Home Features Hunting the Hazara

Hunting the Hazara

by Khaled Ahmed
Minhaj Ahmed Rafi—Newsweek

Minhaj Ahmed Rafi—Newsweek

If there ever was a sign of the demise of the Pakistani state, it is the killing of the Hazara community of Quetta.

In Pakhtun-dominated Quetta, capital of Balochistan province, they look different. Fair skinned but clearly mongoloid, they arouse curiosity and primal hatred. They belong to the Shia sect among a hardline Sunni city where the presence of Afghan and Pakistani Taliban has produced a terrorist mix seldom seen elsewhere in Pakistan. The Hazara of Quetta are in the crosshairs of the sectarian manifestation of the Taliban-Al Qaeda dominion in Pakistan.

On Jan. 21 this year, a bus carrying Hazara youths returning from pilgrimage to Shia shrines in Iran—many mixing business with faith—were blown up by a suicide-bomber’s car in the Mastung district approaching Quetta. Over 24 mangled bodies were extracted from the wreck of the pulverized bus. The Hazara of Quetta went through their routine of laying the dead bodies out on Alamdar Road and refused to bury them until the state of Pakistan pledged to take action against the killers. They pointedly rejected any assurances from the provincial government, which they have long perceived as impotent.

Two days of vigil by men, women and children alongside the limbs collected from Mastung produced results: Pakistan’s interior minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, accompanied by Sen. Pervaiz Rashid, the information minister, flew to Quetta and vowed to take action. Accordingly, on Jan. 24, the paramilitary Frontier Corps and police swept through Mastung with a 350-strong force and arrested dozens of suspected “militants.” Special military flights were arranged for the rest of the Hazara pilgrims stranded on the Pakistan-Iran border post to avoid another bloodbath.

This was not the first target-killing on Mastung Road. In the past months, the Hazara were repeatedly offloaded from buses by gun-toting men, stood before a firing squad, and executed as the non-Hazara passengers stood aside and cowered. The Mastung Road approach to Quetta is a deathtrap despite the fact that the district contains a cadet college supplying Baloch manpower to the Army. (In the other stricken province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the district of Bannu, too, has a cadet college, but is entirely at the mercy of the Taliban.)

But this year’s massacre recalled the biggest act of mass murder in the city of Quetta. On Jan. 10, over a hundred Hazara, including women and children, died after a vehicle full of a quantity of explosives not seen in the country before destroyed a market town where the Shia have become ghettoized.

The mourners refused to leave the street where they had assembled the dismembered bodies of their families until the government ensured action against the killers. The Hazara didn’t believe a word of what the politicians said because their extermination, often referred to as genocide, had become routine. This routine began years ago with the rise of the Punjab-based Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a sectarian outfit whose name appears on the Al Qaeda flag along with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and Jandullah.

In 2011, at least 26 Hazara were shot dead execution-style on Mastung Road. Terrorists had intercepted a bus going to Taftan, a town near the Pakistan-Iran border, had singled out all Hazara men, and shot them dead. Terrorists stayed at the scene for 10 minutes firing with AK-47s to ensure no one survived. Then they ambushed and killed several Hazara rushing to the scene to take their dead relatives to hospital.

From 2008 to 2012, Balochistan witnessed 758 Shia killed in 478 incidents. Of these, 338 victims belonged to the Hazara community, indicating that the Hazara remain the prime target of this violent schism.

Hazara and the Afghan War

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi issued the following proclamation in 2011: “All Shia are worthy of killing. We will rid Pakistan of unclean people. Pakistan means ‘land of the pure’ and the Shia have no right to live in this country. We have the edict and signatures of revered scholars, declaring the Shia infidels. Just as our fighters have waged a successful jihad against the Shia Hazara in Afghanistan, our mission in Pakistan is the abolition of this impure sect and its followers from every city, every village, and every nook and corner of Pakistan.

“As in the past, our successful jihad against the Hazara in Pakistan and, in particular, in Quetta is ongoing and will continue in the future. We will make Pakistan the graveyard of the Shia Hazara and their houses will be destroyed by bombs and suicide-bombers. We will only rest when we will be able to fly the flag of true Islam on this land of the pure. Jihad against the Shia Hazara has now become our duty.”

