No Solution in Sight

Written by Huzaima Bukhari & Dr. Ikramul Haq  •  Region  •  April 2013 PDF Print E-mail

The systematic persecution of the Hazara community in Balochistan has led to strong public opposition and a call for urgent government and military action to quell the rot.

The unabated killing of hundreds of innocent people in the name of religion in a country where people claim to be the followers of the Quran is enigmatic. The oft-repeated assertion that ‘Pakistan came into being in the name of Islam’ has led to a gradual “theocratic” state where every sect strives to impose its interpretation on others - even if it requires using force. On the one hand, many in Pakistan quote the Quran as stating that “if one kills another except as a punishment for murder or for spreading disorder in the land it shall be as if he has killed the entire humanity” [5:32]. On the other hand, complete apathy prevails over the loss of precious human lives on a daily basis in various parts of the country. The Quran clearly says that “if one saves the life of a single person it shall be as if he has saved mankind entirely,” but many outlawed sectarian outfits plead that it is their religious duty to kill all those who do not agree with their brand of Islam.

The wanton bombing on February 16, 2013 in Hazara Town, Quetta that killed 95 and wounded over 200 Hazaras - including women and children - elicited countrywide protests, bringing to the streets people seething with anger, outrage, shock, dismay and grief followed by sit-ins in various cities that paralyzed normal life. At the global level, the reaction was equally strong. The UN Secretary-General, while condemning terrorist attacks on religious and ethnic minorities in Pakistan, called for swift and determined action against those claiming responsibility and perpetrating such actions. Earlier, rallies in Australia, US, UK, Austria, Norway, Denmark and Canada marked an international day of protest against the unending wave of attacks on Hazaras in Pakistan.

Hazaras, primarily professing the Shi’ite faith, have been persecuted and discriminated against for centuries. They were expelled from Central Asia to Afghanistan, to Pakistan and elsewhere. More than 900,000 Hazaras live in Pakistan, with thousands residing in Quetta. The Hazara community have faced perpetual persecution in Afghanistan at the hands of Taliban - and others before them. The Taliban in Afghanistan ruthlessly attack Shias, burn villages and kidnap community members, driving the Hazaras into Pakistan. In Pakistan, extremist Sunni militant outfits, allies of Pakistani Taliban, have unleashed sectarian attacks on the Hazaras, alleging that they receive Iranian support.

In the wake of two brazen attacks on the Hazaras in Quetta, both within 40 days, a strong demand was made from the bereaved families, the Shia community and the public at large for immediate action against the extremist militant group, Lashkar-i-Jhangvi that openly accepted responsibility for these attacks. In Quetta, thousands of Hazaras - men, women and children – staged sit-ins despite the bitterly cold weather, refused to bury the dead unless action was taken against the perpetrators and the city was handed over to the army. Through their peaceful protests and demands for a fundamental constitutional right to live, the weak and the helpless Hazaras have won the support of millions of their fellow countrymen and humanity at large.

The Hazara Town tragedy jolted the entire nation and the Supreme Court consequently took suo moto action of the incident. While the government failed to crack down on extremists even after imposing Governor’s rule in Balochistan and despite receiving credible information from intelligence agencies of well-planned, ghastly attacks, as usual, it shifted the blame on foreign players as the Inspector General Police said, “Some hidden hands want to destabilize the country by engineering a Sunni-Shia conflict.”

Proceedings before the Supreme Court and news reports confirm that the devastating bombings could have been prevented if military intelligence and police officers had sufficiently followed up on evidence gathered against the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi. Finally, the government, under tremendous pressure, launched an operation on February 19 against the LeJ and claimed to have killed and arrested some of its members. In the wake of this operation and assurances given to the leaders of the Hazara community, most mourners agreed to bury their loved ones.

On February 20, burials of blast victims took place amid tears and sorrow in the Hazara Town graveyard. Thousands of Hazaras participated in the mass funeral that was marred by violent protests and aerial firing. Though sit-ins in major cities of the country also ended, the tragedy left many unanswered questions. The most vital one was that who was financing the terrorist and militant outfits like Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and what are their aims and objectives? Many question as to why intelligence agencies did not act after knowing that a huge quantity of chemicals was transported from Lahore were asked by the media. While there are no two opinions about the complete failure of the government, law enforcement and intelligence agencies, the unsolved mystery is why Lashkar-i-Jhangvi that openly kills Shias is not dealt with the same iron hand as nationalists are treated by the FC and other paramilitary law enforcement agencies? The answer to this mind-baffling question takes us back to Zia’s era of bigotry. Pakistan has faced perpetual crises of all sorts with religious intolerance being the worst amongst them. The increasing role of the clergy in politics has culminated in the genocide of the minority Shia sect and forced conversion of people of other faiths.

The solution lies in what was asserted by the Army Chief in his address at the 65th Independence Day parade at the Pakistan Military Academy on 2 May 2012. General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani said, “the army cannot succeed in its endeavors against terrorists without support of the people.” He clearly indicated that terrorists were enjoying support from within, besides getting funds from outside. Despite such a bold statement from the Army, the political leadership, instead of seizing the moment to usher in much-needed strategies, paid no heed to Kayani’s points. Kayani stated that (i) the fight against extremism and terrorism is our own war and we must fight it whole-heartedly (ii) if we remain divided we may head towards a civil war (iii) the war against extremism and terrorism cannot be fought by the army alone; and (iv) it is imperative for the entire nation to unite because the army cannot succeed without the co-operation of the people.

The seriousness of the governments — federal and provincial — and the parliament can be gauged from the fact that neither special laws were enacted nor anti-terrorism combat units formed  in the last five years to deal with the growing menace as has been done by other states facing similar challenges. The result is before us - carnages like Hazara Town, attacks on sensitive military installations and daily killings have become routine occurrences. The entire state apparatus is crumbling and if immediate remedial measures are not taken, the day is not far when it will collapse completely. The Hazara Town tragedy is only a symptomatic reflection of the actual malady. 

Huzaima Bukhari & Dr. Ikramul Haq are partners in the law firm Huzaima & Ikram (member Taxand) and Adjunct Professors at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).

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