At least six people were killed and another 37 were wounded when a suicide bomber detonated a truck carrying an estimated 80 kilograms of explosives, when he was stopped by Frontier Corps (FC) personnel at a check post near Alamdar Road, a Hazara Shia dominated area, in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan, on April 23, 2013.
The bomber was heading to the area with the intention of targeting Abdul Khaliq Hazara, the chairman of the Hazara Democratic Party (HDP).
Earlier, on February 16, 2013, at least 84 Hazara Shias were killed and 200 were injured in a remote controlled bomb blast in Hazara Town, Quetta.
On January 10, 2013, at least 105 Hazara Shias were killed and 169 were injured in a suicide car bomb blast in the Alamdar Road area.
Partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) indicate that at least 191 Hazara Shias have been killed so far in the current year (till April 28, 2013). SATP recorded at least 396 Hazara Shia fatalities during 2001 and 2012. While 98 Hazara Shias were killed through 2012, the number stood at 95 in 2011, 70 in 2010, 13 in 2009, nine 2008, one 2007, and none in 2006 and 2005. In 2004, however, 42 Hazara Shia were killed; another 60 were killed in 2003; none in 2002; and eight in 2001.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan's (HRCP's) annual report, State of the Human Rights in 2012, released on April 4, 2013, suggests that the SATP numbers are a significant underestimate. The report records 505 Hazara Shias killed (all in Balochistan) between 2001 and 2012. 119 of them were killed in 2012; 106 in 2011; 105 in 2010; 41 in 2009; 36 in 2008; one in 2007; four in 2006; 16 in 2005; none in 2004; 64 in 2003; three in 2002; and 10 in 2001.
On either dataset, there is a clearly rising trend since 2007.
Some of the prominent major attacks (involving three or more fatalities) targeting Hazara Shias since 2007 include the following:
February 16, 2013: At least 84 Hazara Shias were killed and 200 were injured in a remote controlled bomb blast in Hazara town of Quetta.
January 10, 2013: At least 105 Hazara Shias were killed and 169 were injured in suicide car bomb blast in Quetta's Alamdar Road area.
June 28, 2012: At least 14 persons, including two Policemen and a woman, were killed and another 30, including women and children, sustained injuries in a suicide attack on a bus of pilgrims coming from Iran, in the Hazar Ganji area of Quetta. Sources indicated that the majority of the passengers belonged to the Hazara community.
October 4, 2011: At least 14 Hazaras were killed and seven were seriously injured after unknown extremists fired indiscriminately at a bus in the Akhtarabad area of Quetta.
October 28, 2010: Four Hazaras were shot dead by unidentified assailants in Quetta.
January 14, 2009: Unidentified assailants killed four Policemen, including a Deputy Superintendent of Police, in a shootout in Quetta. Motorcyclists ambushed a Police team on Sariab Road at around 11am, killing the four Policemen. Three of the murdered Policemen were Hazara Shias.
Hazara Shias, a Dari-speaking ethnic tribe, believed to be of Turk-Mongol descent, have an estimated population of over 800,000, settled mostly in and around Quetta.
In a media interview, Abdul Khaliq Hazara, the HDP chairman, observed,
Hazara community in Balochistan overwhelmingly belongs to the Shia sect and they are also easily recognisable because of their features... The LeJ (Lashkar-e-Jhangvi), in fact, wants to provoke us, so we start attacking our innocent Sunni Pushtun and Baloch brothers in Quetta.
The anti-Shia, Sunni extremist formation, LeJ, is the principal perpetrator of the massacres of Hazara Shias in Pakistan. Significantly, in a June 2011 letter to the Shia Hazaras, the LeJ openly declared:
...our mission [in Pakistan] is the abolition of this impure sect and people, the Shias and the Shia Hazaras, from every city, every village, every nook and corner of Pakistan. Like in the past, [our] successful Jihad against the Hazaras in Pakistan and, in particular, in Quetta is ongoing and will continue. We will make Pakistan their graveyard - their houses will be destroyed by bombs and suicide bombers... Jihad against the Shia Hazaras has now become our duty... We will rest only after hoisting the flag of true Islam on the land of the pure - Pakistan...
Reiterating the threat, LeJ spokesman Abu Bakar Siddiq, on February 16, 2013 (immediately after the February 16 attack), warned, "Let me inform the Shia Hazaras that we have 20 more such vehicles which are packed with lethal explosives and ready to hit the enemy. We are only waiting for next orders from our leadership to hit our targets in Alamdar Road, Mehrabad and Hazara Town. We will continue to kill Shia Hazaras in their homes".
Earlier, following the January 10 attack, reminding the Hazaras that they had been warned to leave Balochistan by the end of 2012 or face severe consequences, Siddiq had threatened, "Many of the Hazara enemies had fled but there were those who decided to stay back as they loved their jobs and properties. God willing, the Lashkar will not allow any of these Hazaras to leave Balochistan alive."
Despite these often repeated and brazen threats, Governments, both at the centre and in the Province, have initiated no corrective measures. Instead, soon after the June 2011 LeJ threat, on July 14, 2011, Pakistan's Supreme Court ordered the release of Malik Ishaq - the former operational chief of LeJ, who was involved in 44 cases involving the killing of at least 70 people, mostly belonging to the Shia sect - on bail from Lahore's Kot Lakhpat Jail, because of the prosecution's failure to produce sufficient evidence to support its charges. On February 10, 2012, Ghulam Rasool Shah, another co-accused in various cases of sectarian strife and terrorism, was released. According to media reports, an official of the Interior Ministry disclosed, on condition of anonymity, that the Ministry had received some intelligence reports that the LeJ had stepped up its anti-Shia campaign after Ishaq's release.
These developments give credence to allegations that the Hazara Shias in particular and Shias at large, like other minorities across Pakistan, are persecuted with connivance of the state. According to the SATP data, a total of 1,921 Shias have been killed across Pakistan since 2001. Unsurprisingly, in a direct indictment of the authorities at the helm, Ali Dayan Hasan, the head of Human Rights Watch (HRW) in Pakistan, on January 11, 2013, observed,
As Shia community members continue to be slaughtered in cold blood, the callousness and indifference of authorities offers a damning indictment of the state, its military and security agencies. Pakistan's tolerance for religious extremists is not just destroying lives and alienating entire communities, it is destroying Pakistani society across the board.
HDP chairman Abdul Khaliq Hazara also noted:
Extremism, sectarianism, and terrorism are being promoted in Balochistan with the help of elements in our state institutions... In several incidents of targeted killings of Hazara community, motorbikes of local police were used, while many of the attackers were in FC uniforms. They attacked people close to FC check posts but were never apprehended. I strongly believe that some elements in our security agencies help terrorists to identify the targets and then also support them to reach their targets with ease.
There is little relief or refuge for the Hazara Shias in Balochistan, as state inaction sends out an unambiguous and alarming message that Federal and Provincial authorities will not act to protect religious and sectarian minorities, leaving them at the mercy of Sunni extremist and terrorist formations.
(The writer Anurag Tripathi is Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management)
(The view expressed in the article is of the author and not India Blooms News Service)