not been brought to justice. While the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attacks in the past, other groups like the outlawed Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Taliban have also targeted the Hazaras in Balochistan. The LeJ, in particular, has carried out various attacks against the community because of its anti-Shia and anti-Iran ideology.
What has been the State’s response?
According to the Home Department of Balochistan, “the federal and provincial governments have taken measures to counter the situation in order to ensure security and safety of the masses, public property and sensitive installations. The security threats, particularly the terrorist activities, are mostly linked with the situation in Afghanistan leading to influx of the Afghan nationals, including the terrorists, into Balochistan through long and porous border, extending to 1200 kms along with eight districts of the province.” Additionally, special measures for the security of Hazara community have been ensured including: deployment of Frontier Corps personnels for the security of the Hazara community in several parts of Balochistan, permanent check posts established at the entry/ exit points, permanent FC/ Police escorting Hazara shopkeepers among others.
However, the Hazara community have stated that the state has not responded adequately to their situation and is unable to provide them protection, despite the initiation of the National Action Plan. The Hazara community has been demanding from the state to take considerable measures to address their concerns which is to guard them against persecution.
Nasir Iqbal, “SC censures police over failure to recover Hazaras,” Dawn 1 October 2021
“Hazaras’ suffering,” Dawn 4 October 2021
“Understanding the Agonies of Ethnic Hazaras,” NHRC 2018
Asad Rahim Khan, “History of violence,” Dawn 14 April 2019
Rafiullah Kakar, “The relentless assault on Hazaras continues. What can be done to stop it?,” Dawn 17 April 2019
Muhammad Akbar Notezai, “The Exodus of Quetta’s Hazaras,” Dawn 22 October 2017
Muhammad Akbar Notezai, “Non-Fiction: The Quarantine of The Hazaras,” Dawn 17 May 2020
I.A. Rehman, “The Wounded Hazara,” Dawn, 17 January 2021
“Hazaras,” Minority rights Group International