In 2012, instead of any action against the Shia killers, Pakistan released the leader of the dreaded Punjabi group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Malik Ishaq, from jail where he had faced 70 charges of sectarian murder. Reason: death or refusal of witnesses to appear against him in court.

Ishaq was led from his Lahore prison to his home in Rahimyar Khan in South Punjab in a large procession of admirers which mushroomed as it progressed. Soon thereafter, Ishaq broke the judicial embargo on his movement and left the country to visit Saudi Arabia, becoming a symbol of the state’s surrender to terrorists. To strengthen his group’s sectarian sinews further he has deepened his ties to the mother of all sectarian organizations in the country, Sipah-e-Sahaba. It was rumored that he did so after talking on the phone with some provincial ministers.

That year, provincial governments were vying with one another to reach a modus vivendi with the power centers linked to Al Qaeda to save their politicians from being assassinated. In the Punjab, where such a new relationship was set up to “sanitize” the elections in South Punjab in favor of the government, police chiefs were in the habit of blaming terrorism on Israel and India. Ishaq, killing the Hazara in Balochistan, is a challenge to Pakistan’s sovereignty that Pakistan is reluctant to face. And there are reasons for that.

In 2012, the Shia of Pakistan quaked in their tracks as they saw Ishaq on the stage of a Defense of Pakistan Council rally in Multan protesting against Islamabad’s policy of normalizing relations with India. The ex-ISI boss Hamid Gul, who attended the rally, denied that Ishaq was present on the occasion and charged that a photograph revealing the truth was actually a doctored one. The Defense of Pakistan Council went into partial eclipse after the retirement of the-then ISI chief Gen. Shuja Pasha, but there is no guarantee that it will not raise its head again, this time in defiance of the state.

A Reuters report from that year said: “The grip Lashkar-e-Jhangvi exerts on Quetta is difficult to appreciate from the drawing rooms of Islamabad, where brief reports of bombings or assassinations carried on the inside pages of newspapers fail to capture the scale of the persecution now faced by the city’s 500,000 Hazara.”

On the Ashura [the 10 days observing martyrdom of Imam Hussain] of 2003 and 2004, the Shia Hazara community of Quetta was struck twice, yielding 53 dead. Pakistan blamed India but the Shia were pointing clearly to the three well-known sectarian jihadist militias and some quite respectable clerical leaders of Pakistan. When nothing was done and more Shia were killed at the Pakistan space agency SUPACO in Karachi, someone hit back in a desperate gesture and shot dead the “elected by mistake” member of the National Assembly Maulana Azam Tariq, leader of the anti-Shia Sipah-e-Sahaba, in Islamabad.

Reuters thought the Quetta killings could be stopped: “The onslaught against the Hazara could easily be blunted—if the will existed to do so. This is not an isolated village in the Hindu Kush, nor is it an intimidating metropolis on the scale of Karachi, the megacity of 18 million people where Lashkar has also been hard at work. With a population of about 2 million, Quetta … has a small-town feel. It is easy to predict where the attacks will take place. Many occur on Spini Road, which links Mehrabad to Hazara Town, the other main Hazara enclave which lies on the other side of Quetta. The assassins roar up on motorbikes, open fire, and are gone. They are never caught. It is a measure of their confidence that they do not bother to wear masks.”

There is an unforgettable TV discussion of a massacre that deserves revisiting: Geo News on Sept. 12, 2003, had host Hamid Mir interviewing the imam of the Hazara Imambargah at Quetta where the Shia community was blown up by suicide bombers. The imam said the attack was carried out by Sipah-e-Sahaba, Jaish-e-Muhammad and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and this information had been given to the administration in Quetta. Jamaat-e-Islami’s then-chief Qazi Hussain Ahmed was present at his side when he stated this. He added that Ahmed was a member of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, a clerical electoral alliance, and should take measures to persuade people in the MMA to stop doing what was being done. Ahmed instead said that it was the responsibility of the government to end terrorism. The Hazara killings followed the distribution of anti-Shia fatwas in Quetta, a fact mentioned by the Hazara on TV.

