Massacre of Hazara People: Covert Goals

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Pir-Mohammad Mollazehi
Expert on Pakistan and Afghanistan Issues

Quetta is the capital city of Pakistan’s Balochistan Province where the massacre of Hazara people who are Shias has almost become an everyday routine. The question is why Hazara people and why Shias have become the target of the extremist currents in Quetta? To find the answer to this question, the analyst, without any kind of prejudgment, should study the structure of local power in Quetta and also study the local ethnic groups and their viewpoints, opinions, interests and the conflict of interests in that part of Pakistan. In this way, they will achieve a more realistic understanding of the situation. Historically speaking, Baluch and Pashtun peoples have been two dominant ethnic groups that have been living in the city of Quetta since a very long time ago. Two other ethnic groups have also entered Quetta under specific conditions and in different junctures of history and have chosen the city as their abode. The latter two ethnic groups are Shia Hazara people and Sunni Punjab people. Hazara people, in turn, have immigrated to Quetta in two separate periods of history. The first period was about 150 years ago when Emir Abdur Rahman Khan, the then king of Afghanistan who also signed Durand Line Agreement with Britain, declared jihad (holy war) against Shias. As a result, Hazara people immigrated to Quetta in big groups to evade the massacre and remained there. The second period was the occupation of Afghanistan by the Red Army of the former Soviet Union as a result of which the Hazara people fled to Quetta in order to evade the war.

The fourth ethnic group living in Quetta is Punjabi. This people immigrated to Quetta as government agents or their relatives, and inhabited there under the support of the Pakistani government as well as the military and security agencies. The presence of ethnic groups in a city of a country is not, per se, very important, but the more important point is the conflict of interests and covert goals which make immigration to a city or an entire region problematic. For example, before the new wave of immigration from Punjab, and to a lesser extent from Sind, to Quetta, the current level of ethnic and religious conflicts among three ethnic groups of Baluch, Hazara, and Pashtun peoples had no precedence during the past 150 years. Throughout that long period of time, Hazara people maintained their Persian language and Shia faith and led a peaceful life with the local Baluch and Pashtun peoples. On the other hand, Hazara people were respected by all due to their important role as an ethnic and religious minority that was well versed about techniques of trade and helped with the development of Quetta. They were basically famous for their hard work and thinking and were known as people who had great respect for science and thinking.

The role played by Hazara people in economic and cultural development of Quetta and the investment made by Hazara people in the mines sector of that region, which is not compatible with the nomadic lifestyle of Baluch and Pashtun peoples, has given Hazara people upper hand over other ethnic groups. As a result, they have not only been swaying high influence in Quetta, but have been playing a powerful role in the power structure of the country after the independence of Pakistan and disintegration of the Indian Subcontinent in parallel to other independence seeking forces. In doing so, they have been able to attain the highest state positions both in Balochistan Province and at a national level across Pakistan. Perhaps you have heard the name of Muhammad Musa Khan Hazara who commanded the Pakistani army in the former East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh) during the war of independence in Bangladesh. Under the present circumstances, Hazara people also occupy high posts in the Pakistani government as Pakistani citizens, not as Hazara people of Afghan origin. Therefore, looked upon from any possible angel, the massacre of Hazara people in Quetta would seem to be a new phenomenon. To have a correct understanding of this problem, it is necessary to pose the main question of this article again: “Why Hazara people and Shias are being massacred in Quetta?” Given the fact that there has been no historical conflict of interests between Pashtun and Baluch peoples living in Quetta and Hazara people, it would inevitably follow that the conflict of interests is a recent phenomenon which involves the old Hazara immigrants vis-à-vis the new immigrants of Punjabi origin. The fact that Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (Army of Jhangvi) -- which is a Sunni radical Islamic group most of whose members are of Punjabi origin and has its own viewpoint on the issue of jihad -- has assumed responsibility for the massacres, proves that this is a problem of ethnic and religious origins which exists between Hazara and Punjabi peoples. There are allegations that Hazara people are Afghans and should go back to their own country. However, this is not an allegation by religious radical people. It is, rather, an allegation by land mafia in Quetta which aims to confiscate fertile and valuable lands that Meri family had transferred to Hazara refugees some 150 years ago and before their refugee status was granted.

