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Islamic State's killings of Hazaras in Balochistan show persecution of community in Pakistan continues unabated

Hazaras are said to be disproportionately targeted by sectarian violence as they are easily identifiable due to their distinctive physical appearance

FP StaffJanuary 04, 2021 14:47:51 IST

    The deaths of 11 Shia Hazara coal miners in a terrorist attack in Pakistan's Balochistan bring into sharp focus the persecution of the community in the country.

    Notwithstanding Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan's public condemnation of the attack, little action seems to have been taken to secure the rights of the minority community.

    Authorities in Pakistan as well as international human rights groups have taken note of the plight of Hazaras in Pakistan, but targeted crimes against the community seem to continue unabated.

    Attack on coal miners

    Eleven coal miners were shot dead from a close range shortly after being abducted by the armed terrorists in the province’s mountainous Machh area, the police said.

    The miners were going to work when they were abducted, PTI quoted senior police officials as saying. Six of the miners died on the spot while five succumbed on their way to a nearby hospital, the officials said.

    The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the killings, as noted by a BBC report.

    Murtaza Jatoi, an official of the Balochistan Levies, said that the terrorists first carried out an identity parade of the miners before taking them away to execute them. Others were left unharmed.

    Balochistan chief minister Jam Kamal Khan has condemned the incident and sought an inquiry report from the authorities concerned.

    Who are the Hazaras?

    Hazaras are a mainly Shi’ite community, who were persecuted by the Sunni Taliban during its 1996-2001 rule in Afghanistan. Many of them fled to Iran and Pakistan, where rights groups say they are still persecuted, as noted by Reuters.

    Hazaras in particular are said to be disproportionately targeted by sectarian violence as they are easily identifiable due to their distinctive physical appearance.

    The Pakistani province of Balochistan has witnessed violence against Hazaras for more than a decade and half by militants who consider them as heretics.

    The attack on Sunday is not the first time that the Hazaras have been targeted by extremist outfits in Balochistan. In the last few years, hundreds of Hazaras have been killed in either suicide bomb attacks, planted bomb blasts or target killings.

    In April 2019, there was a suicide bomb attack at a marketplace in a Hazara housing society in which at least 21 people including nine Hazaras and two security personnel were killed and scores injured. The Islamic State and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility for the attack.

    In September 2017, four members of a minority Shia Hazara family were killed by unidentified gunmen in Balochistan.

    In October 2016, gunmen opened fire on a bus carrying Hazara men and women in Quetta. Four women were killed in that attack.

    2018 report by Pakistan's Commission for Human Rights says that as per official figures, 509 Hazaras have been killed and 627 injured in incidents of sectarian violence since January 2012. The commission also took note of reports that said over 2,000 members of the community were killed in the past 14 years.

    Historical perspective

    While Hazaras face widespread persecution in Pakistan today, the situation was different in earlier decades. Through much of the 20th Century, Hazara migrants were allowed to live Pakistan relatively unaffected, as noted by an article in The Print.

    However, this changed once General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq came to power in 1978 and initiated his policy of Islamisation of Pakistan. This policy led to the proliferation of Sunni militant groups and anti-Shia policies.

    Subsequently, as a result of systematic persecution, Hazaras were forced to live in two ghettos in Balochistan — the Mari Abad and Hazara Town districts. Meanwhile, about 70,000 members of the community have taken a precarious migration route to countries such as Australia in a bid of better and safer life, as noted by The Diplomat.

    Thus, notwithstanding condemnation of violence by political leaders in Pakistan, it appears that little actual effort has been taken to curb prejudice and violence against Hazaras.

    With inputs from PTI


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