The attack on coalminers in Machh is the latest salvo in a decades-spanning effort to marginalize and eradicate the minority community
On Jan. 3, 2021, unidentified gunmen killed 11 Hazara Shia coalminers in Machh, a small town of Bolan District about 30 miles from Balochistan province’s capital Quetta. According to the Levies Force posted in Machh, a group of terrorists came to the mine, separated the Hazara Shia from the other miners, took them to a nearby mountain, tied their hands and feet, and shot them dead. Some of the slain were even beheaded. As expected, the Islamic State or ISIS militant group claimed responsibility for the attack, through its Amaq news agency.
Shortly after the attack, the Hazaras gathered in Quetta to protest the latest act of terrorism, with one of the placards at the site accusing Pakistan’s own Lashkar-e-Jhangvi of doing the deed. The 600,000 Shia Hazaras of Quetta—over 13,000 members of the community live in in Karachi, 600 in Hussain Hazara Goth alone—are once again protesting that their men have been killed in such great numbers, leaving entire families where only women are left to pick up the pieces and become the breadwinners. Soldiers of the Pakistan Army, charged with the security and protection of citizens in the province, are also frequently killed in one-sided encounters by “armed men.”
Sin of being Shia in Pakistan
In 2011, Quetta witnessed a similar attack on the Shia Hazaras, with the attackers issuing the following ominous warning:
“All Shias are worthy of killing. We will rid Pakistan of unclean people. Pakistan means land of the pure and the Shias have no right to live in this country. We have the edict and signatures of revered scholars, declaring Shias infidels. Just as our fighters have waged a successful jihad against the Shia Hazaras 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 Hazaras in Pakistan and, in particular, in Quetta, is ongoing and will continue in the future. We will make Pakistan the graveyard of the Shia Hazaras 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 Hazaras has now become our duty.”
The primary “fault” of the Hazara is that they are Shia. Their historical origin is Central Afghanistan’s Bamyan, but they have lived in Quetta for centuries. Their other “fault” is that that they are largely businessmen and shopkeepers, which makes them more elevated in intellect than their tormentors. In Kurram Agency they are known are Turis, and have been there for centuries too. They have some capacity to fight back there but the state of Pakistan has all but abandoned them to the likes of ISIS and the Sunni Lashkar-e-Jhangvi from Punjab.
The Turis of Pakistan’s Kurram Agency also refused to participate in Pakistan-sponsored jihad, and were attacked in 1983, marking the starting-point of the sectarian conflict that has long plagued the country. Today, the Turis of Parachinar, and the Hazaras of Quetta are bearing the brunt of Sunni-Pashtun reprisal. What Pakistan is doing to the Hazara of Quetta is nothing short of ethnic-cleansing. The killers announce loudly that they are killing them because they want to exterminate them to earn Paradise.
Poison from Afghanistan
The Hazaras came under pressure when the “Afghan Shura” under Mullah Umar shifted to Quetta in 2001; they were made to “pay” for the acts of omission and commission of their co-ethnics in Central Afghanistan. Organized under their militia, Hezb-e-Wahdat, the Hazaras allied with the Jumbish militia of Dostam and Hezb-e-Islami militia of Hekmatyar. In 1995, the Taliban conquered Kabul and captured and murdered the great Hazara leader Abdul Ali Mazari. The Hazaras then fought on the side of the Northern Alliance against the Taliban, who visited on them cruelty enough to forget the scourge of Mongol hordes.
Because of persecution, the Hazaras of Quetta allowed themselves to be ghettoized, which is a step in the direction of easy killing. The vast majority moved to the provincial capital’s Hazara Town, which is divided into nine blocks, and almost all the houses are made of concrete. They can speak Urdu but they are originally Persian-speaking. They have, in contrast to other Afghan groups, actively invested in education. The Hazara community is the most educated community in Balochistan; some 50 percent of the position holders in the matriculation and intermediate exams of the region are from among them. Hence, the visible presence of Hazaras in the civil services, police, the I.T. market, small businesses and other professional sectors in Balochistan.
The 2003 Massacre
In 2003, in one of the worst sectarian assaults in the history of Pakistan, some 58 people, most of them Hazara Shias, were killed while around 200 were injured when suicide bombers attacked Imambargah-e-Kalan in Quetta. Another 38 persons, mostly Hazara Shias, were killed in a sectarian assault on March 2, 2004 on the day of the Ashura. The incident left 200 people injured. Just before the 2003 attack, Quetta was flooded with leaflets containing fatwas from the country’s top ulema, declaring the Shia an apostate community.
The victim community has been naming their tormentors: Sipah-e-Sahaba, Jaish-e-Muhammad and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, all originating in the ideology of Pakistan and its involvement in sectarianism. The leaders of the above organizations have been known to be the part of the “covert jihad” that has been waged in India’s neighborhood for which the Hazaras have paid the price with their lives and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, allied with Al Qaeda, has claimed responsibility for most of the attacks against them.
