Hazara attacks in Pakistan. Photo: Reuters
Hazara attacks in Pakistan. Photo: Reuters

Being a minority in a conservative or extremist society is the worst thing a community can experience. The Hazara community residing in the Pakistani city of Quetta, capital of Balochistan, is experiencing the worst surge of killings by Sunni outfits in five years. Life for them is all about praying that bullets will not kill them or their loved ones.

The Shiite Muslim Hazara community, which traces its origin to Afghanistan, has been the target of ethnic cleansing by terrorist outfits such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. They have been protesting for ages, but the authorities have never addressed the issue.

According to the latest report from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, around 509 members of the Hazara community have been killed over the past five years.

The Shiite-Sunni rift was brought to Pakistan in the 1980s by the military dictator General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq in a bid to legitimize martial law. Pakistan has since then been facing ethnic and sectarian wars between Shiites and Sunnis. Saudi Arabia and Iran have also fueled the violence in Pakistan by funding the religious clerics and seminaries of both sects.

Members of the Hazara community are easy to recognize, and extremist Sunni outfits, mostly backed by the Taliban and al-Qaeda, take advantage of this.

The people of this community are forced to live in separate colonies with high concrete walls surrounding them and multiple check posts at the entry gates, which make them like jails. They are advised by the law enforcement agencies not to roam freely in the city of Quetta and they usually stay at home after 8pm, as it is not safe to leave their residential areas after dark.

Their inability to move in different parts of the city has resulted in a lack of job opportunities and hurt them financially. Killings of Hazara people during the month of April have sparked widespread outrage in the community, and a female activist and lawyer, Jalila Haider, went on a hunger strike to protest against these acts of genocide.

On the other hand, the banned extremist group Lashkar-e-Jahngvi, which usually claims responsibility for the killings of Hazara people on the basis of their faith (declaring Shiites to be non-Muslims), is still distributing pamphlets against the Hazara community and vows to banish them completely from the country, as for them Shiites are non-believers and a great threat to their Sunni faith.

Meanwhile, the state is busy fighting against insurgency and unrest in Balochistan, and it seems that protecting the Hazara community is not a priority.

Shiites are not the only minority facing extremism and threats; Ahmadis, Christians, and Hindus are all subject to exploitation, and life for them in Pakistan mean just to live another day.

Ahmadis are a Muslim sect who follow Mirza Ghulam Ahmad as their prophet. They are deemed blasphemers and have to hide their identity most of the time in order to survive.

Hindu women in Thar, a desert area of Sindh province, are subject to forced marriages by landlords and other influential local people and forced conversion are also practiced against them.

The persecution of Christians mostly takes the form of accusations of blasphemy, and in most cases, the allegation is leveled against them to settle matters of personal enmity or for a small monetary gain.

Fanatics in Pakistan are busy day and night discovering new ways of making life difficult for their fellow human beings, and after doing this they still wonder why the world thinks of their nation as a terrorist state

While the world is discovering new methods and social contracts to make life easier for humanity, fanatics in Pakistan are busy day and night discovering new ways of making life difficult for their fellow human beings, and after doing this they still wonder why the world thinks of their nation as a terrorist state.

It is the height of hypocrisy that while settling abroad in Western countries, such people demand equal rights and freedom of expression. They criticize US President Donald Trump for being unjust to Muslims and Pakistanis but proudly usurp the rights of minorities in their own country. In fact, it is not only minorities, but any dissident voices that  do not buy a particular religious interpretation or agrees with a certain set of beliefs is accused of contempt or blasphemy.

The mindset of not listening to criticism and the belief that we are superior to all others because of our belief is actually the main cause of atrocities and injustice prevailing in society in the name of protecting religion or a certain sect. Sadly, it is not understood that truth needs no protection and no guardians to ensure it prevails. Reality can neither be changed nor destroyed by propaganda or the use of force.

Haider began her hunger strike despite the repeated promises by the interior minister of Balochistan, Mir Sarfraz Bugti, to address the issue and to take every possible step against the killings of Hazara people. Pakistani Chief of Army Staff Qamar Javad Bajwa arrived in Quetta and on Wednesday, after meeting with members of the Hazara community, was able to persuade them to call off their protests, including Haider’s hunger strike. Soon after Bajwa’s visit, a suspect allegedly involved in the targeted killings of members of the community was arrested, and the Supreme Court of Pakistan took notice of the issue.

Whether Bajwa’s prompt response will stop the persecution of the Hazara community remains to be seen. It is not the duty of the chief of army staff to devise strategy and policies for structural changes in society. If the elected governments cannot even form policies to discourage the extremist mindset just because they fear the right-wing vote bank, then they cannot complain about democracy being undermined.

It is very easy to understand that in any society, there are different communities of people whose beliefs, ideologies and concepts of life are different from one another. This is the reason that modern states do not try to create a social fabric based on a religious narrative. In fact, in modern social structures, states do not have anything to do with the beliefs of the people living in their society. A social structure is always created to accommodate every single citizen so a society can be formed that is diverse in nature, is peaceful, and where every single human can live freely according to his own personal ideology.

There is a dire need for the state of Pakistan to stop the marginalization of minorities by playing a role in discouraging extremist mindsets and denouncing support toward religious clerics and extremists. It should try to promote a culture of debate on interfaith harmony and other sensitive issues related to religion and faith. It is time to eliminate banned outfits like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, or else members of the Hazara community and other minorities will continue to suffer at the hands of these fanatics.

Imad Zafar is a journalist and columnist/commentator for newspapers. He is associated with TV channels, radio, newspapers, news agencies, and political, policy and media related think-tanks.

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