The Shia Hazara of Pakistan; A Community Under Siege
Sectarian killing in Pakistan has now reached unprecedented levels. Violence and intimidation against Shiites and other religious minorities is increasingly commonplace, with mass-murders and target killings occurring on a near daily basis in all regions of the country. This state of growing lawlessness and criminal impunity threatens to destroy not only the minority communities themselves, but the very fabric of our nation as a whole.
It is under these increasingly desperate conditions that the Shia Hazara community of Quetta, Balochistan decided to convene a small group of international observers and legal experts to conduct a fact-finding mission to Quetta in late November of 2011. The purpose of the mission was to gather primary source documentation and evidence of the incidents and patterns of religiously justified violence, mass-murder, criminality, institutional negligence and ineptitude occurring in Quetta City and throughout the province of Balochistan. The result of that mission is the attached 76-page investigative report entitled, “The Shia Hazara of Pakistan; a Community Under Siege.”
The report combines a number of diverse elements including: extensive background information on the Hazara people and province of Balochistan; detailed accounts and a summary record of the now 20-year history of sectarian violence in Quetta; extensive anecdotal evidence from survivors of recent attacks; photographic documentation; legal petitions and proceedings from the Balochistan High Court; narrative analysis from senior members of the community; and a synthesis of news media and community accounts highlighting the negligence and ineptitude of local, provincial, and national law enforcement agencies. The conclusion of the report provides a series of actionable recommendations to be undertaken by various agencies and stakeholders in law enforcement, judiciary, legislature, the media, and Pakistani civil society at large.
We encourage you to download and distribute the report widely. Links to excerpts, key data, and a recently published addendum are given below. Please join us in educating yourself and helping to support the Shia Hazara and all religious minorities of Pakistan.
Below are the excerpts from the report. If you wish to read the whole report, download it from the top
Background: The Hazara of Pakistan
Beginning in the 1840s, Hazara men from what is today the Bamyun and Hazarajat region of Afghanistan, began migrating to colonial India for work as heavy laborers in quarries and road construction. During the first Anglo-Afghan War (1838-1840) many Hazaras from Afghanistan enlisted in the British-Indian Army as scouts and infantrymen. In the early 1890s, under heavy persecution and encroachment by the so-called Iron Emir of Afghanistan, Abdul Rahman Khan, the Hazara people of central Afghanistan began their mass-migration and permanent settlement in what is today Quetta city.
The first to arrive in Quetta in the late 1800s took menial jobs in British-run mining and construction companies. Several hundred worked as laborers on roads and railways including the Bolan Pass connecting Quetta and Karachi. Starting in 1904, several thousand Hazara men enlisted as soldiers and infantrymen in the Hazara Pioneers, a British colonial regiment based out of Quetta consisting of eight companies that served throughout South Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East during World War I. Others joined the colonial government of British Balochistan as agents of a rapidly expanding civil service. Still more came to start small businesses and cottage industries that thrived alongside the colonial economy of Quetta.
During this period, the British increasingly came to rely upon the Hazara to fulfill critical military and civil service positions that could not be staffed by British subjects. At the same time, many first generation Hazara children born in Quetta began to receive formal education in British-run schools and as such became inculcated in colonial values and the notion of reward for service. This in turn led to social integration of the small but hard-working Hazara population into the fabric of life in British-run Quetta.
As Partition approached in the 1940s, the Shia Hazara of Quetta, now nearly 50,000 strong, had established themselves as the key civil and military workforce of the province, while the Baloch and Pashtoon populations were systematically excluded by the British from the activities and benefits of colonial state-building. Following the creation of Pakistan in 1947, Balochistan remained a semi-autonomous, federally administered region, nominally governed by the Khan of Kalat and his local vassals and sardars. Following the disastrous one-unit scheme established to counter the Bengali majority of then East Pakistan, Balochistan was finally regularized into a federated province of Pakistan in 1969. In the same year, Hazaras of Quetta were recognized by the national government as an indigenous tribe of Balochistan and given full rights accordingly.
Background: Quetta City Demographics and Demarcations
The city of Quetta which houses the Shia Hazara of Pakistan today is a divided city with different ethnic/linguistic groups living in separate areas that are clearly distinguishable by the local population. The total population of Quetta city (urban district) is today estimated at between 1.1 and 1.3 million people. Of this approximately 250,000-350,000 (25%) are Shia Hazara, 500,000-600,000 are Pashto-speaking Pashtoon, and 450,000-550,000 are Brahui and Baloch. In addition to the residents of urban district, it is estimated that an additional 500,000 people or more live in outlying rural areas within the Quetta Valley and enter the city on a regular basis for economic activities. A small but increasing proportion of Quetta’s population is also comprised of recent settlers from Sindh, Punjab, and other parts of Pakistan.
