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The recent terrorist attack in Quetta that killed 20 and injured 48 members of the Hazara community is a grim reminder of the state of minorities in Pakistan, especially the targeted killing and systematic execution of the Hazaras. The increasing attacks on the Hazaras have raised questions about the nature of such crime against minorities in Pakistan. Some label the violence as a spill-over of the Sunni Shia sectarian violence, while others label it as a systematic targeting of the Hazara community.
The sit-in protests by the Hazara against the provincial and federal government are continuing. Their demands revolve around two things, first, action against the militant organizations responsible for the targeted killing of their community and second the effective implementation of the long-promised National Action Plan (NAP). It is pertinent to know who the Hazaras are and why are they on the hit list of the terrorist groups in Pakistan?
The Hazaras of Pakistan are an ethnic group with Mongolian features, originally descendents from Central Asia. The Hazaras of Quetta (Balochistan) mainly adhere to the Shia faith and have migrated from Afghanistan to avoid persecution under the Taliban regime. But, the irony is that in Pakistan too they live a life under constant threat and terror due to the systemic persecution of their community by the Sunni fundamentalist groups who have labelled them apostate along with other minority groups like the Ahmadias, Christians and Hindus. The latest attack was claimed by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) along with a little known faction of the Taliban. The fact that the Islamic State (IS) also took responsibility for the same attack indicates that when it comes to targeting minorities, they act and react as one unity.
The LeJ has been involved in a number of attacks on the Shia community in the past. One of the deadliest attacks was the 2013 bombings that killed more than two hundred people belonging to the Hazara community. This gruesome attack was a reminder of the vulnerability of the Hazaras and prompted security forces to escort the Hazaras in buses to the daily market. Despite the security cover, the bombings took place; thus indicating the loopholes of the counter-terrorism strategies to contain the internal security threats to the minorities in the country. A top leader of a banned sectarian group LeJ, Ramzan Mengal who is known for his anti-Shia speeches and violence was released three days before the recent attack; this raises serious doubts about the government’s seriousness to implement the NAP.
The Hazaras are reiterating their demand for their security and are demanding full implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP), which is the blueprint of the Pakistan government’s Initiatives aimed at wiping out terrorist outfits across the country to effectively tackle internal threats to security. Successive Pakistani governments have not been able to implement the NAP in its entirety. On numerous occasions, the Imran Khan government has reiterated that no terrorists or terrorist organizations would be given space to operate in Pakistan.
The Hazaras are living in constant fear as their distinctive racial features make them stand out and thus makes them easy target of the Sunni militants. Seventy thousand Hazaras have already left Quetta due to fear of execution and targeted killing. In addition to this, the Hazaras are living in big clusters or ghettos in Quetta, which makes them easy targets. They have fallen victim to terrorism, sectarian violence and severe discrimination both at the hands of terrorists and Pakistani government.
However, the response of their government is lackadaisical without any proper mechanism to bring those responsible for the gruesome killings to justice. Until and unless Pakistan seriously cracks down on the source of anti-Shia and anti-Hazara hate speeches and make serious attempts to revive its inter security counter-terrorism policy under NAP, the targeted killing of Hazara and other minorities will not stop in Pakistan.
Script: Dr. Zainab Akhter, Strategic Analyst on Pakistan