Zerqawi from Al Qaeda
All this mayhem gets connected finally to Al Qaeda, whose leaders Osama bin Laden (d. 2011) and Aiman al-Zawahiri—still alive—didn’t like what had sprung from the womb of their organization. Ahmad Faded al-Nazal al-Khalayleh was born in 1966 and later came to be known as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, taking his surname from the town in which he was born and raised, Zarqa, Jordan. Zarqawi was a sectarian psychopath who harbored a genocidal worldview against Shias. In a policy memo to bin Laden and Zawahiri intercepted by Kurdish forces and published by the U.S. State Department in February 2004, Zarqawi depicts the Shias as an existential enemy and calls on religion and history to validate his claim.
That bin Laden accepted him in Al Qaeda and allowed him to join him in Pakistan was an act of stupidity if the Al Qaeda was non-sectarian as he avowed later. Yet, he let him go to Iraq to do his Shia-killing in a Shia-majority state. And Zawahiri crossed over to Iraq through Iran and was not arrested there either. What he did in Iraq after creating ISIS is a trauma that the people of Iraq will not soon forget. Directing his multi-identity combination of forces from Abbottabad, Osama bin Laden did not know what he was doing to Pakistan by getting it to accept anti-Shia outfits like Sipah-e-Sahaba as the foundation of its jihad policy.
Ideological disease of sectarianism
The Brussels-based Crisis Group, in its Asia Report No 95 titled The State of Sectarianism in Pakistan, says: “In 1988, the last year of Zia’s rule, the longstanding sectarian peace in the Northern Areas was shattered by bloody anti-Shia riots. When Shias in Gilgit celebrated Eidul Fitr, Sunnis, still fasting because their scholars had not sighted the moon, attacked them. Since the initial clashes ended with a truce between local community leaders, Shias were caught unprepared when they were attacked by a Sunni lashkar. The lashkar consisted of thousands of people from Mansehra, Chilas, Kohistan and other areas in the [then] NWFP.
“They had traveled a long distance to reach Gilgit, but the government did not stop them. No government force intervened even as killings and rapes were going on. Instead, the government put the blame on RAW (Research and Analysis Wing, India’s intelligence agency), Iran and CIA. In the rampage that followed, more than 700 Shias were killed, scores of Shia villages were pillaged and burnt, and even livestock were slaughtered.
“It was on Musharraf’s watch as Army chief that Pakistan’s Kashmir jihad policy increased the ranks of Islamic extremists in the Northern Areas. In 1999 the Kargil conflict resulted in the influx of Sunni jihadi elements into the region. Extremist organizations like the SSP, Lashkar-e-Tayba, Jaish-e-Muhammad, Al-Ikhwan and Harkatul Mujahideen have since opened offices there. Places like Chilas and Gilgit have become the hub of Sunni jihadi training and anti-Shia activism. And every Sunni attack has resulted in a tit-for-tat Shia response.”
The luxury of apostatization
The fatwa of apostatization issued against Shias by one the founders of Karachi’s Darul Ulum at the Banuri Town mosque complex will make clear the basic features of the sectarian quarrel. Mufti Wali Hassan Tonki issued the following judgement in 1986: “The Shia believe that the Quran is created and not eternal and is lying safe with the Occult Imam; that the Quran has been changed as claimed in the works of Mullah Baqar Majlisi and Muhammad Taqi al-Nuri al-Tabarsi; that, like the Qadianis, the Shia accept Muhammad [PBUH] as the last Prophet only literally and not in the real sense and have set up a parallel system to his Prophethood in the concept of Imamate, equating one with the other; that the Shia reject the ijma’ of the Muslim community on the caliphates of Abu Bakr and Umar; the Shia are therefore outside the pale of Islam.”
A number of clerical leaders of Pakistan co-signed or confirmed the above fatwa. Among them were two well-known names: Muhammad Yusuf Ludhianvi and Mufti Nizamuddin Shamzai, both killed in the sectarian upheaval that overtook Pakistan during the Afghan civil war of the 1990s and the jihadi reaction to American invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Fatwas of apostatization are on record as having been issued from time to time from all the prominent madrassas of Pakistan.
Darul Ulum Haqqaniya Akora Khattak of Maulana Samiul Haq (killed violently in his bedroom in Rawalpindi in 2018) issued its own fatwa of apostatisation of the Shia in 1986 saying that eating food cooked by them, attending their funerals, and burying them in Sunni graveyards was unacceptable. Another fatwa from Jamia Ashrafia Lahore, whose leader Maulana Muhammad Malik Kandhalwi was said to be a relative of General Zia, declared the Shias kafir because “they held that the Quran had been tampered with and gave Hazrat Ali a status equal to Prophet Muhammad [PBUH], claiming that angel Jibreel had made a mistake while taking wahi to the Prophet [PBUH].”
The protesters in Quetta, today, are not asking for too much. They want Prime Minister Imran Khan to personally visit and assure them that justice will be ensured. After the decades of terror they have suffered merely for being members of a minority community, this is the least an elected head of state can provide.