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Citizen Voices

The Plight Of The Hazaras – Who’s Responsible?

By Zeeshan Haider

Pakistan, since its inception, has been caught in multiple vicious cycles. Security concerns have always overwhelmed the state. Despite a powerful military establishment, it seems that Pakistan is still vulnerable to many internal as well as external threats. Inter- and intrareligious strifes cause anguish and threaten to rip the fabric of the whole society apart. From among these, the underlying reasons behind the never-ending tussle between Shias and Sunni, which has wreaked so much havoc in Pakistan, warrant an examination. The heartwrenching murder of Hazara coal miners on January 3, 2021, in Mach is an extension of these underlying causes, which need to be addressed urgently.

It is often said that the mayhem of sectarianism, which lingers into the third decade of the twenty-first century, particularly intensified as a result of General Zia-ul-Haq’s ‘bigoted’ policies. Nevertheless, it had existed in the subcontinent since long before Partition. Shia and Sunni squabbles in the subcontinent go as far back as the 17th-century. We read about how Shah Waliullah sought to temper the troubled waters between the two sects and called upon Muslims on both sides of the divide to show restraint and promote harmony.

Shias constitute about 15 to 20 percent of the entire population, making Pakistan home to the second largest number of Shias after Iran. The Hazaras were residents of Central Afghanistan till the 19th-century, when maltreatment of the Sunni ruler, Amir Abdur Rahman, pushed them out of their settlements. Resultantly, they migrated to Kurram Agency and Quetta, which later became part of Pakistan. Later, the Soviet Union intervention in Afghanistan in 1979 further fuelled the fire for the Hazaras, when Sunni militants were called from around the world to combat the USSR. These Sunni militant groups became the Hazara community’s new tormentors, leaving them no choice but to migrate to Quetta again. However, the Hazaras’ fate did not change as they continued to suffer persecution for being Shia in their new homes. Even the well-off among them had to face miserable conditions. For example, General Musa, who had fought in 1965 Indo-Pak war against India, and who belonged to the Hazara community, had to move to Iran to save his life from bigots at a certain point. Today, he is buried in Mashhad, Iran.

There are multiple reasons for intra-religious strife in Pakistan, and one major reason is an unawareness of historical facts. The general public in Pakistan has developed a sectarian nature due to the lack of knowledge of the Deobandi-Shia conflict of the past. Liaqat H. Merchant, in his book Jinnah: A Judicial Verdict, provides us with the interesting fact that the founder of Pakistan was an Ismaili who chose to become Shia in the 1920s to help along his political career. It is also not known to most of our masses that Maulana Shabbir Ahmad Usmani, who had earlier signed a fatwa declaring all Shias as infidels, later became the one to lead the funeral prayers of “infidel” Muhammad Ali Jinnah. History is not a lifeless study of the past; it is a living and evolving dialogue about the most important subjects of human experience and provides us with clues as to how to lead our own life in a principled manner.

There is also truth to the claim that sectarian violence gained much ascendancy in Pakistan under General Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s. The land and people of our country were used in the clandestine operations against the Soviet Union. Smuggling as commerce became mainstream among the tribal people and absconders from justice got easy shelter in the ‘safe havens’ of tribal areas. The militant organization Al Qaeda found an easy site of operation in these areas. Militants at that time mostly belonged to the traditionally anti-Shia schools of Deobandi and Ahle Hadith, and the state, through its patronage, directly became responsible for putting peace on the line and pushing the country toward the quagmire which we still haven’t extricated ourselves from. Moreover, fatwas about apostatising Shias played a huge role in flaring up violence. In 1986, Darul Uloom Haqqania Akora Khattak, headed by Maulana Samiul Haq, issued its own fatwa, calling Shia apostates. Maulana Muhammad Malik Kandhalwi, from Jamia Ashrafia Lahore, also declared the Shias kafir. These fatwas were against the Constitution of Pakistan because Clause 3 of the Second Amendment to the Constitution, in Article 260, which was passed on September 21, 1974, had already given the definition of a Muslim. Unfortunately, rather than bringing the ‘culprits’ to justice, the state acted as an accomplice.

Interestingly, all the Shia-related fatwas of the 1980s were compiled in Lucknow, India, and were then issued in Pakistan. It is no secret that India resorts to putting the peace of the region at stake by taking wars to the lands of its enemies. The recent killing of Hazaras in Mach can also be the result of such an incursion by India in Pakistani lands. The confessions of the Indian spy Kulbushan Yadev, who was caught red-handedly by proactive Pakistani intelligence agencies in Balochistan, give credence to this suspicion. One can connect the dots to realise that India has always been involved in igniting the sectarian violence in Pakistan. It capitalised on the opportunity provided by the aforementioned Pakistan’s state policies of assisting one sect at the cost of another during the Afghan Jihad. India also added fuel to the fire of sectarian strife whenever people were massacred from both sides of the Shia-Sunni divide.

Despite its many flaws, the state of Pakistan has often succeeded in lowering the tension between different religious sects. In the past, it attempted to curb this evil in the bud. For example, the government passed the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997, in which Section 8 related to ‘Prohibition of acts intended to stir up sectarian hatred’. The core elements around which this anti-sectarian law revolved are ‘threat’ and ‘insult’. Another effort by the state was in the shape of the Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Ordinance (2001), which was promulgated with the intent of allowing the administration to move against violence targeted towards places of worship. In August 2001, General Pervez Musharraf banned seven terrorist organisations in Pakistan, including Sipah Sahaba Pakistan and Sipah Muhammad Pakistan. But the massacre of Hazara Shias in 2003 and 2004 proved that these measures were not enough. Both of them were the worst sectarian assaults of their time on Hazara community in the history of Pakistan. On the day of Ashura (10th Muharram), hundreds of Shias were killed in Iraq and Pakistan at the same time. Moreover, following those bloody attacks on Ashura, prominent religious figures of different sects including Maulana Azzam Tariq, Allama Arriful Husain, Allama Nasir Abbas and many more were killed. It portrays a very grim picture in terms of the state’s handling of this conundrum.

The latest episode of the terror attack on the Hazara coal miners gives us certain lessons. Although the frequency of such horror has somewhat subsided from before, thanks to law enforcement agencies, the work is still very, very far from being done. Pakistan needs to work on a few pertinent steps to make sure such episodes can become history once and for all. Firstly, the state must recognise that Pakistan is a diverse country on multiple fronts, so it should not favor any one culture, ethnicity or sect as it has repeatedly done in the past. Rather, it should encourage inter- and intra-faith harmony by establishing councils at local, provincial and national level to encourage dialogue and resolve sectarian conflicts. Prominent religious figures can be requested to play a positive role in this regard. Secondly, Pakistan should adopt proactive policies to forestall any such incidents in the future by punishing the offenders and increasing security. Thirdly, Pakistan should appraise the United Nations and other multilateral organizations of Indian bellicosity against Pakistan and the implications of its nefarious designs for the whole world.


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