File picture: Family members of attack victims mourn outside the Balochistan Police College. Image Credit: AP

Nothing changes for the Hazaras of Pakistan.

On February 21, 2013, I wrote:

“The number of dead bodies was 92. 16 children, 19 women. The bomb ripped through shops and stalls, the explosion ballooning into a sky of smoke, concealing severed limbs mixed with pieces of clothing and slivers of animal meat.

The venue was Hazara Town, Quetta. Most of the victims were Hazara.

The banned “religious” militant outfit Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ) claimed responsibility.

The aftermath of the attack was an eerie reproduction of the last month’s [January 2013] dual bomb blasts on Alamdar Road, Quetta.

The suffering of the mourners was immeasurable. The refusal to bury the dead before the governmental acceptance of their demands was stronger than their pain of seeing the maimed bodies of their loved ones wrapped in white unstitched pieces of cloth, smeared with dried blood, laid out in the open. Their protest echoed their old pleas: justice must be done. Lives must be protected. The perpetrators must be punished to set deterrents against the ongoing methodical cleansing of one ethnic group. The massacre of Hazaras in Pakistan must be stopped.

It continued. Before the chehlum of the last month’s victims, more graves were dug.

Unprovoked acts of violence and that too on a mass scale do not merely wreak havoc, they play hell with the minds, spirit and hearts of the people who wish for nothing more than existence in peace.

The protest continued. Women throwing themselves in open graves demanded Quetta be handed over to the army, and the perpetrators hanged in public. It was not a scene from a melodramatic film. It was the clearheaded stark decision of a community whose persecution was relentless, marked in blood, and justice, or even simply the right to live was an impossible dream.

From 2011 to date [February 2013], hundreds of Hazara men, women and children have been killed. The culprits are in plain sight. Justice seems an impossibility.

On May 6, AK-47s and RPGs were fired on youngsters playing football in Hazara Town. Eight young people died.

On May 19, in Khilli Alamo, seven people including a child were murdered.

On June 16, boxer Syed Ibraar Hussain, an icon in his community, was killed.

On June 22, LEJ militants killed three pilgrims en route from Iran.

On June 29, 11 people including a woman were murdered in a terrorist attack.

On August 31, 11 people were killed as they left an eid-gah.

On September 22, 26 passengers en route to Taftan were singled out and shot at point blank range. [This happened in Mustang.]

Three people were killed in a secondary ambush that targeted protests against the September 22 massacre.

On October 4, 12 people in a bus were singled out and shot dead. The lone survivor of the group was a 16-year-old boy. He hid under a seat.

On December 17, a man was shot dead.

All these killings took place in Quetta.

The year was 2011.

All the victims had one thing in common: their ethnicity.

They were the Hazara of Pakistan.

2012 was no different. The targets were easy to find. Their defence and protection mechanisms were almost non-existent. In 2012, approximately 40 people were killed in various terrorist attacks. The killings took place in different parts of the same doomed-to-bloodshed-and-lamentation Quetta or its nearby areas. Roads with quaint names in the once idyllic valley bore the bloodstains of one community: the Hazara of Pakistan.

There is a chilling method to this insanity of violence. There are no rules of engagement since the “opponent” is an unarmed community that has no gory tales to its name. No place is sacred. No age group is pardoned from the list of those marked to be killed. Open declarations of hatred are made. Blatant threats of “extermination” are published in local newspapers, or on leaflets distributed in streets. The law enforcement agencies are silent or helpless or complicit, only time will tell. The almost utter absence of accountability when it comes to the injustices perpetrated on the Hazara by the declared enemy LEJ or/and other militant organisations bears testimony to the breakdown of the law and the writ of the government.

What is required to change the status quo of death for the Hazara: a full crackdown on the openly militant organisations–LEJ, Sunni Threek, Ahle-Sunnat-wal-Jammat, Jaish-e-Mohammad et al. What is also required: a proper mechanism to bring the perpetrators to justice through a fool proof legal system–filing of cases, gathering of evidence, testimony of witnesses, protection of witnesses, trials, penalisation, imprisonment.

Each death of a Hazara must count for it be more than a mere statistic in the data of deceased people marked as victims of terrorism. Each murdered Hazara must be given justice for the family to have closure, the community some solace, and Quetta a sense of being part of a federation where the writ of the state still reigns supreme.

One killing in a community is a violent act. A few killings are a massacre. Many killings become a genocide. When an entire community is targeted, marked, singled out, without any pretext or justification other than their facial features and religious faith, that is when a holocaust erupts out of the horrors of the violence that is being perpetrated. The mass killings of Hazaras is one of the blackest marks on the soul of Pakistan that pledged to protect its minorities.

The Hazaras mourn today. Pakistan mourns with them. What is awaited: what would the government of Pakistan do to undo the harm done to a community that has done nothing wrong to deserve a fate worse than anything else: death?”

