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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

No end in sight

Editorial

Tuesday, September 04, 2012
From Print Edition

This weekend, five Hazaras returning home after purchasing vegetables and fruits from the Hazar Ganji market, were told by four armed men to disembark from the bus they were on and summarily murdered. Two ‘assailants’ subsequently also shot dead another two members of the Hazara Shia community at the Taftan bus stand minutes after the first shooting. All six killers escaped and chances are that we will never see them again; that they won’t be arrested, tried or prosecuted for these murders committed in cold blood. Indeed, the unaccounted for sectarian killings of people from minority communities has become the norm in Balochistan where this was the third incident of sectarian killings just in the last week, with almost 100 people belonging to Quetta’s Hazara community killed in targeted attacks in this year alone. The pattern of heavily armed assailants stopping buses carrying Hazara passengers has become routine fare; the targets are identified as Hazaras through their physical features and by checking their identity cards for Shia-sounding names; targets are then pulled off the bus and slaughtered one by one. Most appallingly, many such attacks have taken place within half a kilometre of security check posts. Some unconfirmed reports allege over 800 Hazaras have been killed in 30 incidents of mass-murder and 131 targeted ambushes since 2001.

An environment of mourning and insecurity prevailed in the province through this weekend and well into Monday with protests and a shutter-down strike held through Balochistan. But no amount of deaths, or protests, it seems, lead to any tangible action that could put an end to the cycle of violence in the forlorn province. The Supreme Court too has held hearing after hearing and issued orders but no one seems to be listening. The provincial government and its representatives like to spend most of their time in the capital city and the massacre of innocent civilians seems too inconvenient and irrelevant a reality for them to even acknowledge. Responsibility for most sectarian attacks has been claimed by the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, and recently by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan. In their edicts handed out across Balochistan, LJ has declared the community ‘wajib-ul-qatl’ (worthy of death) and warned of turning settlements in Hazara Town and on Alamdar Road into graveyards. In an open threat letter distributed at Hazara localities in Quetta, Lashkar-i-Jhangvi warned the community to leave Pakistan by 2012. This year, thus, attacks against Hazaras have picked up as sectarian outfits and their partners have intensified their campaign of hate and death to persuade the Hazaras to leave their homes. Already, fear has led many among them to abandon their workspaces, schools and colleges. In the face of all this, security forces have clearly failed to protect these vulnerable communities – or rather, have not made any meaningful efforts to even try to protect them. Hazaras are being targeted, it seems, for being Shia, anti-Taliban, unsupportive of the state’s policy of strategic depth in Afghanistan and unwilling to fight against the Baloch. There is also much propaganda about them being pro-Northern Alliance, making their loyalty to Pakistan suspect, as well as wild conspiracy theories about them receiving funding from Iran to incite a Shia revolution in Pakistan. The Hazaras respond to these allegations by asking how a small community surrounded by military cantonments can bring about a Shia revolution in Pakistan, and why they should fight their Baloch brothers. But all this hokum aside, the crux of the matter is that nothing will change in Balochistan unless there is a change in the mindset of both the security agencies and the political government. More than anything else, it is the apathy and indifference of these two groups that have seen vulnerable groups become such easy targets of the death drives of groups like the LJ. The groups behind the various kinds of violence in Balochistan need to be brought to justice. But for this to happen, the political government and the security agencies both need to be on the side of the province’s people – not entrapped by the raptures of their own parochial interests and callous agendas.

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