Outlook Afghanistan op-ed published May 03
Persecution of minorities is not a new phenomenon in Pakistan. After partition from India as a movement of ‘equal rights for the Muslims of sub-continent’, religious and ethnic minorities were not only declared third-class citizens through state legislations, but they have also faced brutal violence since the day of Pakistan’s birth.
Religious radicalism was promoted as a state policy on a very fundamental level. School text books taught a whitewashed history, promoting hatred against non-Muslims, particularly Hindus. Christians were never accepted more than a social class of sewerage-drain sweepers in Pakistan. Terror groups were created for intervention in Kashmir, and Jihadi radicalism was let grow deep in society.
The first ideological blow to the crack was independence of Bangladesh in 1971, when the majority Muslim Bengalis separated after more than a decade with the Punjab-dominated military and bureaucracy that controlled the then East and West Pakistan. Though troubles had erupted consecutively in parts of Balochistan and Sindh too, junta dictatorships that ruled for more than half of Pakistan’s age have suppressed it through military operations.
After secession of Bangladesh, another radical downward spiral for Pakistan as a state was when its National Assembly declared Ahmadi Muslims as non-Muslim in 1974, not only making them third-class citizens deprived of many rights and systematically discriminated against in state laws, but also invoking the wrath of religious radicals grown loose in the last two decades, particularly the Kashmir-oriented Jihadism during the first and second Indo-Pak wars in 1948 and 1971. Since then, Ahmadis have been persecuted routinely, both by mobs and courts in blasphemy cases. The violence against Ahmadis has increased in recent years. Last year Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was murdered for his defense of a Christian women Asia Bibi accused of blasphemy. He was killed by one of his own security guards, who later confessed that the Governor was killed because of his advocacy for the Christian woman.
The small numbers of Hindus are another minority community facing discrimination on every level in Pakistani society. Recently human rights activist Marvi Sirmed in a press conference in Islamabad highlighted the large-scale kidnapping and forced conversion of Hindu girls to Islam in Sindh. Many Hindus have migrated abroad during the last decade from rural parts of Sindh and Balochistan.
Rivalry with India has been the mindset behind Pakistani security establishment’s promotion of religious extremism. The decade-long rule of General Zia-ul-Haq promoted radicalism to its peak. Followed by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Jihadism started with state sponsorship had now spread to every nook and corner of Pakistan. And during that era, sectarian terror groups like Sipah-e-Sahaba and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi were created, and Shias became another Jihadi target in Pakistan after Ahmadis, Christians and Hindus. Thousands have been killed in the merciless sectarian violence during last few decades. Leaders of these terror groups roam free around the country. Pakistani Supreme Court recently released Malik Ishaq, leader of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an Al-Qaeda allied banned outfit.
One ethnic minority group under routine sectarian attacks in Pakistan is the Hazaras of Quetta. According to media reports and human rights organizations, more than 700 members of this community of 600,000 people have been killed since 2001. LeJ claims responsibility for all attacks. The previously targeted attacks on professionals and activists have now taken a new merciless turn on ordinary people with suicide attacks in residential areas.
Their visible racial features make them a turkey-shoot for LeJ operatives who are on a killing spree with impunity. Victims from Quetta tell me the routine attacks have traumatized people. The besieged minority community members have stopped traveling from one part of the city to another. Thousands have migrated abroad, many taking the deadly routes to western countries through illegal ways to seek asylum. Over a hundred have been killed in recent incidents of boat-drowning in sea waters of Indonesia and Australia.
The extent of violence has affected an entire ethnic minority group. In the poorest region of Pakistan, when the only breadwinner is killed, the entire family suffers as no one remains to feed them. Locals tell me they are living under constant threat and fear. In a spate of attacks during last three weeks, about 40 Hazaras have been killed.
The question is, how can Pakistan’s security institutions fail to stop such a systematic killing which some have started calling a genocide-in-making? A bunch of sectarian terrorists besiege an entire community, and the whole state security apparatus fail. It is mind blowing. A humanitarian crisis is unfolding before the civilized world, but they have chosen to close their eyes and remain silent about it. In 21st century, such a brutal persecution of a minority group is nothing less than the severity of Jewish Holocaust under Nazis.
It is not mere failure of Pakistani security institutions. Quetta is the provincial capital of Balochistan. Pakistan Army has a Corp of over 60,000 troops stationed in the city. The strong military intelligence Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has its regional station there. The city is also home to headquarters of the paramilitary Frontier Corps and Police. Victims accuse, if it is not complicity, how a bunch of LeJ terrorists can kill with impunity in such huge presence of security institutions. I cannot believe that Pakistani intelligence agencies are unaware of the hideouts of LeJ operatives. But not a single killer has been prosecuted in last ten years of consecutive systematic killings.
Due to lack of coverage of such a horrible humanitarian crisis in international media, there has not been due reaction. Organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have released several reports about the crisis, but the champions of human rights in Western capitals have chosen to remain silent.
There have been protest demonstrations across cities in Europe, Australia and Asian countries during last two weeks. Former British Home Secretary and current Labour MP Alan Johnson joined such a protest in London on Monday, April 30. He said, “I am here to stand in solidarity with Hazaras who face ethnic cleaning in Balochistan yet the government of Pakistan is showing no concern. In the last 10 years more than 700 Hazaras have been killed which is a scandal. The government doesn’t seem concerned and has shown no interest in catching the killers.” Another demo is organized on May 4 in front of the UN Headquarters in New York. The international community should raise voice to pressurize the Pakistani Government and stop a genocide-in-making in 21st century.