Why are the state-generated, Taliban-appended militias killing the Hazara? Is it religion or are there other reasons which may become more apparent after the Americans leave and the Taliban reestablish themselves in Afghanistan?

Roy Gutman in his revealing 2008 book, How We Missed the Story: Osama bin Laden, the Taliban, and the Hijacking of Afghanistan, points to the real reason and it goes back to the unsuccessful invasion by the Taliban in 1997 of the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif with a large Hazara presence. The invasion was orchestrated by the ISI, which managed the defection of the Uzbek warlord Rashid Dostam in favor of the Taliban. Seeing Pakistan involved, Iran weighed in on the other side, arming and training the Shia warriors. Uzbekistan and Tajikistan also sided with forces arrayed against the Taliban onslaught.

The Taliban warriors easily occupied Mazar-e-Sharif and began doing things not agreed prior to the invasion. Pakistan recognized the Taliban government at this point, ignoring the violated undertakings by its client. Soon, the trouble started and victory began to derail. The Taliban went to the Hazara quarters in the city and asked them to disarm. Scared of the Shariah-based revenge against their faith, they refused and began roaming the city looking for the Taliban. They killed 350 of them, including their commander Mullah Razzaq. They ended up bagging 3,000 of them as prisoners whom also they executed.

Banaras Khan—AFP

Banaras Khan—AFP

The book says Pakistan was the dominant power behind the scenes. But uncannily it also sent in Pakistani jihadists of Kashmir vintage as military assistance. Hamid Gul told Gutman, “ISI brokered a deal but it was the wrong one.” Colonel Imam, the ISI officer called Ruler of Herat, later denied that the Mazar-e-Sharif defeat was a big fiasco and funnily also claimed that the Taliban who invaded Mazar-e-Sharif were unarmed and were mostly traders. He also put the blame on Iran for asking the Shia Hazara to resist and start the massacre.

The Taliban finally got hold of Mazar-e-Sharif in 1998 and inflicted a massacre on it to shame all massacres, including the killing of the Iranian diplomats in the consulate at the hands of the Sipah-e-Sahaba boys sent in from Pakistan, as Iran complained. The book says the Sahaba boys arrested the officers but, after taking their cash, handed them over to the Taliban for the killing.

Who are the Hazara?

Balochistan’s then inspector-general of police, Shoaib Suddle, also put his finger on another cause of the Shia extermination: The Hazara were an upwardly mobile community; their children were more motivated to acquire good education and did well at school and college levels and ended up winning the best government jobs specially in the education sector. The community was comparatively prosperous and inward-looking, thus arousing envy and hatred.

In The Hazaras of Afghanistan: A Historical, Cultural, Economic and Political Study, S. A. Mousavi gives the ethnic background: Hazara sociology points to their Mongol or [Mughal] background as most Hazara designate ideal behavior as being [Mughal]. Most classical historians agree with this theory, as do anthropologists who see the Hazara features as distinctly Mongol. Greek historian Curtius wrote about Alexander invading Central Afghanistan to tame the stubborn Hazara. Firdousi also mentions the fiercely resistant warriors of Barbaristan which can be identified as Hazarajat or the central province of Bamiyan. Famous Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang passed through Central Afghanistan in 644 AD and mentioned two capitals, Ho-See-Na (Ghazni) and Ho-Sa-La (Hazara) in Arachosia (Afghanistan). Ptolemy too notes Ozala in Arachosia. This is supposed to prove that the Hazaras were ancient natives of the region.

Afghan historian Habibi thinks that the [Mughal] troops settled in Central Afghanistan, then adopted Persian as their language. The commanders who owned a thousand horsemen-warriors were called Ming (thousand) in Chinese which translated as hazar in Persian. Hence, the name Hazara, although the Hazara pronounce their name as Azra.

Another expert on the Hazara, Alessandro Monsutti, classifies the Hazara migration from Bamiyan in Afghanistan to Balochistan in the following phases:

“From 1878-1891: Following the second Anglo-Afghan war, the first Hazaras came to Quetta to seek employment in British-run companies under the Raj. They are thought to have worked on the building of roads and the Bolan Pass railway as well as enlisting in the British Army of India. At that time, there could have been no more than a few hundred Hazaras in Balochistan.

