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Pakistan's Worsening Hazara Crisis

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The Governor of Pakistan's lawless Balochistan province says the Army may be summoned in the provincial capital city, Quetta, after a dramatic escalation in ethnic and sectarian violence. Zulfiqar Ali Magsi, the Governor, has strongly criticized the provincial government and suggested it to resign from the office due to its stark failure to curb the deadly wave of violence targeting the Shia, Hazara minority community. If not immediately contained, the governor fears, this spate of violence may push the gas-rich region bordering Iran-Afghanistan into a state of civil war.

In Pakistan, the Governor of a province is the representative of the State appointed by the President. His is a symbolic title with almost no administrative powers. The daily affairs of the government are run by the Chief Minister who is elected by the regional legislature for a five-year term.

Governor Magsi, who himself served Balochistan twice in 1990s as a successful chief minister in terms of ensuring peace and stability in the province, says he is running out of patience with the poor performance of the current regional coalition government headed by the Pakistan People's Party.
"People are tired of carrying the dead bodies of their loved ones," he says and further turns skeptical of the government when he reads newspaper statements from the serving ministers who grumble over the breakdown of the law and order. Yet these ministers, on their part, do nothing to improve the conditions despite having the mandate and the authority to do so.

"There is no point [for the ministers] to remain a part of the government, on the one hand, and then still criticize it, on the other hand," said the Governor, "the best option for them is to quit the cabinet and join the Opposition."

The Sunni militant group, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, with close contacts with al Qaeda and the Taliban has been steadily stepping up brutal assaults on Shia, Hazaras.

On Saturday, April 14, at least eight members of the minority Hazara community were shot dead in two separate attacks in Quetta. These attacks come immediately after a number of similar attacks in the recent weeks in which the feeble Hazara minority community has been singled out and victimized.

The killings sparked anti-government protests in Quetta. The Hazara Democratic Party (HDP), the largest secular political party that represents the Hazaras, staged a protest sit-in in front of the office of the Governor of Balochistan expressing dissatisfaction with government's commitment to dismantle radical Sunni terrorist groups. The HDP, founded in 2003, has itself remained a direct victim of this ghastly wave of anti-Hazara violence. On January 26, 2009, Hussain Ali Yousafi, HDP's founder and chairman, was gunned down in Quetta in a case of targeted killing. The government never seriously chased Yousafi's killers.

The Baloch Governor's remarks that the current state of affairs may push Balochistan into a civil war are, indeed, total exaggerations of the situation. Since most Shias and Hazaras dwell in Quetta and its surroundings, sectarian strife will not seriously influence the rest of Balochistan. Alarmingly, this scourge is gradually transcending the boundaries of Quetta. In recent times, attacks have also been reported from Bolan and Mastung districts whose road routes are frequently used by the Hazaras for traveling purpose. In his remarks, the Governor probably rightly meant that the Balochistan government's inability to grapple with the situation made it resemble a civil war scenario.

In the midst of all the gloom, some remarkably positive initiatives have been taken by Balochistan's political forces which provide some hope for a democratic solution to the issue. For instance, the Awami National Party, a Pashtun nationalist group, sent a delegation of its senior leaders in Quetta to meet with the HDP leadership to condole the recent loss of human lives. While the ANP and the HDP are not at daggers drawn, they have rarely cooperated with each other on the issue of religious extremism. Likewise, Baloch nationalist groups such as the National Party and the Balochistan National Party (BNP) also fully supported a call for a shutter down strike in Quetta city on Sunday to articulate solidarity with the Hazaras.

Sadly, these protests seldom yield any results. Unlike the protestors, everyone in the government is still not fully convinced that elements linked to Sunni militant groups are responsible for carrying out these callous assaults. In an easy but a common practice of exempting the government from being held accountable in the wake of such attacks, senior officials blame 'foreign elements' -- alluding to the United States, India and Israel -- for orchestrating the bloody games inside Pakistan.

One such senior leader is Jan Ali Changezi, a native Hazara who formerly headed the Ministry of Quality Education and now serves as a member of the Balochistan Assembly. Mr. Changezi of the ruling PPP was quoted in the local press, soon after the coordinated attacks, that "Pakistan's foreign enemies" had masterminded the attacks on the Hazaras in order to "weaken our country's foundations".

The Pakistani media further adds to the authorities' state of denial about their domestic problems by promoting such conspiracy theories.

"The two separate incidents... is a well orchestrated conspiracy by foreign powers to create ethnic and sectarian hatred in a strategically important part of the country," said an editorial in the Islamabad-based English language newspaper, the Pakistan Observer, "The attacks by unidentified armed men are being carried out by the locals but it is for certain that they are being trained and financed by the enemies of the country who according to analysts want to send a clear message to the Pakistani leadership to either tow their line or face serious consequences."

Many senior government officials subscribe to Changaezi's conspiracy theories. This, in fact, provides a safe passage to officials who should actually be held responsible for negligence of duty.

The Balochistan government convened a high-level meeting on April 15 to prepare a plan to surmount attacks on the Hazaras. The outcome of the meeting was not very encouraging as it only assured the Hazara pilgrims of official escorts in the districts of Quetta, Mastung, Noshki and Chagi. What primarily is wrong with Sunday's meeting is the government's unwillingness to officially act against underground Islamic terrorist groups in Quetta with the alleged support of the Pakistani intelligence services. With local protests totally failing to guarantee the safety of the Hazaras and the provincial government to crack down on terrorist networks, the international community can play a critical role in taking up the Hazara massacre with Islamabad.

Last year, Hazaras held world-wide protests against the ongoing onslaught of their fellow community members. The world paid scant attention to the urgent Hazara appeal for immediate assistance. On the contrary, Australia, a country that has substantially welcomed the Hazaras in the past, has now begun to toughen its immigration laws to discourage an influx of Hazaras into its territory.

Ahmad Shuja, a Washington DC-based political commentator, says the Hazaras in Quetta feel abandoned and neglected not only by the Pakistani government but also by the international community. A humanitarian situation is unfolding in Quetta, he says, where people cannot go to work and school, cannot visit cemeteries or drive to visit their families without being targeted.

"The international community, including the United Nations, has neither taken notice of it nor extended its moral, diplomatic or material support for protecting this community," says Shuja, who had lived in Quetta in the past and also extensively written about the plight of the Hazara.
The Hazara diaspora in the United States every day painstakingly monitors the situation in Quetta as they still have friends and family over there whose safety remains critical but not officially promised.

The views expressed in his article are personal and do not reflect the policy of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) where the writer is currently a Regan-Fascell Democracy Fellow.

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