Hazaras in Pakistan face a double jeopardy—they are in minority and are Shias. They are therefore easy targets of extremist groups and their patrons, the intelligence services, who view them as `enemies` because of their looks and origin.
The Hazaras are as much Pakistani as others but live like unwanted outsiders, bearing humiliations and threats every moment of their living existence. Other Pakistanis do not care much about what happens to the Hazaras who are forced to live in the ghettos of Quetta, a life riddled with fear and impoverishment.
In a long and scathing reportage, the Pakistani English daily, Dawn, summed up the general apathy thus: “ In the corridors of power in Balochistan, Hazara persecution means little to others. When a Hazara gets gunned down or when their homes are bombed, it simply registers as life as usual for most in power.“
So, it was not surprising that when early October, three Shia Hazaras were gunned down in Quetta, there was hardly any whimper of protest or anguish among other Pakistanis. Before these brutal killings, a family of four Hazaras in Mastung had met the same fate. For years and decades, the Hazaras have been at the receiving end of the state’s brutality or callous indifference. This is what Dawn said on the recent killings: “ In the violence against civilians in the country, the repeated targeting of Hazaras in Balochistan stands out as a particularly grim failure of the state. “
The Sunni extremist groups look at the Hazaras as infidels and do everything possible to either drive them out of Pakistan or force them to take shelter in ghettoes of Quetta. In Quetta, the Hazara community are concentrated in two localities in the city’s eastern and western sides: Marriabad and Hazara Town. They rarely dare to venture out of these ghettos because their distinct looks make them easy targets. Like the three Hazara vegetable vendors who were gunned down while seeking customers on a city road early October.
Not that the state could not tackle these extremist groups targeting Hazaras and other minorities. In most of the cases, the state’s complicity become apparent in the failure to prosecute any of the killers; the killers roam about freely and their patron groups operate openly in cities and villages across Pakistan with impunity. The state, more specifically the army, plays another duplicitous game with the Hazaras. Every time, there is a killing of the Hazaras in and around Quetta, the security forces launch a manhunt targeting the Baloch people, charging them, wrongly of course, of the killings. For the army, such killings offer double benefit—they allow minorities like the Hazaras to be eliminated by their proxy agents of terror while using the opportunity to target the Baloch. This has been going on for so long that it has now become a standard operating protocol in Balochistan.
For the Hazaras, increasingly targeted by the extremist groups, often with the direct or indirect consent of the armed forces, there are only two ways out—flee or get killed. ‘
The exodus of the Hazaras first began in the late 90s when they came under an unrelenting wave of targeted violence. It was a trickle at first and since then, over the years, close to 70,000 Hazaras have abandoned their home for distant lands like Indonesia and Australia where life is relatively safer but not living. Those who held well-paid jobs in the health, education and government sectors and ran flourishing businesses are forced to do menial jobs in their land of refuge. The journey itself is fraught with great peril, hundreds perishing on the sea journey to Australia, Indonesia or Europe. The number of such tragic deaths is around 800.
With the government failing to provide any modicum of security to its Hazara citizens, the extremist elements became bolder over the years, openly threatening the community. For instance, during the Asif Ali Zardari government, in 2013 extremist groups threatened the Hazaras to leave Quetta by 2013 or get killed. A Human Rights Watch report from that time states: “There is no travel route, no shopping trip, no school, or no work commute that is safe for the Hazaras.”
The Dawn report pointed out that since 2008, when the number of attacks against the Hazara community became high again, Hazaras began to sell their houses and businesses and became part of the global illegal human trafficking racket—many ending up in Malayasia and Indonesia where they paid 4000 to 5000 US dollars to get on a boat to Australia or New Zealand.
With the world-wide restrictions on refugees growing, it is becoming even more difficult for the Hazaras to find a refuge. For them, home is where the enemy is and outside is a world wary and suspicious of frightened people fleeing their homes. As an elder Hazara told a writer, all that is left for Pakistan government to do is to buy their homes and properties and businesses, put them all in a ship and push it out into the sea. He called it a Nowhere Ship.
Today, in Pakistan, where the Hazaras over the generations, have built a small but progressive community, they have become the No Where People
(The author is a Kashmir based Freelance journalist )