Not much changed. The Hazaras of Pakistan continued to die–singled out and murdered.

The pain of Hazaras echoed in the wailing of the other people of Balochistan. The rest of the Pakistan remained, beyond the customary condemnatory tweets and short-lived outrage, impervious to the suffering of Balochistan. Media played a devastating role in the perpetuation of a system of transient anger, condemnation, grief, and demand for justice.

On July 15, 2018, I wrote:

“On Friday the 13, July 2018, a bombing wreaked destruction rarely seen even in a country like Pakistan that has seen more than 60,000 terrorism-targeted deaths in the last two decades. As per the last reports, the number of casualties has reached 128, while that of the injured is more than 200.

The horrific bombing, said to be deadliest after the December 2014 Army Public School Peshawar terrorist attack, sent a wave of shock, grief and anger throughout Pakistan that despite having seen so much destruction over years, and having an attitude of helpless and hopeless resignation, can never truly be apathetic to the devastation in an area that is already enveloped in an air of gloom and bleakness because of the lack of attention it receives in the national governmental discourse. And in media.

There is an almost complete blackout of Balochistan on national media, and on Friday, that open secret was conspicuous. That Balochistan does not matter, and the lives of the Baloch are not more than a ticker under the transmission of something more important. That lives of the Baloch are just another statistic in the long list of nameless, faceless victims of terror in the Pakistan that has been fighting an internal and external war on terror for more years than many people would care to remember.

That bodies of hundreds of Baloch bleeding, lifeless, seared, dismembered, unrecognisable, lying on top of one another, covered in blood and soot, making it hard to distinguish human from the inanimate do not deserve primetime coverage. That cries of people wailing for their loved ones are on mute while the media, breathlessly, endlessly, speaks about one subject.

On Friday 13, 2018, there was not much on Pakistani media other than the news of the return of Nawaz Sharif, accompanied by his daughter, and his most trusted unofficial political adviser, Maryam Nawaz.

The entire day the news coverage and talk shows focused on Sharifs’ flight and return. Ratings matter, and the return of two privileged and powerful political leaders to be arrested on arrival to face imprisonment is TRPs gold. Accepted. But why didn't the deaths of 128 people in Mastung matter at all? Not even to divide the screen? Not even to give hour-to-hour if not minute-to-minute news of the situation on ground? Not even to give updated reports about the number of casualties, assistance needed for the wounded, status of emergency medical services, transfer of the critically wounded to hospitals, state of dead bodies, lying covered in their own blood and that of others? Not even to compile lists of bodies that had been recognised, and keep their names on screens to assist families away from the area of tragedy who may be looking for some news?

Not even to simply say to the millions of Baloch people that you are ours, and that we care? Not even to shows hundreds of families that the unimaginably painful deaths of your loved ones matter to us more than the First Class return of two political leaders who know how to work the system to turn their conviction into a story of heroism and sacrifice? Not even to register as lip service that as Pakistanis lives of all Pakistanis matter to media?

The almost-blackout of the Mustang tragedy is a stark reflection of who we have become as a nation, what we are as a society, what our values are. Soulless, without empathy, without pain, secure in our apathy, our agendas, our heartlessness. Media is us.

Let that sink in while you read these words.”

Time moved. The fate of the Hazaras remained unchanged.

On April 17, 2019 I wrote:

It has happened so many times it does not even have the effect that lasts beyond the superficial outrage and barely-meant words of condolence. It has happened so many times real flesh and blood people have been reduced to banal statistics. Six men, four young, two old, one unidentified woman, three children whose limbs have been severed, five policemen dead or fatally injured.

The number varies, the names remain interchangeable, the faces become indistinguishable, but the main story remains unaltered. The victim is the Hazara.

Their life is of no consequence until their death becomes the headline of the day, three days, a week if they happen to be large in number.

They look identical to all those who look at them through the pictures that appear of their dead bodies, of their wailing fathers, of their beating-their-chest mothers, of their siblings with a stony silence in their unblinking eyes, of their children with incomprehensible grief plastered on their unsmiling faces, of their spouses who do not have the courage to see the mangled bodies of their partners with whom they share a history and a family.

They are identical to those who kill them simply for being.

Imagine. Your life is marked by what you look like, your ethnicity, your faith, how you fold your hands in prayer, and where you kneel to ask your Creator to show you a path of kindness, acceptance and forgiveness because some of His people make it hard for you to exist.

Imagine. Existing like a prisoner in your place of birth, in your homeland, you will never have the security of what most of your compatriots take for granted: returning home unharmed every day without the fear of a bullet or a bomb.

Hazaras most of whom are Shia, a Persian-speaking ethnicity of Mongolian descent, immigrants from Bamiyan, a Hazara region in central Afghanistan, are mostly settled in Quetta, Balochistan.

