Sunday, July 21, 2019
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Now Hazaras ask: Are we Pakistanis?

Farooq Ganderbali

In May this year, the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, posed a fundamental question to the government of Pakistan--Are the Hazaras not Pakistani citizens? This question has profound significance for the people of Pakistan, a large number of whom have recently been wondering whether they were Pakistanis at all.

The question is quite similar to the one which another judge some 68 years ago had asked; his question was: Who is a muslim? The question was posed in the backdrop of a bloody clash between Sunnis and Ahmadis in Lahore and other towns in Pakistan, merely four years after the country was created as an exclusive domain for Muslims. The Sunnis considered Ahmadis, a minority sect among Muslims, as heretics or kafirs, and wanted them to be declared non-Muslims. The state capitulated without much thought and effort on the part of the radical elements and declared Ahmadis as non-Muslims with no rights as enjoyed by other Muslims. The army, which was behind this game, benefited the most, exploiting the confusion and violence on the streets of Punjab to become the rulers in real sense.

The matter did not end with Ahmadis though. They were the first scapegoats in the grander scheme of turning Pakistan into an extremist state, a state which can be manipulated and managed by none else but the Generals. The Generals knew that as long as the country remained divided on ethnic, religious and provincial lines, they had an upper hand; the country was their’s to rule and exploit. The Baloch were the next targets. They were a proud people and wanted equal status and share what the Punjabis and Sindhis enjoyed in the new country. The Generals, mostly Punjabis, were not going to give in--the Punjabi supremacy could not be challenged.

First the Punjabi elite, both in uniform and outside it, ensured that resources are not shared fairly; Punjab got all the development, jobs, power, water, infrastructure and investments, and provinces like Balochistan, the erstwhile NWFP, even Sindh, and disputed areas like Pak-occupied Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan got very little, if any, of the development, The Baloch were miffed at the Punjabi businessmen and politicians fattening themselves on gas and minerals sourced from Balochistan. When they began demanding a fair share of the royalty, they got bullets. For decades now, the Baloch have been assaulted with every known military tactics and weapon in the Pakistan Army’s arsenal. After Ahmadis, the Baloch were the next to be declared `enemy` despite being devout Muslims.

Next on the line were Shias, another minority sect among the Muslims. Shias lived in large numbers in Punjab and Sindh; they were a progressive community, investing in their children’s education and upbringing. Many owned large tracts of farm land in Punjab. When the military dictator, Zia-ul Haq, thought of converting the country into a radical Islamic country, he issued directives that overnight turned Shias into second-class citizens, much like Ahmadis. The Shias rose up in protest and laid siege on the new capital, Islamabad. The General hit back, creating Sunni extremist groups like Anjuman Sipah-e-Sahaba and its armed wing, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, to punish Shias. The Shias have since been a victim of terrorist attacks and targeted killings. Hundreds die every year either in suicide bomb attacks or targeted killing in Punjab and Sindh. In 2014, Human Rights Watch, after interviewing over 100 survivors of various attacks, concluded that ``since 2008, Pakistan’s Shia community has been the target of unprecedented escalation in sectarian violence as Sunni militants have killed thousands of Shias across the country``.

In 2013, a Shia columnist wrote his anguish of being a Shia in Dawn. ``In such troubling times some Shias may have a choice. They may sit and wait for a messiah or relocate to a Shia-exclusive enclave elsewhere, or to escape from Pakistan altogether. It may sound harsh, but it is an inescapable truth that Pakistan has been run over by the extremists and life is going to be even tougher for the minorities and moderate Sunnis in the near future.`` His is not an isolated cry--millions of Shias, most of them who had shifted to Pakistan from India at the time of Partition, feel the same way, deceived, angry, hopeless and wondering whether they have a place in the increasingly radical Pakistan.

Among the Shias, Hazaras, numbering close to 90,000, are the primary targets of Sunni targets. In the last few years, hundreds of Shias were either pulled out of buses and shot, or shot while walking down a street or bombed while shopping for daily needs. In its latest report, the National Commission for the Human Rights has pointed out that, the Hazara community has suffered 509 killings in Quetta city alone during the last five years (January, 2012 to December, 2017). In the month of April, 2018 alone, there were four separate terrorist attacks on Hazara men resulting in the death of six persons. The community believes the real number to be 3000.

The killings, in which the state has been equally culpable, have instilled such dread and anxiety that Hazaras have been leaving the country in hoards. One estimate puts the figure at 70,000--many of them undertaking hazardous sea journeys to escape Pakistan and seek shelter in countries as far as Australia. Hundreds have died in these journeys and those who were caught before they could flee live in the shadow of military boots and Sunni assassins. The Human Rights Watch summed the situation a few years ago thus: “There is no travel route, no shopping trip, no school, or no work commute that is safe for the Hazaras.”

In an op-ed written for Dawn (May 5, 2018), well-known columnist Irfan Hussain quoted an email from a Hazara woman. The letter was a cry of anguish: “… in Quetta we are imprisoned to a few kilometres … we can’t go out of this confined area… I am writing to you because I want you to support us, write about us, stand by us, stand against Shia killing and the genocide of Hazaras….”

He pointed out that what the Hazaras are fighting for when women sit on hunger strike in Quetta is not for money or jobs but an end to the `` daily horrors the community faces``. Like the Baloch, and the Ahmadis, the Hazaras too have been for some time wondering whether they have any place in Pakistan, a country they embraced for their faith.

(The author is a senior journalist and columnist)

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