By Zia Ur Rehman
QUETTA – Targeted killings are driving Hazaras, a Shia ethnic minority, to leave Quetta for safer areas.
About 25 Hazaras have been killed in three different attacks in Quetta over the past two months, Amjad Hussain, a senior journalist, told Central Asia Online. Some 300,000 Hazaras live in Quetta. Most recently, Hazara police officers Aashiq Hussain and Amjad Ali were killed July 10.
“]Hazara athlete Syed Abrar Hussain Shah, a former Olympic boxer and deputy director general of the Pakistan Sports Board, was gunned down in Quetta June 16. Shah represented Pakistan three times at the Olympics and won a gold medal at the 1990 Asian Games in Beijing, Hussain said.
In another sectarian outburst May 18, unidentified men shot and killed seven members of the Hazara community, including a baby, and critically wounded five others in Mirgahi Khan Chowk, Quetta.
Similarly on May 6, a rocket barrage killed seven Hazara men and injured several others in Hazara Town.
LeJ is blamed
Government officials and locals blame al-Qaeda linked Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and other militant groups for trying to fan sectarian violence in the city.
“The nature of the killings of Hazaras in Quetta is sectarian, not ethnic, and it seems the LeJ-linked militants are involved in these killings,” said Quetta police official Ameer Muhammad Dashti said, adding that law enforcement agencies have arrested many suspects. Investigations are under way to unearth the real motive, he said.
The LeJ has taken responsibility for the attacks cited above as well as others.
The LeJ’s spokesman in Balochistan, who identified himself as Ali Sher Haidri, threatened to avenge the May 2 killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by targeting not only government ministers and security personnel but also Hazara Shias, media reported.
Recently, threatening letters have circulated in Hazara areas in Quetta, warning residents to prepare for more violence. Such letters have promised to continue a so-called holy war against the Shia Hazaras, much like that carried out by the Afghan Taliban against that country’s Hazara minority.
Usman Saifullah Kurd and Shafiqur Rehman Rind lead the LeJ network in Quetta, said Iqtidar Ali, a Hazara political analyst. Police arrested Rind in 2003 and Kurd in June 2006. Both escaped from a Quetta jail in January 2008. Rind was recaptured in July 2008, but Kurd remains at large.
Oppression during Taliban rule
In Afghanistan, the Taliban regime oppressed Hazaras in Bamiyan and Ghazni provinces and parts of Uruzgan that later became Daykundi Province, Ali told Central Asia Online.
The LeJ and other banned sectarian outfits – especially Jundullah and Jaish-e-Muhammad – are linked with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban and are involved in killings of Hazara Shias, he added.
Terrorists have targeted the Hazara community for years and have assassinated its leaders, Abdul Khaliq, head of the Hazara Democratic Party (HDP), told Central Asia Online, adding that such incidents were desperate attempts to destroy the peace of Balochistan and instigate sectarian riots. One high-profile assassination was that of Hussain Ali Yousafi, then chairman of the HDP, in Quetta in January 2009.
“Our people happen to be an easier target … because of our distinct Mongolian features,” Khaliq said.
The recent killings are meant to widen the gulf between the Sunni and Shia sects, as well as between the Hazaras on one side and the local Pashtuns and Baloch on the other, said Syed Nasir Ali Shah, a Quetta member of the National Assembly. The terrorists want to convert progressive and liberal Balochistan into a “religious and Talibanised” province, he said.
Some Hazaras said that the LeJ has given them until 2012 to leave the area and have warned of more violence. The threat has caused many of them to leave Quetta for safer places in Pakistan such as Karachi, Islamabad, Lahore and elsewhere.
“We were compelled to leave for Karachi after several family members were attacked by the LeJ terrorists in past few years,” said one man who reached Karachi recently on condition of anonymity to protect his family. “We had only two options: choose our lives or our native town of Quetta.”