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Tahir Khan Hazara: Swimming against the current

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Few meters away from the site of one of the deadliest bomb blasts in the country – which killed 84 Shia Hazaras, lies Hazara Siyasi Karkunan’s office in a small room in a single story building. These days the room serves as the election office for Tahir Khan Hazara, an independent candidate contesting the P.B 26 by – elections. There he meets potential voters, political activists, journalists and neighborhood kids looking for free flags and badges. On the road facing balcony of the office, hangs a huge red banner inscribed with letters HSK; on a make shift wooden frame speakers continuously play Tahir Khan’s campaign song:

Ruke na jo, jhuke na jo
Mite na jo, dabe na jo
Hum wo inkilaab hein!
Har Zulm ka Jawab hein!

(The one that doesn’t stop; one that doesn’t budge; one that can’t be erased, one that can’t be suppressed; we are that revolution; answer to every injustice!)

Tahir Khan Hazara, in his late 60’s, is the chairman and the central figure of HSK, a loosely structured organization which prefers to call itself a political institution. Tahir Khan started off as a student rights activist in early 1970’s and later on joined National Awami Party, once the major left leaning party of the country. There he became particularly close to party’s central leader Ghuas Baksh Bizenjo. Tahir Khan also worked as his personal secretary for some time; for his active role in anti – Zia movement, MRD, he was jailed for a year as well. .

When Bizenjo left the splintered NAP to form Pakistan National Party, Tahir Khan followed him there and became a part of PNP’s central committee – the highest decision making body of the organization.

After Bizenjo’s demise, Tahir Khan left PNP and formed Hazara Progressive Forum which later on also broke apart. In early 2000, Tahir joined Pakistan People’s Party, and served as provincial information secretary of its Balochistan chapter. Citing the differences over National Reconciliation Ordinance and the alleged deal between PPP and General Musharraf, he parted ways with PPP to form Hazara Siyasi Karkunan which he currently heads.

These days the streets of Hazara Town swell readily when HSK announces a Jalsa of Tahir’s. His campaign has quickly picked up steam. It is indeed surprising, because reportedly the fulltime and all season members of HSK do not exceed more than 100 individuals. He is particularly popular with the working class Hazaras and unlike the trend among mainstream parties, all of his electoral offices have been inaugurated by laborers – taxi and rickshaw drivers, cobblers and bicycle mechanics, who throng his Jalsas as well.

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The Hazara ordeal frames centrally in his campaign. When he speaks publicly he makes sure that he raises the rhetorical question ‘Mara ki zaad va chera zaad’ – ‘who killed us and what for’. It is a theme that runs through almost all of his speeches.

Whilst one can note a significant fall in the quality of the debate in the political field here in Balochistan, Tahir engages and identifies structural issues that are responsible for the problems being faced by not only Hazaras, but the whole country. He speaks of population boom; the water crisis; the crackdown on freedom of expression; the economic crises. Interestingly, Tahir refuses to concede that sectarianism has deep roots in Balochistan’s society. He argues that behind sectarianism and terrorism lies inequality, poverty and ‘war politics’. Khan believes that the problem of religiously driven terrorism cannot be solved via violent means only, and its excessive use has only further exacerbated the issue.

It is unusual for a Hazara leader to say this, as the community has been at the receiving end of religiously motivated violence for more than a decade now. While criticizing Pakistan’s decision to join the ‘war on terror’ and American foreign policy in South Asia and beyond, he still invokes the phrase Amreeki Samraj – American imperialism – a term long dead among mainstream Pashtun and Baloch ethno-nationalist political parties. He demands that the Americans leave the people of developing world alone.

In Quetta, where emphasis on group identities sell, and leaders jealously guard ethnic boundaries, Tahir seeks to break them. In his 28 December address in Hazara Twon, where I was present, he said ‘Hazaras! Do not be upset with what I am going to say: if elected, I am going to represent Quetta, not just you; I will prove that here is no hate between Hazaras and other communities’.

An excellent orator, observers believe that Tahir Khan’s hard-hitting speeches and his candid stand on Hazara killings has made him popular. In sharp contrast to his electoral opponents’ inoffensive positions on the Hazara killings, Tahir does not mince his words. At various previous occasions, for example in the month of April this year, Khan roared almost every day in a week long sit-in organized by Hazara Taxi Drivers union against the Hazara killings. At Dharna he repeatedly said that the only option Hazaras are left with is to call upon their Diaspora to start a worldwide agitation to stop their massacre.

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His scathing criticism on provincial government and the security establishment’s policies has won him both friends and foes. Among the middle and lower-middle class Hazara youth his popularity has noticeably soared. Meanwhile, his critics among the community argue that a minority like Hazaras will only further harm their own interests, if they took as radical a stance as Tahir Khan advocates.

When I put this question to Nadir Khan Hazara, Tahir’s long term comrade, he responded by saying that ‘the generation that was born in 1980s and 1990s has been raised under the umbrella of fear and terror on one hand, and has only experienced a politics that advocates compromise over resistance; patronage over ideology. Thus, it is hard for them to imagine that people do take political positions out of ideology and are willing to bear the consequences of their commitments’.

Perhaps, Tahir Khan’s ‘ideological’ rigidity is proving to be his worst enemy – both insiders and outsider say. Khan, a young Hazara man, affiliated with HSK commented that Tahir’s biggest weakness is his uncompromising attitude. When I asked Batool, a young Hazara graduate student at a local university, that why she is not voting for Tahir Khan, she said that ‘Firstly, Tahir does not stand a chance this time, as he is contesting against multi-party backed candidates. Secondly and mainly, because he is unpredictable and inconsistent. What if I vote him and get him into the assembly and he walks out of it?’

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