Since the advent of 2013, Hazaras of Quetta have been targeted with impunity, being killed mercilessly as if their lives were of no consequence. Prior to 2013, too the Hazara community has been hunted down, being off loaded from passenger buses and vehicles and slaughtered like animals. The January 10 massacre resulted in the death of over 100 innocent victims but instead of expressing sympathy for their loss, the Balochistan provincial government displayed callousness and apathy towards the families of the victims. Even the federal government, took its time to respond; it remained oblivious to the plight of the Hazaras, who weathered rain and sub-zero temperatures, waiting patiently with the mortal remains of their loved ones, refusing to bury them till punitive action was taken against the provincial government, which had failed to provide them security.
It was only when international pressure was borne upon them, foreign media flashed the heart rending images of infants, women and old persons maintaining their vigil with the coffins of their beloveds in the inclement weather and demonstrations by human rights activists in various capitals of the world that the Prime Minister of Pakistan decided to visit Quetta and appease the Hazaras. The dissolution of the inept and ineffective Balochistan Provincial Assembly was a foregone conclusion but once it came into effect, the reaction of the now defunct parliamentarians was quite to the contrary. The former legislators, who had displayed indifference towards the killing of Hazaras, suddenly became united to demonstrate and protest towards the dissolution of the Provincial Government and the imposition of Governor’s Rule. They found a sizable number of supporters in the federal government too, who raged fire and brimstone at their removal from power. Unfortunately, it appears that the decision to hand over the control of Balochistan to the Governor was not a result of a well thought out strategy and no plan was put into place to restore law and order in the strife-torn province, which appears to have become a hotbed for conspiracies and the enemies of Pakistan to use its soil and people for destabilizing the country.
Only forty days later an equally devastating bomb attack targeted the patriotic, peaceful and law abiding Hazara community of Quetta city. It would have appeared that the law enforcing agencies now operating under the direct control of the Governor and the Federal Government, would have learnt a few lessons from the January incident but alas again 90 innocent Hazaras paid the price with their lives. This time around, reportedly, the massive bomb explosion was caused by a large amount of incendiary material being hidden in a large sized water container tied to a trailer. It is contrary to reason that the law enforcing agencies failed to detect and preempt the dastardly attack, which took such a heavy toll of lives.
Once again the peaceful Hazara Community had no option but to silently protest the brutal attack by refusing to bury their dead till the perpetrators of the heinous crime were brought to the book and the state provided them protection. One of their major demands was that the Army should be called in to maintain law and order. The entire country saw peaceful demonstrations and ultimately, the Hazaras were convinced to bury their dead with the dignity that they deserved. The problem however persists.
One needs to examine, who are the real detractors of peace and harmony in the province. The banned but deadly Lashkar-e-Jhangvi , which has claimed responsibility for both the attacks, are sworn enemies of the Shias and have found a soft target in the Hazaras thus they target them with impunity. The question is who is motivating the kilers? Perhaps some clue can be found in the element that sometime back, the Punjabi settlers in Balochistan were being targeted and killed. At that time, the assailants were cracked down upon with full force and the attacks stopped. The second clue lies in the fact that the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi belong to the province of Punjab. Reportedly, they have had close liaisons with the current Ministry of Interior in the Punjab Province. Is it too much of a coincidence that the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is targeting Shias and other soft targets with full liberty in Balochistan, Karachi as well as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa but sparing their home province in Punjab?
Perhaps the answer lies here.
On the other hand, the Hazaras’ demand of handing over Quetta to the Army has been brushed aside. Desperate times call for desperate measures but the Army is the last resort and calling it would indicate that all options have been exhausted. Taking a cue, a number of TV anchors and analysts are busy besmirching the good name of the army and holding it responsible for the killings implying that it wants to take over the control of Quetta. These charges lack conviction because cleaning the Augean’ Stables of the turmoil in Balochistan province and its capital Quetta would necessitate a Herculean effort. The Pakistan Army already has its hands full in combating terrorism and conducting the war on terror in Swat, Waziristan and the Tribal Agencies. It also has to maintain vigil at the Line of Control, which has been heating up because of Indian belligerence and bellicosity. It is but obvious that the Army is so deeply embroiled in executing the tasks assigned to it by the Government to defend Pakistan from the external as well as internal enemies, that it would not dream of upsetting the applecart of democracy and usurp power of the country what to say of Balochistan or Quetta. Pakistan Army has already sacrificed enough of its manpower and physical assets in the war on terror and continues to mount vigil and defend the citadel of Pakistan that it merits the moral support of every patriotic Pakistani rather than dragging its name in mud.
As far as the question of targeting the Hazaras and other innocent Pakistanis by demonic miscreants is concerned, it is the duty of the intelligentsia to expose the real perpetrators of the crime so that the killing fields must stop. The need of the hour is to pay full attention to the peril of terror attacks, mount extreme vigilance and pool resources of every citizen, media and the law enforcing agencies to ensure that terror does not prevail.
By Sultan M Hali
The author, a retired PAF Group Captain, served as Air & Naval attaché at Riyadh and is currently a columnist, analyst and TV talk show host.