By Bilal Noor, Turbat
Quetta, the capital city of Baluchistan, is a city of different ethnicities. Its population, according to the 2017 census, is about one million. The residents of the city include Baluch, Pakhtoon, and Hazara, and other ethnicities.
Located in northern Baluchistan near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and the road across Kandahar, Quetta is a trade and communication center between the two countries. The city is near the Bolan Pass route which was once one of the major gateways from Central Asia to South Asia.
Quetta’s geography made it the safest & nearest place for the Hazara population that was persecuted in Afghanistan from the time of King Abdur Rahman Khan. The migration of the Hazara community to Baluchistan is 150 years old, the most recent wave was triggered by the Taliban government in Afghanistan after 1996.
Quetta, being the hub of all political and official activities, has always been under terrorist attacks, targeting people from different backgrounds but it has particularly been a deadly place for the Hazara Community.
In Pakistan, the sectarian conflict between Shia Hazaras and the Sunnis was first witnessed in 1999, when a member of the provincial assembly, Sardar Nisar Ali, a Hazara, was attacked in Quetta. Gradually, the wave of intolerance increased between Shia Hazaras and the Sunnis.
The Hazara community is continuously targeted for their sect. Since their unique facial features make them easily recognizable, they have been easily identified and targeted in various terror attacks.
The rift of Shia-Sunni and the proxy wars reportedly getting oxygen from Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia has deeply engulfed the region and it is not hidden from anyone. The Sunni-dominant terrorist group, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, has been claiming responsibilities for attacks on the Hazara community in the province of Baluchistan.
Baluchistan has never been home to religious sectarianism and has been peaceful for all religions and minorities but soon after the war in Afghanistan and the rise of the Taliban, Baluchistan has also become a battleground for the sectarian wars.
But the attacks or the persecution of the Hazara community is not always a sectarian issue, as also believed by the Hazara community. Being one of the oldest residents of Quetta, the Hazara population with their hard work succeeded in setting up shops and businesses in the city. This made them socioeconomically prosperous and eventually leading stakeholders in the city.
They have been performing tremendously well in sports and other academic professions which took them to the height of success and became quite well-known. The latest being the case of a Hazara woman topping Baluchistan in Central Superiro Services exams & another winning a gold medal in the Olympics.
As believed by the Hazara community, certain groups are targeting them because they want to control their business and the land the Hazaras possess. They cite examples of how the Shia population is not targeted in Dera Ghazi Khan and only a Shia who is a Hazara is always targeted.
The government has always failed and disappointed the Hazara. As a result, they have been continuously suffering due to the absence of the writ of government and repeated security failures.
In the name of Security, the Hazaras have been restricted to two localities in Quetta, Alamdar Road, MariAbad & Hazara Town. They have even lost their basic human rights to life, freedom of movement, education, and the right to freely earn a living.
This confinement makes them vulnerable to different threats & because it has broken the harmony of different sects and ethnicities, the Hazara community has remained disconnected from other social activities. Even they need to get permission to freely moving into the city.
The Hazara children’s education has also been disrupted due to this situation. In the past, students used to travel to different parts of the city to get an education but this has stopped as well which drastically decreased the number of Hazara students in educational institutions.
The same is the case on the health front as going to hospitals is risky for the Hazara as the hospitals are located outside their confined areas in downtown Quetta. A lack of health facilities also makes it hard for them to live in Quetta.
The Hazara have been at the forefront of the protests and activism since they are the most affected and the underrepresented community.
They have tried all possible means to voice their demands for justice, protection, and security heard through sit-ins in the cold and heat to worldwide protests. They have knocked on the government doors and held hunger strike camps. Sadly, none of these efforts have borne fruit.
All the communities in Baluchistan have been affected deeply by the terrorist activities but the Hazara, given its small population and limited territory, lack the critical mass required to exert meaningful pressure and influence on the state to influence policies.
It is high time, everyone in Baluchistan gets united to help the Hazara to enjoy their right to life.
The writer is a master’s in International Relations from the University of Karachi with an interest in South Asian Politics
Categories: News & Analysis