“From 1891-1901: The subjugation of Hazarajat by Emir Abdur Rahman, between 1891 and 1893, triggered a mass exodus of Hazaras to Turkestan, Khorasan and Balochistan. From 1901 to 1933: The situation in Afghanistan returned to normal under Habibullah (1901-1919), the son of Abdul Rahman. He offered amnesty to the Hazara but this proved to be of little help in improving the lot of the Hazara community in Afghanistan. In 1904, the 106th Pioneers, a separate regiment for the Hazara formed by the British, offered greater career prospects, social recognition and economic success. One Hazara rose to the job of commander-in-chief of the armed forces of Pakistan, Gen. Musa Khan, who probably foresaw the fate of the Hazara in Pakistan and left a will to get himself buried in Mazar-e-Sharif in Iran.

“From 1933-1971: The regiment of Hazara Pioneers was disbanded in 1933. Deprived of this social and professional outlet, Hazaras went to settle in Quetta between the 1930s and 1960s, although the process of migration never completely dried up. From 1971-1978: Following the 1971 drought, Hazaras then settled in Quetta or went to Iran in search of work. Between 1973 and 1978, tensions over the Pushtunistan issue between the Daud government and Pakistan were an additional factor in the Hazara migration. After 1978: Following the Communist coup in April 1978 and the Soviet intervention in December 1979, the migratory movement assumed hitherto unprecedented dimensions.”

The State of Pakistan and the Hazara

In 1996, Pakistan backed the Taliban government in Kabul and, together with Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E., was the only state that extended recognition to an intolerant Shariah-based government; but out of the three states, only Pakistan allowed a Taliban embassy to be opened in Islamabad. Today, Islamabad’s Afghan policy continues to be heavily pro-Pakhtun and it has deliberately eschewed traction with the Afghan communities enlisted with the non-Pakhtun Northern Alliance because of its ideological intelligence bias. In the coming days as the Americans and their allies leave Afghanistan, Pakistan must anticipate a free-for-all civil war in Afghanistan, perhaps erroneously preening itself for having backed the “friendly” Taliban instead of the “India-friendly” non-Pakhtuns.

The Taliban in Afghanistan are killing the Hazara the same as Pakistani groups are killing them in Quetta. AFP stated on Jan. 23, 2014, in its report that the Kabul-Bamiyan Road, like Mastung Road, had become the killing-fields of the Hazara: “A 30-kilometer stretch of two paved lanes heading west from the town of Maidan Shahr in central Afghanistan has seen many beheadings, kidnappings and other Taliban attacks in recent years against members of the minority ethnic Hazara community. Nowadays, nearly all drivers avoid it. The highway is the main route between the Afghan capital and Hazarajat, the informal name of the 45,000-square-mile region of highlands and rich pastures where the Hazara have traditionally settled.”

This is the underside of Pakistan’s military vision. It sees Afghanistan through the Pakhtun lens, and that means letting the Shia be put to the sword. This is how Pakistan has survived in the past and this is how it hopes to survive with the doctrine of strategic depth. The Hazara are the dividend Pakistan’s military thinkers are offering to the holy investors in jihad. Will the Hazara go as lambs to the slaughter organized by failing states no longer able to allow them to live?

The Hazara have finally rejected the Shia propaganda line—emanating from Iran and embraced by the Shia leaders of Pakistan in general—that the Shia are being killed by the Americans through their paid killers, the Taliban. They now name the killers. Their leaders in Quetta have joined issue with Declan Walsh, the New York Times correspondent expelled by Pakistan for reporting too close to truth, on the label of “Sunni killers” used by him: they are clear about the Deobandi section of Sunni Muslims carrying out the carnage; they go so far as to exclude such “moderate” Deobandi organizations as Tablighi Jamaat, reminding him that a Tablighi Jamaat gathering was massacred in Swat when the current Taliban chief Fazlullah was ruling the valley. (A recent attack on a Tablighi Jamaat mosque in Peshawar has not been owned by the Taliban.)

