Genocide of the Pakistani Hazara: where does the responsibility lie?

The targeted killing of Pakistan's Shia Hazara minority continues. The Pakistani government remains inactive. Impunity makes the government partially responsible.

Thousands of people all over the world have gathered together as a sign of solidarity against the bloody attack that happened on January 11, 2013 in Quetta. Thousands of people flooded the streets of Pakistan’s main cities, including Karachi, Islamabad and Lahore, to issue a joint condemnation and demonstrate against the ongoing killing of one of the most vulnerable Shia minorities in Baluchistan, the Hazara. Demonstrators have staged overnight sit-in protests in front of Pakistani embassies all over the world and Facebook pages with condemnations and support appeared immediately after the attacks had been carried out.

These events unfolded after a wave of blasts hit Alamdar road of Quetta city in Pakistan resulting in the death of about 100 people. The area hit by the string of bombings is considered to be home to the Shia- Hazara community. These devastating attacks were no isolated incident since the Hazara community of Quetta has been facing severe persecution and ongoing discrimination. It has also been the victim of targeted killings.

According to the American-based Hazara Organization for Peace and Equality (HOPE) a chain of attacks in 2012 alone left more than 112 innocent people dead and several hundreds injured. Although numbers vary, in the past decade overall deliberate killings of Hazara people in the capital of Baluchistan range between 800 to 1000.

A number of brutal attacks have been carried out on the Hazara Shias in Quetta. However, those that most shocked the international community and Shias around the world included the September 19, 2011 bus attack in the north-western Balochi city of Mastung, which resulted in the brutal shooting of 29 Hazaras. Only half a kilometre from a Pakistani police checkpoint they were ordered off a bus and shot in front of their women and children who were spared by the heavily armed terrorists. Another 12 were killed after being identified as Hazara Shias in Akhatarabad Quetta on October 4, 2011. 

These killings fit into the larger framework of deliberate and targeted killings of Hazara. Constituting a minority within Pakistan’s 20% Shia community, the Hazara are easy distinguishable by their clearly Mongolian features. More than 5 million people consider themselves to be Hazara, a vast majority of whom live in Afghanistan (constituting at least 20% of the country’s population), followed by around a million in Pakistan.  

Originally departing from the mountainous Hazarajat area in central Afghanistan, the Hazara left for Pakistan’s Quetta as it has long been regarded as a safe haven for the Hazara people compared to Afghanistan.

The large-scale arrival of Hazara in Quetta came in the wake of military events that shook Afghanistan. The Soviet withdrawal in 1989, the collapse of the Najibullah government in 1992, the capture of Kabul by the Taliban in 1998 and finally the American intervention in 2001 triggered waves of refugees heading towards Baluchistan’s capital Quetta.  

The artificially created porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Durand line, never really presented a barrier for the region's inhabitants. Initially welcomed by the Pakistani government, the Hazara were registered as one of Pakistan’s indigenous tribes.

But since 1999 the situation for the Hazara steadily worsened and Quetta, once constituting a safe refuge, turned out to be as insecure and unstable as their previous home.

The banned terrorist organisation Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) has unambiguously claimed responsibility for the killings of the hundreds of innocent Shias and Hazaras in Pakistan. After the September 19 attack, while claiming responsibility for killing the 29 pilgrims in Mastung, a spokesman of the LeJ said: "Our activists will continue to target the Shi'ite community". A few weeks before the massacre, the LeJ circulated an open letter addressed to Hazaras in Quetta, warning of their intention to eradicate the Shia Hazara minority. Despite the open threat letter, no action was taken by the state authorities to protect the Hazara minority.

Behind the tragedy of the brutal Hazara killings lie the broader problems from which Pakistan is suffering at present: the inability and unwillingness of the Pakistani government to carry out its responsibility to protect its citizens. Different causes, mayhem in the streets of Karachi, uncontrollable tribal areas and a growing problem with multiple terrorist organisations all share one common malfunction of the state: the judicial system.

The July 14 release of Malik Ishaq, the leader of LeJ reveals the inability of the Pakistani judiciary to sufficiently deal with the growing terrorist threat. After being held in custody, Ishaq had to be released by the Supreme Court in Islamabad, as evidence was suspiciously fading away and witnesses were being silenced. The role of the Government remains unclear, although it can be assumed that the shifting alliances between military, intelligence services and the government often support and use those very terrorist organisations in order to serve bigger political means, especially regarding the ongoing conflict with India in Kashmir. Up to this day no perpetrator has been convicted for the killings of the Hazaras and the murderers can pursue their bloody business openly.

Although the Islamic faith requires an immediate burial of the dead, the Hazara community has spoken out against the lawlessness and the failure of the government to offer them protection by refusing to bury the people killed in the attacks. Quetta’s devastated Alamdar road was until yesterday evening still covered with dozens of dead Hazaras, waiting for the Government to finally take action and prosecute those responsible for killing members of their community. Meanwhile, Hazara members who have been protesting in front of the Pakistani embassy in London have advised the Hazara people in Quetta to set up their own defence strategies, as the Pakistani government remains silent.

The silence of the Pakistani government and its failure to protect its own citizens is a damning indictment of their complicity in their murder.

About the authors

Noor Alnagar graduated in Middle Eastern studies and international law and is interested in sectarian tension and minority politics.

Malekeh Naqvi is a Queen Mother scholar and qualified as a barrister primarily interested in post-war human rights abuses, terrorism and international human rights principles.