PAKISTAN: State complicity abetting Hazara bloodbath

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) strongly condemns the recent spate of attacks on the Hazara community in Balochistan province. In the most recent incident, four family members belonging to the ethnic Hazara Shia community and their driver were shot dead on July 19, when unidentified gunmen opened fire on their vehicle near Balochistan’s Mastung area.

Balochistan in general, and Mastung city in particular, has become a killing field of the Hazaras, as the community is targeted by the Sunni Muslim extremist militant group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Balochistan’s capital of Quetta has also been in a grip of violence, with 20 incidents of terrorism occurring within the span of six months, claiming the lives of 23 people. The militant groups have claimed nearly all the attacks.

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Tehreek-e-Taliban and other militant groups enjoy impunity and an indirect support from the state functionaries, allowing them full liberty to unleash their wrath on the hapless community. More than 1,400 incidents targeting the Shia and Hazara community have taken place during the past 15 years. The Hazaras, an ethnic group, are targeted for professing a faith different from the majority.

Yet Hazaras are dismissed as an ethnic and religious minority whose blood is cheaper than the majority Sunni populace. Since 2001, 2603 Shia have reportedly been killed, half of them being Hazara Shias.

In 2013, the bloodiest year for the community, 504 innocent lives were lost in several bombings. The callous apathy of the state to the ethnic cleansing is deplorable. In 2012, then Chief Minister Aslam Raisani reportedly told a journalist after the Mastung Massacre that, “The population of Balochistan is in millions, 40 dead in Mastung is no big deal. When asked what he could do for the grieving families of the victims, he replied, “I can send truckload of tissue papers for them to wipe their tears.”

Pakistan’s tolerance for religious extremists is not just destroying lives and alienating communities, it is destroying Pakistani society across the board. State complicity in acts of violence has resulted in increasing impunity to militant groups, whose thirst for blood and violence is never quelled. Meanwhile, the targeted minorities continue to suffer silently. During the 2013 Quetta sit in, where protestors sat outside in freezing weather to demand justice for their deceased loved ones, Mr. Changaizee, Chairman of the Hazara Qaumi Jirga was quoted to plead with the authorities, “Just open fire on us, Kill us all, all 150 of us. We’ll all die together, rather than dying one-by-one, every day”.

Unfortunately, such demonstrations by Shia and other minority groups against the government’s failure to halt the violence have brought no results. Instead, the violence has increased in its barbarity and frequency. Unidentified men in uniform are now seen offloading Hazaras from buses, to be shot at point-blank range near the Pakistan-Iran border, within meters of Frontier Corp check posts. The Minority Rights Group International has identified Pakistan as one of the most dangerous countries in the world for religious minorities.

The AHRC demands stern and exemplary punishment against the perpetrators of barbarity. Pakistan’s government should ensure the security of the country’s religious minorities from injustice and attacks by militants. The only deterrence to violence is accountability; only when the government ends impunity can the tide of militancy, extremism and sectarianism in the country recede. Moreover, the impunity afforded to those who enforce radical Islamic ideologies only serves to encourage the spread of prejudices driving the rampant violence and religious extremism consuming Pakistan today. The state must wake up to the fact that a fractured society cannot prosper. A state that is unjust and biased against its marginalized and vulnerable shall forever remain divided.