After the most recent Mastung carnage, the Shia of Pakistan staged countrywide protests, including one in front of Governor House in Lahore which actually told Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf workers not to offer sympathy to them because they considered Khan too pro-Taliban. The Hazara ask the following stark questions on the Internet:

One: In February 2013, two killers of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Usman Kurd and Daud Badini, were condemned to death by an antiterrorism court in Quetta. They were picked up from the Quetta Cantonment prison and sent to Afghanistan in a military truck. Who was behind this?

Two: In May 2013, the Pakistan Army took the Shia-killers of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Muhammad Umar Lehri and Mir Ahmad Lehri, from the Quetta Cantonment police station and made them disappear. These two were arrested by paramilitary troops after repeated complaints from the Hazara community. Why were they vanished?

Three: Why are Lashkar-e-Jhangvi terrorists able to buy thousands of kilos of explosives in Quetta but the insurgent Balochistan Liberation Army is not able to do so?

If there ever was a sign of the demise of the Pakistani state it is the killing of the Hazara community of Quetta. The Hazara, after getting killed like flies, are a stigma for Islamabad’s Foreign Office earning its daily bread rebuking the world for finding fault with Pakistan.

In October 2012, Reuters reported: “According to Khaliq Hazara, chairman of the Hazara Democratic Party, many attacks take place within sight of checkpoints manned by security forces. The Hazara say they have not heard of a single case of a Lashkar suspect being prosecuted … In private, some members of the security forces are less than sympathetic to the plight [of the Hazara]. One officer argued—in apparent seriousness—that wealthy members of the Hazara community were orchestrating the attacks on their poorer brethren to win sympathy from Western governments to make it easier to obtain visas.”

Of course, the comical chief minister of Balochistan that year, Nawab Aslam Raisani, told reporters he would send a “truckload of tissue paper” to the mourning Hazara so they could wipe away their tears. After that, the Hazara turned to human-smugglers to somehow get them out of Pakistan, like their fellow Shia of Kurram Agency, the Turis, many whom died trying to get to Australia as “boat people.” Ali Dayan Hasan of Human Rights Watch says: “In April 2013, some 60 Hazara died when their boat capsized in Indonesian waters en route to Australia.”

The lives of 50,000 Hazara are under threat in Quetta. There are over 13,000 members of the community living in Karachi, too. In Hussain Hazara Goth, where their Imambargah is located, they fear for their lives, often pointing out that “our community, especially in Balochistan, is among the most literate and educated; they envy us, our people are in the police, government and everywhere; and out of the four female pilots in Pakistan, one is from our community.” The pride in being Pakistani is irrepressible in this dying community.

I. A. Rehman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan recently wrote: “The Hazara question the failure of the all-powerful Frontier Crops to go for the trigger-happy members of the Punjab-based militia [Lashkar-e-Jhangvi] that enjoys the freedom of not only Mastung and Khuzdar but also of Quetta. They make no attempt to conceal themselves or hide their weapons in the street or the mosque. They have already destroyed Balochistan’s reputation as a peaceful multicultural society.”

From our March 15, 2014, issue.

Related Articles


A J Khan March 11, 2014 - 1:18 pm

Hazaras carries the baggage of Afghan War along with them when they enter Pakistan from Afghanistan. The Afghan War has fractured the society. During Taliban oppressive regime, Talibans were taking weapons from Iran for self defense and to establish their local clout in Hazarajats,
This did not go well with the Talibans.
In Pakistan they were followed by the same people. However this resulted in attacks on Pakistani Hazara Community which was living in peace with the Pashtuns in Quetta.
To their bad luck, Baloch Militancy also started targeting outsiders called settlers in length & breadth of Balochistan. Hazaras like punjabis and Pashtuns from else where were also targeted. Mastung has been a confluence point where Baloch Militants & Sunni Extremists join hand & target Hazara & Shias.

Bamyan Buddha March 11, 2014 - 8:33 pm

AJ Khan:
1. As author pointed out in the article, Hazaras have lived in Pakistan region well before there was “Pakistan.” Hence this question of “Hazaras carries the baggage of Afghan War along with them when they enter Pakistan” is, therefore, incorrect.