Of course, since Quetta was under the British rule at that time, the title deeds for those plots of land had been issued by the governor general of British India and the same deeds are still held creditable by Hazara people. Therefore, even if the current claims by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi that Hazara people are Afghans who should go back to Afghanistan were true, they would only apply to the second wave of the immigrant Afghans, including Hazara people who immigrated to Quetta during the jihad against the Soviet Union, and could by no means be applied to the Hazara people who had immigrated to Quetta in the first wave of the immigration. When the first wave of Hazara people reached Quetta, Pakistan did not exist as an independent country. After Pakistan gained its independence in 1947, the country was recognized as a multi-ethnic nation and all people both in West and East Pakistan were considered as Pakistani nationals. As a result, Hazara people were given Pakistani nationality like other ethnic groups such as Punjabi, Sindi, Baluch and Pashtun peoples. Therefore, the current allegation by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is the most baseless claim to be raised in Quetta. If their claim is accepted, the Punjabi people immigrating to Quetta will find themselves in a similar position as Hazara people in the eyes of local Pashtun and Baluch peoples, and they will have to go back to Punjab.

In fact, however, the main issue is basically something else. This means that, firstly, the land mafia of Quetta is eying the lands, properties and assets of Hazara people. Secondly, the extremist forces are pursuing special and quite different goals by fanning the flames of ethnic and religious differences throughout Pakistan, especially in Quetta. The fact that no firm punishment has been so far administered against Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is not due to inability of Pakistan’s military and security agencies. After hearing the rumors about presence of Dr. Allah Nazar Baloch, who is known to be one of the main leaders of the armed secessionist forces, the Pakistani army laid total siege to the region which is his birthplace, launching air and land attacks on that region. The attacks led to considerable losses of life and property to local people though it was later known that the rumors have not been true. [When the army is capable of doing so on the mere basis of a rumor] how come that Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is involved in two massacres of Hazara Shias with heavy casualties in a matter of less than a month in the provincial capital city of Quetta, and it is left on its own to conduct further attacks? Therefore it is quite clear that the Pakistani army and security forces are pursuing other goals. At least, such local and ethnic groups as Baluch and Pashtun people have no conflict with Hazara people in Quetta and even believe that their presence is beneficial to their ethnic interests in the face of new immigrants coming to that region. It is no accident that after every terrorist operation and massacre of Hazara people in Quetta, there are debates about transferring the power in Balochistan Province to the army. It shows that the dismissal of the weak local government of “[Nawab Muhammad Aslam Khan] Raisani’ and transfer of power to Zulfikar Ali Magsi, the governor appointed by Islamabad, after the first massacre of Hazara people has not been enough. In fact, there are powerful groups in the power structure in Islamabad which have chosen Quetta as a place for the settlement of ethnic and religious scores. They consider that region the best theater for a proxy war between two different interpretations of Islam: the radical Sunni Islam which is supported by Saudi Arabia and the ideas of the Islamic Revolution of Iran which are gaining increasing ground among Shia people in that region. In line with that sinister plan, Hazara people who are Shia, unarmed, and pacifist have served as an easier and a more conformable target than Baluch and Pashtun peoples who know how to wield guns. The second and more important goal of power bands in Islamabad is to Talibanize the power in Quetta and Balochistan Province in response to the growing influence of certain ethnicities in that province and also to neutralize ethnic demands. The radical and jihadist Islam of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is introducing a new taste of jihadist power to Hazara people and all Shias in Quetta which is very harmful as it can trigger an all-out religious war between Shias and Sunnis whose benefits would be reaped by other people. What is clear beyond doubt is that Hazara people and the members of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi will be among the victims of such a war.

Key Words: Massacre, Hazara People, Quetta, Pakistan’s Balochistan, Baluch, Pashtun, Punjabi, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Mollazehi

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