Mysterious genocide of Pakistan's Hazara community

Whatever the truth, and it's often difficult to tell in Pakistan, the international community needs to do more to highlight the plight of the peace-loving Hazara community

Pakistan's Hazara community has faced terrifying persecution
Ghaffar Hussain
On 10 January 2013 10:10

Life for minority communities in Pakistan has never been great. Drive-by shootings, bomb attacks, lynchings, and assassinations targeting members of religious and ethnic minorities are ubiquitous in the nuclear armed state, established in the name of Islam to protect Muslims.

The persecution of religious minorities such as Christians, Hindus, Shias, and Ahmedis often makes it into the international media and is discussed domestically, especially when major massacres occur. However, the on-going genocide being directed at the Hazara community in Pakistan seems to have attracted very little international media attention and even less domestic political attention. No-one seems to know what is going on and no-one seems to care.

The Hazara community in Pakistan is approximately 950,000 strong, with most living in the Baluchistan province. They are a highly visible ethnic minority as well as religious minority. They are largely Shia, speak a Persian dialect known as Dari, and have Central Asian features as opposed to South Asian.

In the past 10 years, there have been around 120 major attacks on members of the Hazara community which have resulted in around 800 deaths and over 1500 injuries. Though some attacks have targeted high-profile community members, around one-third of the victims have been children. In 2012 alone there were 56 attacks. A further 300 Hazaras have died trying to flee Pakistan for the safety of other countries, mainly Australia since it has an established Hazara community.

The more shocking aspect of this on-going genocide is that the Hazara community has no idea why it is being targeted or by whom. They are not calling for independence or autonomy, nor are they engaged in any political struggle. They are largely a peaceful people concerned with nothing more than earning a living and making a contribution to their country.

Fingers have been pointed at al Qaeda-linked extremists groups in Pakistan such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and other Taliban-linked groups have claimed some attacks in the past. Indeed, during the Taliban reign in neighbouring Afghanistan, the Hazara, due to them being Shia Muslims, were routinely targeted and many massacres took place. But this doesn't seem a sufficient explanation since, according to some estimates, up to 20 percent of the Pakistani population is Shia; so why seek out the Hazara in particular?

Now, I'm not one for conspiracy theories but in Pakistan nothing is simple and things are rarely what they seem. In the case of the Hazara community, the reality of their plight could be far more disturbing than what is revealed in a cursory glance.

The vast majority of the Hazara community in Pakistan resides in the Baluchistan province and most of the attacks seem to take place when Hazaras are travelling though Baluch-dominated areas. Baluchistan is also in the midst of an independence struggle that the Pakistani military is seeking to crush by any means necessary.

In light of the above, an increasing number of Hazaras are starting to believe that they are victims of a dirty game. Is it possible that the Punjabi-dominated Pakistani military establishment is trying to ferment ethnic tensions between the Hazara and the Baluch in the hope of distracting and obstructing Baluch separatists?

After all, the Pakistani military establishment does have a good relationship with groups like Lashkar-e-Jhanvi and it is believed to be sheltering members of the Afghan Taliban in the Baluchistan area. It also has a long and illustrious history of using jihadist outfits to do its dirty work in places such as Kashmir and Afghanistan.

According to Muhammad Younas, writing for Wahdat News, no terrorists have ever been convicted for killing members of the Hazara community in Pakistan and even those that are apprehended are quickly released without charge. Police officers claim to receive calls from high-up, asking them to release any detained suspects immediately. In some cases, suspected terrorists have even escaped from so-called maximum security prisons in Quetta with relative ease and gone on to kill more members of the Hazara community.

It is possible that the Hazara are pawns in a dirty game and I certainly wouldn't put it past the Pakistani military establishment. It is also possible that jihadist outfits have simply been given free rein, since they are considered strategic assets, to target and kill those who they consider infidels. The jihadists could also be punishing the Hazara community for supporting international efforts to oust the Taliban from power in 2001.

Whatever the truth, and it's often difficult to tell in Pakistan, the international community needs to do more to highlight the plight of the peace-loving Hazara community and put pressure on the Pakistani government to take attacks against them seriously.

The Pakistani public also needs to demand more action from its government whilst pushing for them to weaken the role of the insidious military establishment given that it is the root cause of many of its woes.

Ghaffar Hussain is a counter terrorism expert and Contributing Editor to The Commentator. Follow him on Twitter @GhaffarH

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