2. Baloch nationalist militants, to my knowledge, have never owned an attack on Hazaras. Hazaras don’t accuse Baloch nationalists or Balochs (much like they don’t blame Pashtuns for Taliban attacks) in general for the attack by religious extremists such as LEJ (most of which are also Baloch). Both Baloch and Hazara communities now view the attack on Hazaras as pre-meditated. by the functionaries of the State, meant as distraction to avoid focus on “Kill and Dump” of Balochs.

3. Iran, much like Saudi Arabia, is an opportunist state dreaming of dominance of Islamic World (whatever that means). The focus of the article was not Hazara-Iran relationship. In reality, Iran has helped Taliban (one example, a former Taliban Gov ack that Iran has given them at least 500 motorcycles), sheltered Bin-Laden’s family (Arab-Sunni-Wahabi) in Tehran, gave suitcase full of dollars to Karzai govt (Pashtun; His aide was caught red handed with suitcase of dollars by NATO upon return from Iran), sheltered Hikmatyar (Pashtun-Sunnni/Wahabi), Ismail Khan (Tajik-Sunni). Btw, the official hate slur for Hazaras in Iran is “Berberis” (Barbarics) – see doc: http://www.hazara.net/downloads/downloads.html

A J Khan March 12, 2014 - 1:35 pm

Baloch Militants & LeJ made joint attack on Hazaras when BLA (owned attack) on general public in Mezan Chowk to distract the police. When Police was committed at Mizan Chowk, LeJ carried the worst attack on Hazaras while the Baloch CM Raisaini refused to visit the Hazara community. Lej gets its recruits from Mastung working under Usman Kurd & its cover up organization is run by Ramazan Mengal all Balochs

Malik Achakzai March 11, 2014 - 2:48 pm

I doubt the foreign media is having such reports. I still remember the release of ‪#‎MullahAbdulRazzaq‬ a Taliban commander who was arrested in the ‪#‎MazarESharif‬ clashes between Taliban and the Hazara fighter ‪#‎Malik‬. And we were teenage children. I still remember the ‪#‎Pakistani‬ Civil Hospital Ambulance had a red bulb on its hood that was followed by ‪#‎MullahRazzaq‬ luxury landcruiser car. But here the very known international organization has wrongly reported.

The Taliban warriors easily occupied Mazar-e-Sharif and began doing things not agreed prior to the invasion. Pakistan recognized the Taliban government at this point, ignoring the violated undertakings by its client. Soon, the trouble started and victory began to derail. The Taliban went to the Hazara quarters in the city and asked them to disarm. Scared of the Shariah-based revenge against their faith, they refused and began roaming the city looking for the Taliban. They killed 350 of them, including their commander Mullah Razzaq. They ended up bagging 3,000 of them as prisoners whom also they executed. via The Daily Beast report.

Bamyan Buddha March 11, 2014 - 8:13 pm

Kudos to Khaled Ahmed and Newsweek team for connecting the dots on the Hazara persecution in Pakistan and Afghanistan. There are some minor inconsistencies that hazara.net has pointed out on their facebook page but overall, as a Hazara, I give it a “two thumbs up”(eg. Gen Musa is buried in Meshad, Iran; By Mazar-e Sharif, Author probably didn’t mean “city of Mazar-e Sharif” in Afghanistan but the “Holy Shrine” in Meshad)
See facebook.com/hazara.net

M Ali Khan March 29, 2014 - 9:02 am

last line from IA Rehman: “They have already destroyed Balochistan’s reputation as a peaceful multicultural society.”

I’m sorry Rehman sahib, but that reputation died much before the slaughter of Hazara Shias became the norm. The systematic targeting and killing of non-Baloch ‘settlers’ (Punjabi school teachers, shopkeepers, labourers, barbers etc) by Baloch Sarmachars gave ethnic violence the trigger that has now engulfed all of Balochistan.

But you won’t see Baloch ‘activists’ being as forceful against it (and they give token support to Hazaras) than you’d expect.


Leave a Comment