In Quetta, they mostly live in two gated, highly protected localities: Marriabad and Hazara Town. Apart from their diurnal existence in which they need to be on constant guard, they also have frequent holy pilgrimages to Iran and Iraq. That is also when their life is endangered.

Their age, background and gender become irrelevant when they are all marked as the undesirable group that must either be restricted to its own corner or must be eliminated.

By whom? There is no single answer.

Despite protection of the state, despite vigilance of the police and other law enforcement agencies, despite provision of security at most places of prayer and business, and despite reduction in targeted attacks and acts of terrorism, there is no real sense of security for the Hazaras in Pakistan.

The latest attack is a testimony to that. On Friday, April 12, 2019, in the Hazarganji market in Quetta, 20 people including nine Hazaras and one Frontier Corps soldier died in the blast. Daesh claimed responsibility of the attack.

The four-day protest of the families of the deceased and other members of the Hazara community ended after their meeting with the representatives of the central and Balochistan governments.

While the sincerity of the provincial and federal governments to end targeted attacks on the Hazara and other persecuted communities may be sincere, and steps exist for the implementation of a mechanism of security to prevent acts of terrorism, not much will change until there is a clear message to all those who use sectarian violence as a tool of chaos and political or other hegemony: no attack will go unpunished.

In Quetta, from January 2012 to December 2017, 509 members of the Hazara community have been killed, and 627 injured, as per the 2018 report of the National Commission for Human Rights. 509 killed in five years is too many dead. For any nation that has a conscience that is alive.

In Quetta, there is a Hazara graveyard: Bihisht-e-Zainab. Bihisht is paradise in Persian. It is not only marked with the graves of the dead of the Hazara, it is full of the voices and the noise of the living Hazara. Almost every second Hazara family has lost a loved one to an act of terror, almost every Hazara is linked to the other with the bond of grief that is forever.

In Bihisht-e-Zainab, there are shops, children laughing, people of all ages interacting and chatting, and remembering their beloved deceased on happy occasions like eid.

Imagine. A graveyard is a safe place for the Hazara in their hometown.

The Hazara of Quetta, scared yet resolute, broken yet brave, find solace and protection among the silent graves of their loved ones whose lives were taken–too young, too early, too brutally.

And I say: Prime Minister Imran Khan, the Hazara of Quetta need to hear from you. Not just when they lose another loved one. They need you every day when they go to their Bihisht-e-Zainab to feel safe. Tell the Hazara that they are safe any and everywhere in Quetta. And in the rest of Pakistan. Tell the Hazara in person: they are not alone. Tell the Hazara: you are with them. Every day of their fear and pain-filled life.”

On January 2, 2021, 11 labourers were butchered in the residential compound of the Mach coalmine near Quetta. They were blindfolded, trussed up and slaughtered like animals. All of them were Hazara.

Daesh claimed responsibility.

For five days, the families of the slain Hazaras sat on a road in the sub-minus coldness of Quetta with the dead bodies of their loved ones. They demanded that Prime Minister Imran Khan visited them. Prime Minister Khan sent two of his ministers. On January 6, he tweeted that he was with them: “I share your pain and have come to you before also to stand with you in your time of suffering. I will come again very soon to offer prayers and condole with all the families personally. I will never betray my people's trust. Please bury your loved ones so their souls find peace.”

The grieving Hazaras refused to bury their loved ones. One family had lost five members. It was surreal. Tears froze on grief-stricken faces. Wails became hoarse whispers of agony. Every lament was a plea. The wait was endless.

More people joined the protest. The demand was still the same: the prime minster must visit or there would be no burial. The prime minister called the demand of the protesters “blackmail.” The representatives of the central and Balochistan governments consoled the grieving families. A “negotiation” happened. The protest ended. The loved ones of the Hazara were buried. The prime minister visited the next day.

The Hazaras of Pakistan were not safe during the presidency of General Pervez Musharraf. The Hazaras of Pakistan were not safe during the tenures of President Asif Zardari and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The Hazaras of Pakistan are not safe during the prime ministership of Imran Khan.

They are the invisible Pakistanis. They are the expendable Pakistanis. Their lives do no matter. Their deaths do not make news. Even the truly terrifying ones. The only time they become headlines is when they sit in the freezing, debilitating stillness of Quetta to lament the massacre of their loved ones. Covered in white cloth, their loved ones, in their murdered silence, narrate the story of the horror that plays in loop, over and over, in a haunting continuity. Spread across sunless days and icy nights, the silent protest becomes the loudest scream of pain.

The Hazaras of Pakistan continue to exist as the forgotten pariahs in their own country.

Despite decreased violence, governmental promises, and an intensified security mechanism, nothing will change for the Hazaras of Pakistan. They will continue to die for just being.

That is what I fear. As a human being, a Muslim, a mother, a Pakistani, an Imran Khan supporter.

Mehr Tarar, Special to Gulf News-1592296810288