Not just Sectarian

Not just Sectarian10 January, 2013: As Pakistan drenched itself in a bloodbath of Hazara suffering, this year started with a not too promising start for the well being of the weak. Blasts specifically targeting the Shia community in Quetta and Swat claimed a total of 130 people. Predominantly Hazara, the Shia community in Pakistan has faced persecution since the late 1970s, amidst a Sunnification agenda (Zia-ul-Haq) back home and perfect temperature for Wahabi versus Shia proxy wars. When and how the Militant Moulvi and Madrassa culture, with Kalashnikovs and weed became symbolic of growing sectarian strife is debatable. But the problem lies somewhere between porous borders, a sense of marginalization in various communities and Pakistan’s unconditional alliance with the West.

As Khomeini’s Shia Revolution became a huge success, Saudi Arabia was afraid of a similar turnout in Iraq. Iraq with the help of not only Saudi Arabia and the Muslim World, but the whole world was able to attack Iran. The First Persian Gulf War which lasted 8 years was a strategic move to keep Iran preoccupied. Simultaneously on Iran’s Eastern border laid Pakistan. Right after Iran revolution Madrasas were established in Pakistan with the manpower of Pakistan, money of Saudi Arabia and USA’s master mind. It was then onwards that a mindset of sectarian divide was nurtured. Prior to this empowerment of the Mullah little, if any, strife between the sectarian strata surfaced. Today, however ethnic and sectarian divides perpetuate conflict. Recently the Hazara Shia community, especially since 2010 has been besieged in growingly grotesque mannerism. Karachi’s infamous slum Layari is another broiling pot of hate-politic.

2011 and 2012 have seen a chain of violent attacks at the Shia/ Hazara community. Hundreds have been dragged out of buses and gunned down: In Balochistan on their way to or from pilgrimage in Iran, in Chilas in March 2011. More recently the bomb blasts from last week hit an unmatched death toll of 130 (out which around 100 were in Quetta). Violence against the Hazara community is not unique to Pakistan. The Pashtoons and Hazara in Afghanistan have been at odds for centuries, and amidst warrior blood, the relatively docile Hazara have not endured well in terms of discrimination. Pakistan has the third largest Hazara population in the world, followed by Afghanistan and Iran.  But the largest number of attacks in the past few years.

Conventionally the conflict between the Shia and Sunnis (partially also Wahabis) was born out of the womb of religious intolerance, and the application of religious acumen even in the political realm. As Hazara blood continues to flow, we fail to ascribe part of this blood to imagination outside religious rhetoric. Recent facts about Quetta’s economic prosperity and Hazara business shrewdness tamper with initial simplistic explanations for the escalating violence. Balochistan has become the hub of conflict, turmoil and insecurity. The Baloch have been asking for a greater share of the pie, and the Pashtoon, almost as many in number as the Baloch, will be giving up what they have earned if Baloch demands are fulfilled blindly.

But perhaps the real conflict is not over religious difference. Nor is it for ethnic difference. But the starting place lies in the economic variables. We have seen this to be true for all the wars fought for humanity. Why is it that while Rwandan genocide in which 20% of the total country’s population was slaughtered in cold blood, no humanitarian intervention was deemed necessary? On the other hand in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan the liberty of their citizens became with spending billions on? It is a sad fact that wars are an investment. Human conflict has always boiled down to the ever growing greed, and resources equal strength. The basic problem initially is between Pushtoons and Hazaras, as they are the oldest in the province’s capital.

When we address the ongoing conflict between the Shia and Sunni, we ignore the economic undertones of their presence in the societies that they interact in. Hazara in Quetta are a minority, but with more business acumen and consistency than rival communities in the city (essentially Pashtoon) they have managed to secure a major chunk of the city’s resources. Pashtoons had the prime lands in the city since beginning but the years passed the Hazaras upgraded themselves in various fields other than business and real estate. Pashtoons on the other hand maintained estate and smuggling as business. The only major reason of Hazaras to success is education. And as a relatively educated community they happen to be less assuming.

As protests etch at the religious intolerance in Pakistan spark, and the Hazara community pulls off a wit in protest, refusing to bury their 96 dead will the government take a stand for them, it is really more than religious intolerance. In a sense religious rhetoric is a shield, because who can argue with emotion. We can speak of intolerance, but it is not individuals who can orchestrate such bloodshed so consistently. The slow genocide of the Shia community is planned not only by ‘enemies’ of Pakistan, by religiously driven individuals, but groups that are looking at the current instability and bloodshed as an economic investment.

Hatred for the Hazara is deeply rooted in the psyche that has resorted to economic gain in terms of religious motive. So it should be inaccurate to fight for tolerance towards the Shia community. It would also be insufficient to only address ‘Shia-ness’ (religious sect) of the Hazara people as the source of conflict. Violence is towards the Hazara community may have started by sectarian argument. Pakistan was the perfect battle ground for the various spheres of influence because armies were prepared. Sectarian division existed from the start, but conflict started in the early 1980s. Hazara today are targeted also because they are a successful community and pose a threat to their laid back neighbors. Caste, religion and race have become excuses to pursue economic gains. And unless we address the tangible basis of enmity between these communities, we are only letting more blood spill.

Are quotas a solution? In a zero-sum game, with limited resources and many stakeholders, it is difficult to find a solution to economic crises. Meritocracy should be the ultimate ideal. But in Pakistan where communities find excuses premised on historical injustice for their failure, the successful few become frequent targets. The Hazara are one such example. And the Hazraa issue needs to be acknowledged as not only sectarian and ethnic, but also economic.