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Discriminated in Afghanistan and vulnerable in Pakistan

Jun 28, 2012

The Hazara community who left their country to take refuge in Pakistan, face a life of mass ethnic persecution and discrimination; a predicament that has been largely ignored by the international community.

"Our mission is the destruction of these impure people, the Shiite Hazara refugees, from every city, every village and every corner of Pakistan. The jihad against the Shiite Hazara has now become our primary duty". 
These chilling words were inscribed on a Fatwa issued in 1996 against the Hazaras by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Pakistani terrorist organization having close links with the Al Qaeda.

The Hazaras in Pakistan, mostly Afghan refugees, have for long borne the brunt of the ethnic minority backlash orchestrated by the Sunni majority in the country. The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which continues to operate freely inside the Baluchistan province despite being banned by both the United States and Pakistan in 2002, is the principle perpetrator of the atrocities and mass killings of the Hazara refugees in Pakistan.

Hazara refugees, estimated to number anywhere between 7,000 and 600,000 are Shites, and life in Pakistan is difficult. History has been particularly cruel to the Hazaras. The word "Hazara" comes from the Persian word hazar, or "thousand." It is a common assertion that the Hazaras are the descendants of Ghengis Khan’s Mongol army who operated in units of 1000 warriors during the 12th century.

Thousands of Hazara refugees came to Pakistan in the late 1970’s. The Hazara Shiites, who are easily distinguishable from the locals because of their striking resemblance to their Mongol ancestors while exhibiting their pronounced oriental traits, are mainly concentrated in the city of Quetta along the Baluchistan-Afghanistan belt. 

The Hazaras arriving in Pakistan following the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 70's not only added to the population of Hazaras since they fled Afghanistan during the reign of Abdur Rahman Khan (1880 – 1901), they also swelled the numbers of persecuted Hazara refugees.

As a Hazara migrant, speaking on conditions of anonymity, says, "Hazaras in Afghanistan and Pakistan have been persecuted because of their ethnicity. This is evident from the Abdur Rahman Khan in Afghanistan when more than 60 per cent of Hazara were killed in an act of genocide. The rest were forced to seek refuge in exile in Iran and Pakistan."

As the humanitarian news service, IRIN pointed out in a report earlier this year, "The Hazaras constitute a distinct ethnic group, with some accounts tracing their history to central Asia. Almost all belong to the Shia Muslim sect, speak a dialect of Farsi, and are concentrated in central Afghanistan and some parts of Pakistan. There are some 6,000 to 7,000 Hazaras in the country", according to a Hazara chief, Sardar Saadat Ali.
This seems to echo the viewpoint of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, which, in a report in December 2011 said, "The situation is particularly grave for non-Muslims and minority Muslim sects. As many as 80 members of the Shia Hazara community have been killed in the province this year alone, for no reason other than their religious belief."

Extremists in Pakistan began a jihad against whatever they call Blasphemy (kofr). According to their interpretation, Hazara Shiites are infidels (kafar) and the killing of Hazarah is Halal – which means that it is legal.

"Hazaras in Afghanistan and Pakistan have been persecuted because of their ethnicity. This is evident from the Abdur Rahman Khan in Afghanistan when more than 60 per cent of Hazara were killed in an act of genocide. The rest were forced to seek refuge in exile in Iran and Pakistan."

However, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is not alone responsible for committing heinous crimes against the Hazaras. According to recent reports published by the human rights watchdog, Amnesty International, "Routine targeted killings against the Hazara and other groups because of their ethnicity, religion, or political affiliations raises serious questions about the will or ability of Pakistan security force to protect the people of Baluchistan”. 
Even after more than a decade of US occupation in Afghanistan following the 9/11 terror attacks, these refugees do not consider their home land as secure enough for them to return. Many of them are fleeing the country illegally through the porous Af-Pak border by crossing the Durand line and entering Pakistan. But as their situation in Pakistan continues to worsen each passing day owing to civil strife and sectarian violence, these refugees are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. 

On 18th April, 2012, Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper carried a story which cited a report by the Human Rights Watch which concluded that as many as 275 Shias, most of them being from the Hazara community, were killed from 2008-2011 in Pakistan’s province of Baluchistan alone. 

It’s a widespread belief that "the violence in Pakistan against the Hazaras intensified in the 1980s, following Sunni concern over the spread of Shia influence after the Iranian revolution and the subsequent funding of Sunni madrassas and institutions by Saudi Arabia throughout the Middle East," it said. 

It is asserted in many quarters that the cultural marginalisation of the Hazaras in Pakistan is taking place with this Saudi funding as a way of fighting a proxy-war with Iran. Writing in the Express Tribune, Ejaz Haider of the Jinnah Institute wrote of how these killings were, "justified [by]the target killing of Shia Hazaras in Quetta by painting them as Iranian stooges."

Hazaras occupied high position in the British army of colonial India. But after the formation of Pakistan as an independent Muslim nation, matters changed and the Hazaras became targets of a Shiite majority. 

Pakistan, on the other hand denies having any hand in acting against the Hazara refugees. Yet, in context to the Hazaras, Pakistan does not lose the opportunity to cite the "lack of adequate funding and meagre resources" as the reasons for its inability to provide proper security and rehabilitation for its refugees along the Afghanistan border, including the Hazara belt.

The international community has failed to sit up and take note of the situation. Timely action and generating enough awareness about the plight of the Shia Hazaras in Pakistan is needed. The Hazara People International Network, which is an online community of the Hazaras based in Rome, Italy, is at the forefront of generating awareness about this issue by organising rallies all over the world. 

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