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Thursday, February 28, 2013

VIEW : Hazaras, the children of a lesser god — I — Mehboob Qadir




Anywhere else in the world, the Hazaras could have been a powerhouse of industry, culture, education and great civic sense

Shias in Pakistan are a sizeable religious community that has lived among Sunni main mass in perfect harmony since centuries. One would not really know or bother to find out who was a Shia or a Sunni until Moharrum, the month of Shia mourning arrived. Shias would wear black clothes with a sense of grief and loss commemorating the great martyrdom of Imam Hussain and his companions at the hands of an absolute despot. It used to be over as the month ended, more or less and then normal business of life resumed in the neighbourhood. As Sunnis, we would respect and empathise with Shia mourners in many local but graceful ways. We would attend their majlis (a recitation of tragic events), consume post majlis food distributed and set up drinking water stalls en route the mourning processions. Similarly, for at least the ten days of the Ashur (end of the month) we would not play music, buy new clothing or any major new thing, hold any festive event like weddings etc and avoid wearing freshly tailored or showy bright clothes.

All this and much more was done voluntarily and not under any special instructions by any lofty Allama or a Shaikh-ul-Islam. We would be deferential to the Shia sentiments because we were taught it was decent, humane and expected. None hated or disliked anyone for the shade of his belief, particularly Islamic faith. There were many sub-sects and schools of fiqah that were subsisting together with the main ones without any difficulty. Ahmadis were very well adjusted and so were Ismailis and the like. Wahabis were a few and far between, and generally distanced from socially because of their unsettling kind of belief. Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Parsis and a tiny number of Jews were respected for their sensibilities. It used to be such a wonderful sight to see local Sikh businessmen sitting side by side the fierce Afridi traders in the Torkham bazaars.

Most regrettably, perceptions have moved away from realities in case of Pakistan and that is our real and abiding loss. There were no fatwas for beheadings; no faith charged processions, and least of all, no sectarian or communal murders. The best and most well behaved student in my class in Loralai was a handsome Hindu boy, Ramesh, whom I understand rose to heights in the civil service of the country. During college days, my best friends and brighter students were mostly Ahmadi boys with whom a lifelong relationship remains. Their sense of duty, integrity and dependability was amazing.

Then came the notorious, and in the hindsight, catastrophic anti-Ahmadi riots of 1953 in Lahore particularly. These were orchestrated mainly by the Jamaat-e-Islami’s Maududi and the Majlis-e-Ahrar-e-Islam‘s firebrand Deobandi mullahs. Ahraris were typically opposed to Pakistan like Maududi and hated Ahmadis. The army quickly and effectively put them down and sentenced these characters to death that was later commuted to a jail-term. Sorrowfully, more than 200 Ahmadis were killed and huge property gutted in that madness. As an evil consequence, all such bigoted religious elements began to band together first as opposition to the Ahmadis but eventually expanded to other shades of belief via their doctrinal gurus: the Wahabis. Shias were the natural next minority, as it irked the unforgiving breed of mullahs within the Sunni main mass, and who better than the Deobandis and their chief patrons and ideologues: the nettlesome Wahabis. This toxic lava began to simmer but was controllable till two demons of destruction swept down upon the region in general and Pakistan in particular. As if coordinated, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, and almost simultaneously, Ayatullah Khomeini, descended upon Iran. This was the beginning of a mutually reinforcing and assured destruction of broad and beautiful balance of faith in Pakistan. The late General Ziaul Haq espoused the cause of Afghan resistance and repainted it as jihad under the twin persuasion of Saudis followed by the US. That stratagem also assured a flow of dollars and reinvigorating of his faltering regime against the rising popular opposition to his medieval style rule. On his beck and call was again the abrasive Deobandi-Wahabi combine, unfortunately. These wicked twains were to later bring Pakistan and its people to tremendous harm and grief. That is what happens when one feeds vipers like these in one’s backyard.

The Khominite takeover of Iran enthused Shias to their dream of Mahdavi world dominance while Soviet invasion helped Saudis realise their dream of universal jihad albeit not in their land but safely in Afghanistan-Pakistan. There could have been nothing more auspicious for them than having a tin-pot dictator ruling Pakistan and looking for some kind of legitimacy. In this lava crater of regional upheavals, the Hazaras of Afghanistan and Quetta were caught in a vice not of their making but thrown around them by the tragic twists and turns of history. Pakistan was already seething with sectarian divide. Ahmadis had been declared as non-Muslims by the late Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto under pressure from the religious lobby in 1973.Time was ripe for a Wahabit-Deobandi ascent in Pakistan, just as the petro dollars began to flow in while Zia was already teetering over the sectarian edge.

The Afghan war of freedom from Soviets and concomitant Khominite revolution in the neighbouring Iran helped to pitch Sunnis against Shias in strange ways. The Khominite zeal scared and startled the Sunni peninsular Arabs. The Soviet invasion provided Saudis a golden chance to play out their Wahabist fantasy of jihad against an atheist super power. Eventually, the two mutually repulsive fantasies pitched Shias against Sunnis in our region and the bolt actually fell upon the Shia Hazaras in Afghanistan, in Quetta and elsewhere inside Pakistan. In a short while we will see how, but before that a bit of historic perspective is in order.

Hazaras had been truly the proverbial children of a lesser God in our region. Anywhere else in the world, the Hazaras could have been a powerhouse of industry, culture, education and great civic sense. In other words, they are a potential engine of tremendous social uplift. They are descendents of Mongol warriors who were accompanied by their Eurasian households when Chengiz Khan laid siege to Bamyan in 1221.After its capture they settled down and proliferated. Their robust resistance to assimilation into Afghan melting pot of races has turned out to be their biggest but unintended fatal fault.

Babur, the Mughal emperor had noted Hazaras inhabiting Hazarajat west of Kabul as far as Ghor, Ghazni and Quetta in the 16th century. That was just about the time when under Safavid influence they converted to Shiism, a leap that unfolded dreadfully three centuries later. It was 1890 and the fierce Amir Abdur Rehman ruled over Afghanistan. The Hazaras decided to side with the king’s rebel cousin. They were routed.Their men were imprisoned; many were brutally executed and properties confiscated arbitrarily. The atrocities continued forcing the Hazaras to revolt again in 1892, and yet again in 1893. Amir’s retribution was swift, barbaric and bloody. Thousands of Hazara men, women and children were sold off as slaves in the markets of Kabul and Qandhar.

Amir Abdur Rahman’s relentless repression firmly sowed the seed of abiding hatred between Hazaras and Afghans for all times to come. Almost 35,000 families fled to Northern Afghanistan, Mashad and Quetta displacing almost 60 percent of the whole ethnic population. Short of the Partition, this should be the most horrific exodus of an entire people in the region’s history. The Hazaras had finally and decisively become unwelcome among Afghans, particularly Pushtuns on three counts. They came as conquerors and settled down on prime lands in Hazarajat. Much against the Sunni mass preference they converted to Shiism, thus, permanently creating a pro-Iran enclave dangerously close to the Pushtun seat of power in Kabul. Lastly, they kept their distinct identity and never assimilated. As a rule, history does not forget nor forgives collective mistakes made by the races or nations, which confront them eventually and draws retribution, often horrible.

The writer is a retired brigadier of the Pakistan army and can be reached at clay.potter@hotmail.com

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