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Saturday, December 29, 2012

COMMENT : Eradicating ‘impurities’: focus on the Hazaras — Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed

According to Human Rights Watch, more than 800 Hazaras have been killed since 2001, but the local sources show that almost 1,000 have died with 3,000 suffering injuries

The hallmark of a fascist ideology is its rejection of any deviation from whatever is considered pure and unadulterated. Pakistan’s special variety of fascism is associated with the Taliban mentality. Another man has been set ablaze, this time in Sindh, by a mob gone berserk because he allegedly burnt a copy of the Quran. Even the Nazis could learn a skill or two how to extend the ambit of a killing spree to polio vaccination female workers on grounds that they were injecting poison that would transform infants into agents of US imperialism. A Swedish social worker, Sister Birgitta Alemby, 72, who had been for 39 years working with the education of orphaned girls in my native Lahore was shot in the chest by the Taliban on December 3 and expired on December 13. For her assailants she was a ‘legitimate target’ because she was a Christian, a foreigner, and was helping underprivileged females with education.

Sister Alemby’s death is part of ongoing vicious attacks on Christians, Hindus and Ahmadis, each a tiny minority. The Munir Report found evidence that implicated, besides sectarian groups, even key Punjab leaders of the Muslim League in the violent anti-Ahmadiyya riots of 1953. In 1945-46, the same Muslim League had demonised and dehumanised Hindus and Sikhs; then they turned their guns on Ahmadis. Sectarian literature was available in abundance on both Ahmadi and mainstream Muslim sides against one another and only needed an occasion to be ignited. It was revived later when the Ahmadis were declared as non-Muslims in 1974. Thus, the state did away with any pretence to neutrality on matters of belief and under General Ziaul Haq the blasphemy law and other discriminatory edicts established a full-fledged basis for discrimination.

Despite the growth of such tendencies in the constitutional and legal systems of Pakistan, the Shias continued to be regarded as Muslims, and legally that situation has not changed even now, but from the 1990 onwards Shia-Sunni terrorism wrecked many lives. On both sides, highly inflammatory literature existed and all that was needed was to invoke it to justify violence and terrorism against the enemy group. The Sunnis obviously had the upper hand and allegations exist that they also enjoy the patronage of some agencies.

However, for some time now violence against Shias has concentrated on the most vulnerable group: the hardworking, educated, and very cultured Hazara minority. On December 1, 2012, the Hazara community in Sweden organised a meeting in Gothenburg (Göteborg in Swedish), Sweden’s second largest city, to draw attention to the genocide going on against them in Pakistan. Because of their distinctly Mongoloid ethnicity, the Hazaras are easily identifiable. Approximately one million live in Pakistan, of which around 0.5 million live in two distinct enclaves: Mehrabad (eastern Quetta adjacent to Quetta Cantonment) and Hazara Town (western Quetta adjacent to the international highway, which is the NATO supply route). The rest also are found in Hyderabad, Sindh, Karachi, Peshawar and Parachinar.

The journey from Stockholm to Gothenburg took several hours as I travelled by car with some Hazaras. Our conversation was an eye-opener. Later, during the meeting attended by hundreds of Hazaras and some Swedish sympathizers, more facts emerged. Originally belonging to Afghanistan, they were forcibly expelled in the 19th century by Amir Abdur Rahman from Afghanistan. Contrary to popular belief, the fact that they are Shias did not mean that they were welcomed in the neighbouring Iran; on the contrary they were treated as a pariah people by the Aryan-minded Persians who treated them as an inferior race.

Hazara killing began in 1999. The former education minister, Sardar Nisar Ali Hazara, was fired upon outside the Balochistan Assembly building. He survived but his guards died. The onslaught escalated in 2001 but dramatically increased in 2008 after the Balochistan Lashkar-e-Jhangvi leader Usman Saifullah Kurd and Shafiq-ur-Rahman, convicted for killing 53 people, escaped from a high security jail in Quetta Cantonment.

According to Human Rights Watch, more than 800 Hazaras have been killed since 2001, but the local sources show that almost 1,000 have died with 3,000 suffering injuries. More than 350 people have died since 2010 alone. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has reported that 300 Hazaras drowned in the Pacific Ocean while trying to escape to Australia by boat. Thousands have headed elsewhere in Europe and North America in search of safe havens.

Not surprisingly, there are economic reasons too for targeting the Hazaras. They were getting economically strong due to remittances flowing into Quetta from the Hazara diaspora. The Hazaras are not only better educated as an ethnic group than others in Balochistan, they have been successful in setting up businesses and enterprises. Liquidation attacks from 2010 to 2012 indicate that most of the targets were Hazara traders and businessmen. A fact-finding report about Balochistan by the HRCP released on August 30, 2012 found that Hazaras have been already uprooted from Machh, Loralai and Zhob cities of Balochistan. The report notes, “It seems a campaign has been launched to terrorise the Hazara community so that they leave Quetta by selling their businesses and property at throwaway prices. Pamphlets have been left at their homes telling them to sell their houses and leave.” I do not want to emphasise too much that in 1947 too religious differences and the better economic position of the Hindus and Sikhs were factors that rendered them a target.

However, at that time there was a breakdown of law and order because the colonial state disappeared and the two administrations let ethnic cleansing take place before things returned to ‘normal’. Although Balochistan is disturbed, the authorities can and must strive to bring to an end the persecution of the Hazaras.

The writer has a PhD from Stockholm University. He is a Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm University. He is also Honorary Senior Fellow of the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. His latest publication is The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed: Unravelling the 1947 Tragedy through Secret British Reports and First-Person Accounts (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2012; New Delhi: Rupa Books, 2011). He can be reached at billumian@gmail.com

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