The demographic make-up of the city has steadily evolved from the colonial period, during which time the combined British and Hazara settler population made up the largest majority (70%) of urban residents. Today hundreds of thousands of Baloch and Brahui migrants in search of economic opportunity and resources continue to alter the city’s demographyThe Pashtoon population, initially the largest native population of the city (recorded at 30.1% in 1901), has continued to keep pace proportionally with the expanding population of Quetta and is today estimated at 34% of the total.
Quetta is and has always been neatly divided between its major ethnic neighborhoods. Figure 1 below shows the demarcations of Hazara, Pashtoon, and Brahui/Baloch neighborhoods in relation to the military Cantonment and other key landmarks of Quetta city. It is important to note that despite Quetta’s clear ethnic demarcations and underlying political-ethnic grievances of the Baloch/Brahui nationalists, the city itself has and continues to remain free of inter-ethnic conflict.
Owing to their significant presence in the British and later Pakistani Army, the vast majority of Shia Hazaras entering Quetta settled in close proximity to the Cantonment, in what is now the densely populated neighborhood of Marri Abad. Marri Abad runs south from the Cantonment, and is bordered on the west by steep hillsides and the commercial district of Alamdar Road on the east. As a result of its strategic location, Marri Abad was, until the Eid-Gah bombing of August 31st, 2011, largely impenetrable and free of terrorist violence.
The other major Shia Hazara neighborhood of Quetta, known as Hazara Town, is located at the opposite (eastern) extreme of the City. It was established in the late 1980s by a prominent Hazara businessman as affordable housing for lower-income Hazara families of Quetta as well as recent Hazara arrivals fleeing the Talibanization of Afghanistan. The approximately one hundred thousand residents of Hazara Town live surrounded on all sides by Pashtun and Baloch neighborhoods, making them vulnerable targets whenever ethnic or sectarian tensions flare in the city. Its male residents work mainly as day laborers and merchants. As such they must travel the breadth of the city on a regular basis and often make use of the public bus depot at Saryab Road. As a result, approximately 80% of the victims of the five most recent incidents of Hazara killings have been residents of Hazara Town.
Introduction: The Massacre at Mastung
Late in the afternoon of September 20th 2011, a group of 37 men, women, and children from the Shia Hazara community of Quetta boarded a commercial bus bound for the Pakistan-Iran border town of Taftan. As religious pilgrims their intent was to reach the border, some 600 kilometers from Quetta, then transfer onwards to various Shia holy sites in Iran and Iraq.
Instead, after traveling for only two hours over approximately 40 kilometers, their bus was intercepted by two truckloads of heavily armed men in broad daylight on the side of a major national highway, N25, which links Quetta to Taftan. Wielding AK-47’s and rocket propelled grenade launchers, the unmasked attackers boarded the bus and demanded that all 26 male Shia Hazara passengers identify themselves and disembark. The driver and ticket-taker, both Baloch and Sunni, were told to remain on board alongside the eight women and three female children ages 11 to 16.
The attackers corralled the men and boys atop a roadside embankment, forced them to sit facing the windows of the bus, and began discharging their semi-automatic weapons at point blank range. In five minutes of continuous firing, 26 men and boys lay dead or dying, their blood draining quickly and quietly onto the rocky desert of western Balochistan. Then as casually as they had arrived, the assassins returned to their vehicles and drove back down the N25 highway toward Quetta, in plain view of oncoming traffic including media, relatives, volunteer first responders, and eventually, the local district police.
The massacre at Mastung took approximately 30 minutes from start to finish during which time not a single vehicle passed the site of the attack (according to the surviving female passengers interviewed by the author of this report), indicating the attackers had blocked traffic in both directions. Yet months later the Crimes Investigation Department (hence referred to as CID) of the Balochistan Police Force not located or interviewed a single witness who may have observed the attackers on the highway that day. This includes any of the police and military (Frontier Corps) personnel who were assigned to the various security checkposts located along the highway between Mastung and Quetta.
Despite repeated requests from the Balochistan High Court, which has now held four daylong proceedings regarding the massacre (26/9/11, 4/10/11, 16/11/11, 13/12/11), the CID has been unwilling or unable to present any physical evidence or testimony to support the case, aside from a two-page transcript of the interview conducted with the bus driver at the scene of the attack. Ironically, the murderers themselves have provided the only piece of evidence in the case thus far: a grainy video depicting the entire massacre from start to finish, which they posted on YouTube and so-called Jihadist websites in mid-November 2011.
