Foreign Policy Blogs

Where is the State?

Image lifted from the Express Tribune

“Hazaras” are Persian-speaking people from Afghanistan, who trace their lineage to Ghengis Khan, emperor of the Mongol Empire. Many migrated to British India and worked in coal mines situated in what we now know as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It is estimated that more than 500,000 Hazaras now live in Quetta, in the province of Balochistan, Pakistan. It is also of note that they are Shia Muslims.

A prominent member of the Hazara community within Pakistan was General Muhammad Musa Khan Hazara. He rose to the rank of the commander in chief of Pakistani Armed Forces during President Mohammad Ayub Khan’s regime (1958–1969) and was appointed as the governor of West Pakistan from 1967 to 1969. Although there may have been unreported cases of persecution before (at least two incidents in February and August of 2012, Shias, not necessarily Hazara’s, were forced off busses and shot to death in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), it is said that targeted killings of the Hazara community began in Pakistan in 1997, with the assassination of General Muhammad Musa Khan Hazara’s son, Hassan.

In 2003, 53 Hazaras died in a bomb blast in a Shia mosque in Quetta. Since then over 700 have been killed.

It was in January of this year that twin bomb blasts in the Hazara neighborhood near Alamdar Road in Quetta killed more than 100 people. This time, the community refused to bury their dead, holding a vigil for four days, after which the Pakistani government imposed a “Governor’s Rule” in effort to end target killings, the logic being that because the current form of governance had failed to take any action against the militant groups maybe someone else will. On February 13, a bomb went off on Kirani Road, Quetta, this time claiming over 80 lives. The families sat in vigil with their dead for over three days and insisted the army step into the province to stop these targeted killings. It is noteworthy that Islamic principles require that the dead be buried within 24 hours of their passing.  

Local militant group, Lakshar-e-Jhangvi (“The Army of Jhang” — a territory in Pakistan) has claimed both attacks this year. Citizens gathered in heartwarming numbers and held peaceful protests in every major city in the country, claiming “We too are Hazara” and “Today we are Shia.”  The government says it will continue its operation against Lakshar-e-Jhangvi until its entire leadership has been arrested (there is skepticism that this promise will be seen through).  There have been some arrests in the past week, including that of the founder of the group, Malik Ishaq, who was released in 2012 after serving a 14 year prison sentence.

The chief justice of the supreme court of Pakistan took suo moto notice of the matter and asked Pakistan’s intelligence agency (the ISI), as well as the Governor of Balochistan to submit reports on the attacks. The ISI stated that it had intimated the local government of the threat of such an attack; details of such reports and other relevant information have not been made available to the public at this point. The fact that a truck full of explosives traveled all the way from Lahore (in the East) to Quetta (in the West), passing various check posts along the way, isn’t any comfort either. Maybe the “intelligence failure” the U.S. spoke of when Pakistan could not point out the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden were truer than we’d like to believe. Maybe there’s another story to this silent acquiesce of the status quo. In either case, the supreme court is said to deliberate on the matter on February 26, at which time it will most likely delay the case further; indefinitely.

Why the Hazaras? The obvious answer is that they are Shia in a Sunni dominant country. Pakistani journalist Wahajat S. Khan wrote about the “Narratives of Hazara Pogroms” earlier this month, covering most of the reasons why no action is really being taken.

People are asking: if those that were killed in Quetta weren’t Shia, would the crime be less repulsive? The answer is, of course, no. But if this were just a case of terrorists rampantly killing anyone and everyone in their way, it would make the  inaction (or lazy response at best) of the Pakistani government less offensive. That the target killings are against a specific sect, a specific people, by a group so brazenly claiming responsibility, makes it that much more outrageous.

With the passing of each day, the interest of the citizens of Pakistan towards these sectarian crimes dwindles and gets consumed with other issues, elsewhere. At a Literary Festival in Lahore this past weekend, writer and journalist Moni Mohsin said that it is not the fault of the Pakistani people that they get distracted – there is just so much that requires their attention. This distraction allows the government leverage it needs to slack on its responsibilities of protecting the minorities, be they Shia, Christian or Ahmedi (small sect of “Muslims” not considered Muslim under Pakistani law).

Article 36 of the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan states: “The State shall safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of minorities, including their due representation in the Federal and Provincial services.”

Where is the state?