Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 213, 14 January 2021

Pakistan: After a weeklong protest, the Hazara mourners finally bury the dead coal miners
Abigail Miriam Fernandez

In the news
On 9 January, 10 coal miners from the Hazara community were laid to rest at the Hazara Town, Quetta, after being brutally killed in an attack earlier this month. The decision to bury the slain coal workers came after relatives and protesters from the community who had earlier refused to bury the deceased unless Prime Minister Imran Khan visited them and addressed their concerns reached an agreement with a government team. Following this, Prime Minister Imran Khan arrived in Quetta and met with the families of the slain coal miners and members of the Hazara community.

On 3 January, 11 coal miners were kidnapped and killed, when armed assailants entered their residential compound in the Mach coalfield area of Balochistan. The militant Islamic State (IS) group claimed responsibility for the attack.

Issues at large
First, the relentless targeting killing of the Hazara community. According to a National Commission for Human Rights report, religious extremists have killed more than 2,000 Hazaras between 2004 and 2018. The Hazaras have been the victims of ethnic and sectarian cleansing through target killings, suicide attacks and bomb blasts inflicting harm to their daily lives, education and business activities of roughly half a million Hazaras living in Quetta. Hazaras have been the target of multiple terrorist attacks over the recent years, with Quetta's Hazara community at the front line of Pakistan's battle with violent extremism. This is owing to their small population, distinct facial appearance and limited territory making them soft targets for militants. The most concerning aspect of this issue is the Hazara community's isolation. They have been forced into ghettos in two Hazara neighbourhoods in Quetta's Marriabad and Hazara Town, restricting their movement.

Second, the inadequate response and ineffective strategy of the State. The repeated targeting of the Hazaras irradiates the failure of the State. Despite the initiation of the National Action Plan, sectarian militant groups continue to operate in Balochistan. Moreover, the state has failed to bring perpetrators of sectarian violence to justice. Repeated attacks on the Hazaras have gone unpunished. Further, legal pursuit of these cases has been a challenge with the judiciary unable to deliver justice due to the gap in the FIR reports that fail to identify perpetrators. 

Third, the increasing presence of militant groups. The Islamic State's reach, which has joined hands with Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and other sectarian groups, has increased in Balochistan, with the former declaring war on minority Shiites. Apart from the IS, other groups like the outlawed Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and the Taliban have also targeted the Hazaras over the years in Balochistan. The LeJ has carried out various attacks against the community because of its anti-Shia and anti-Iran ideology. Further, the strengthened nexus between the sectarian group in Balochistan with militants gives them better leverage.

Fourth, the larger systemic issues inside Balochistan. The Hazara community's issue is a manifestation of the larger systemic issues inside Balochistan, which is Pakistan's largest and poorest region, rife with ethnic, sectarian and separatist insurgencies. 

In perspective
The repeated persecution of the Hazara community in Pakistan highlights two larger issues.

First, sectarianism exists unabated throughout Pakistan as the country continues to foster sectarian groups resulting in the loss of countless lives. The Hazara community's persecution is an apt case for they have been solely targeted because they are Shia; thus, the motive is sectarian and sectarian groups have historically carried out the killings. As long as such groups can exist freely, they will continue to threaten minorities across the country.

Second, the lack of attention to Balochistan. As a province, Balochistan has much to offer. However, when it comes to giving back to the locals, especially the minorities in the region, there seems to be a gap. Much of the issues in Balochistan stem from the flawed political and economic development policies and strategies from within the province and the federal government.

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