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While the Massacre at Mastung may seem particularly brazen to those unfamiliar with the dynamics of sectarian killing in Pakistan, it is for the Shia Hazara community of Quetta disturbingly familiar. For the Shia Hazara and all citizens of Pakistan, the incident has provided a glaring example of the impunity and brazenness with which sectarian terrorists operate in Balochistan. A few key conclusions about Mastung are generalizable to nearly all incidents of sectarian terrorism taking place in Pakistan in recent years.
Firstly, no preventative measures are taken to ensure the safety and security of Shia pilgrims, who are well known to be prime targets of sectarian terrorists. In this case, the “Shalimar Transport Ltd” bus departed in broad daylight, unaccompanied by police, from a crowded bus station in a neighborhood of central Quetta notorious as a terrorist staging ground. The Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Police, Balochistan’s top security official, publicly blamed the Baloch-owned transport company for failing to notify the police and obtain permission for their proposed travel route. The company in turn claimed it did notify the local police commander but received no response. Regardless, 20 minutes after leaving the station, the Mastung-bound bus was stopped at the final (“Area A”) police checkpost located on the outskirts of Quetta city. The driver provided an itinerary and passenger manifest to the commander of the checkpost who either chose to take no further action or, as many Hazaras now suspect, played a role in notifying the attackers of the bus’s timing and whereabouts. The bus then travelled another 30 kilometers passing through one Frontier Corps (paramilitary) checkpost and two Balochistan “Levies” (tribal militias) checkposts, the last of which was located 204 yards from the site of the massacre.
Secondly, police response immediately following the massacre, including any form of crime scene or forensic investigation, was nonexistent or at best deeply flawed. It took the local district commissioner, whose desk is situated less than 10 kilometers from the site of the massacre, one hour to arrive at the scene. The IG and other officials from Quetta city took an additional two hours, by which time local media and grieving relatives had already trampled the crime scene. Even after the IG staff had arrived, the scene remained unsecure and chaotic. No attempts were made to gather evidence and bodies were hurriedly removed by volunteer ambulance workers and relatives.
As a final grisly conclusion to the day, at approximately 7:00 p.m. that evening, another group of three Shia Hazara men (ages 22, 25, and 28), who were travelling by car to the scene to search for missing relatives, were intercepted by the same attackers at a traffic light on the outskirts of Quetta. In another brazenly impudent act of roadside ambush, the attackers sprayed the vehicle with AK-47 fire, killed two of the three men inside, and drove off.
To this day, neither the Balochistan provincial government nor the Federal Government of Pakistan has taken any substantive action to investigate the massacre or arrest the known leaders of the banned terrorist organization, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks. On October 4th, when the incident was first brought before the Balochistan High court, the Crimes Investigation Department (CID) admitted to having interviewed only one witness, the driver of the bus, and having gathered no forensic or crime scene evidence whatsoever. Their lead investigating officer admitted that he had made no attempt to interview any of the 11 surviving witnesses. Nor had he made any attempt to trace the two vehicles used by the attackers, known through survivors’ accounts to be a white pick-up truck and a grey Land Cruiser. He had also not made any attempt to contact Frontier Corps or Levies force personnel to enquire whether two such vehicles had passed through one or more of the six checkposts situated on the road between Quetta and Ghonja Doori. The Barrister for the case, Iftikhar Raza Khan, requested that the CID provide a detailed map of all locations relevant to the case, including those pertaining to the first massacre as well as to the second, smaller attack near Saryab Road Customs area. As of the December 13th third round of hearings in the case, the CID had still failed to produce any such documentation or evidentiary details in writing.
As a result of the provincial government’s failure to investigate the massacre, the Chief Justice of the High Court of Balochistan, Qazi Faiz Essa filed a separate “Suo Motto” petition, on behalf of the Balochistan Bar Association against the Governments of Balochistan and Pakistan, demanding an appropriate investigation and if necessary intervention from the federal judiciary. For its part, the Government of Pakistan, has offered nothing but empty public statements claiming those responsible will be brought to justice and other such attacks will be thwarted.
1. Documentation of evidence gathering (lack thereof) by CID in the Mastung Case is presented in Appendix A; Suo Moto Petitions
3. The Express Tribune, “Mastung sectarian killings: Committee formed to probe massacre,” September 22, 2011. Accessed on 11/12/2011 from: http://tribune.com.pk/story/257922/mastung-sectarian-killings-committee-formed-to-probe-massacre/
4. The Express Tribune, “Sectarian atrocity: 29 killed in Mastung, Quetta ambushes,” Accessed on 11/12/2011 from: http://tribune.com.pk/story/256419/gunmen-attack-bus-in-balochistan-20-killed/