Hazara killings in Pakistan call for international action
THE very existence of Hazara minority in Pakistan’s insurgency-hit province of Balochistan is under threat. Over the last five years, a militant organization, named Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, has claimed responsibility for killing over 1,000 Hazaras in the country. The militant group has repeatedly challenged the writ of the state by carrying out “ethnic cleansing” of the Shiite minority, who it claims are not true Muslims.
Lashkar-e Jhangvi is believed to have been established in the eastern Punjab province during the 1990s.
It is an armed wing of the Sunni group Anjuman-e-Sipahe Shaba Pakistan, a violent and fiercely anti-Shiite organization. Formed by radical elements who received education at hard-line religious schools, the group has only recently eyed the Balochistan province. For years, the massacre of this community remained a non-issue for the country’s political elite and security establishment. During this time, the government failed to arrest or prosecute any prominent member of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which caused great anger and frustration in the Hazara community. The massacre of Hazaras recently led to the imposition of federal rule in the province, but there has been no respite in attacks. When a deadly bomb attack killed around 100 members of the Shiite Hazara minority last week, protests erupted all across the country. The protesters demanded that army be given powers to control security situation in the province, while the government should also take immediate measures to curb Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. The mourning Hazaras refused to bury the dead till they were provided justice and government took a decisive action against the perpetrators of this heinous crime.
The authorities buckled under pressure from this unique form of protest. The government soon sprung into action and claimed to have arrested over 170 people suspected of being linked to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. They also revealed the arrest of a founding member of the banned terror group. However, many remain unconvinced of the government’s actions and call them inadequate in stemming the roots of violence.
Shams Mandokhel, a human rights campaigner in Balochistan, also questions the government’s inaction against the militant group. He believes that the group has “a very dangerous mindset. This mindset believes in sectarian violence, which is catastrophic. Now, who is promoting this mindset? Why is it not being stopped?” Some analysts even accuse the government of secretly aiding Lashkar-e-Jhangvi to overcome the separatist insurgency that is raging across the Balochistan province. Pakistan’s security establishment is also known to have used the parent organization of this group in fighting the Soviets during the 1980s. Therefore, any action by the civil government against this militant group could result in a backlash from the country’s powerful military.
A failure to reign in on this new wave of terror against the Hazaras will have catastrophic results for Pakistan. Such violent extremism risks national unity and could potentially cause a delay in holding the upcoming national elections. Lamenting the situation, Balochistan-based analyst Zahoor Shahwani states that “It’s quite obvious that if these kinds of attacks continue it will be difficult to attract people’s attention to the elections. If their lives and properties are not safe, how can the politicians hold public events and local meetings? How are elections possible in an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty?”
The Hazaras have also questioned the competence of security and intelligence bodies, who have seriously failed in preventing sectarian strife. The latest protests by Hazaras to highlight their grievances have been successful in influencing public opinion and forcing the country’s security establishment to wake up from its deep slumber.
With media allotting prime space to the plight of Hazaras, Pakistan’s political and military elite has agreed to conduct a targeted operation against the terrorists, who are determined to eradicate the sect. The local media has also highlighted how the violence is disrupting lives of Hazaras. They are facing difficulty in continuing education, running businesses, accessing civil service jobs and, in essence, leading a normal life.
However, the Hazaras fear that the story of their plight may lose momentum as it has not received adequate international coverage. Condemnation of violence against them has been limited to clichéd statements by international leaders. About 271 renowned poets from 89 countries have recently written an open letter to world leaders to ensure the security of Hazaras and exert diplomatic pressure on Pakistan and Afghanistan to end violence against the community. The international community needs to pay immediate attention to acts of violence and discrimination against the Hazaras. The persecution of Hazaras on ethnic and religious grounds defies all international standards of civility and denies them rights guaranteed by the Constitution of Pakistan.