The Hazarganji Massacre

Spearhead Analysis – 15.04.2019

“The onslaught against the Hazara Shias in Balochistan by Islamist terrorists remains unabated. At least 20 persons, including two children and one Frontier Corps (FC) trooper, were killed and 48 persons, including four FC personnel, sustained injuries, in a suicide attack at the Hazarganji vegetable market of Quetta, the provincial capital of Baluchistan, in the morning of April 12, 2019. Nine of those killed were members of the Hazara community. Qari Hussain Force, an affiliate of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), claimed responsibility for the attack”–quoted from an analysis by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP). The attack was also claimed by the anti-Shia Lashkar e Jhangvi (LeJ) and Daesh (IS) suggesting a nexus between all three anti-Shia groups from a sanctuary in Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted his condemnation of the attack, and the targeting of ‘innocent people’. In 2013 this is what he had said– “I explicitly take their name and call out to themi. If you carry out this terrorism in the name of Islam, then you couldn’t be greater enemies of the religion.” In another report of the same day, he had said, “Sectarian killings in the name of Islam are shameful.” There it is: the name of the beast, the nature of the beast and, for the sake of this country’s soul, the need to finish it. May the Hazara people forgive us. Quoted from an article in DAWN.

A probe team comprising senior Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) officials has been set up to investigate the Hazarganji blast as Quetta’s Hazara community continued protesting the suicide attack for a third consecutive day. There is no doubt that the target of the attack was the Hazara Shias, as the Hazarganji area is dominated by the community and has witnessed similar attacks in the past as well. Hazara shopkeepers are provided a security escort to and from Hazarganji, since they are constantly under threat of attack.  Their security needs to be beefed up as being demanded by them.

Partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) indicates that at least 715 Hazara Shias have been killed between 2001 and 2019 (data till April 12, 2019). While only two Hazara Shias were killed through 2018, the number stood at 18 in 2017, seven in 2016, 20 in 2015, 18 in 2014, 234 in 2013, 98 in 2012, 95 in 2011, 70 in 2010, 13 in 2009, nine 2008, one 2007, and none in 2006 and 2005. In 2004, however, 42 Hazara Shias were killed; another 60 were killed in 2003; none in 2002; and eight in 2001. A report released by National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) on March 19, 2018, stated that 509 members of the Hazara community were killed and 627 injured in various incidents of terrorism in Quetta during the preceding five years. The NCHR report titled “Understanding the Agonies of Ethnic Hazara” lists the incidents of attacks on the community from January 2012 to December 2017, based on the data shared by the Baluchistan Home Department. Narrating heartbreaking details about the plight of the Hazaras, NCHR official Fazeela Alyani emphasized, “All these precious lives were lost only in Quetta city.” Many Hazaras have left the country to settle abroad while others have relocated within the country.

Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP), Akhlaq Ullah Tarar, who was posted in Baluchistan, in a column in Dawn, on November 12, 2018, categorized the wave of Hazara killings in three phases: first, with the radical Sunni propaganda that began during the regime of Gen. Ziaul Haq to counter the Soviet invasion. This radicalism sowed the seed of bigotry and fanaticism. The first message calling the Shia community ‘kafir’ was pasted on the walls of Quetta in 1981. The second phase is when the killings began, when Hazaras were specifically and premeditatedly targeted for attack. On October 5, 1999, the provincial education minister Sardar Nisar Ali Hazara was attacked along with his driver and bodyguard and shot at point-blank range. Though the minister survived the attack, it marked the beginning of a targeted killing spree against Hazaras, particularly high-profile members of the community. Doctors, engineers, bankers, businessmen and state functionaries alike were selected, attacked and killed.  The third phase is when the indiscriminate killings — i.e. the mass murder — of members of the Hazara community began. Similar attacks in Karachi and Lahore have led to horrific tragedies in the past. Most tragic was the daylight killing of a doctor in Lahore—a well- known eye specialist—who was shot dead with his little son whom he was bringing back from school.

Hazara killings tantamount to wiping out an entire generation, said former Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar in 2018 – “the Hazara killings in Balochistan are tantamount to carnage, which is why the court took a suo moto notice of the targeted attacks”.  A former editor of the Daily Times, was quoted as having said that protecting minorities has historically been in the fabric of the Baloch society—- “One of the outstanding characters of the Baloch society was tolerance. But now we have [given way to] intolerance, hatred, and violence [simply] on the basis of the fact that they are minorities.” Or perhaps there is external interference to stoke destabilization in Baluchistan—a declared aim of the Modi government in India. There have also been reports of funds flowing to militants in Afghanistan for subversion in Baluchistan and Karachi and even across the border in Iran. The Indian spy Kulbushan Yadev was arrested in Baluchistan and confessed to his role in setting up networks for violence and subversion– and exploiting sectarian and ethnic divides was his modus operandi.

The sectarian supremacist mindset if it exists has to be sidelined because it leads to violence and tragedy and because its existence in certain groups is an exploitable vulnerability. As part of implementing the National Action Plan (NAP) the government has begun a crackdown against all banned outfits. This is a necessary first step in the fight against extremism and intolerance.

(Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to an individual)