The grief of the Hazaras and the apathy of Prime Minister Imran Khan
During my university summer break of 2012 in America, I went to California with a close friend of mine who was visiting the country. When we were in Los Angeles (LA), my friend expressed the desire to meet a friend who at the time was studying at a prestigious university. He wanted me to accompany him. Since I did not know the person, I refused. But then he said, “Raza, meet him. You will like him. He is a Hazara Shiite”. Upon hearing this I immediately agreed to the visit. I still vividly remember that night. We met him at a Halal restaurant in LA. After exchanging pleasantries, the conversation veered towards the risks his community was facing in Quetta. Talking about the extreme dangers his community was enduring, he said, “My father called me one day and told me not to return to Quetta because he cannot even come to receive me at the airport”. At the time, I remember thinking, “Surely the situation cannot be this bad”.
However, barely six months later, my naïve assumption was blatantly proven incorrect when two bomb blasts on the same day killed more than 90 people, mostly belonging to the Hazara community in Quetta. Subsequently, in scenes which have become permanently ingrained in my memory, thousands of Hazaras staged a sit-in at the site of the bomb blast, with the coffins of those who had been martyred. They were refusing to bury their dead unless protection for the community was increased and the provincial government dismissed. After three days and nights of the sit-in in the extreme cold of Quetta, the federal government yielded and dismissed the provincial government.
That above discussed defiance of the Hazaras was unfortunately not a singular episode because their community continues to be targeted, and they have had to resort to such sit-ins several times in desperation to get some official attention.
Once again, the Hazaras have bled, and once again they are braving the Quetta cold and staging a sit-in with the coffins. Social media is filled with heart wrenching images and videos through which the plight of the community is so blatantly visible.
It has been almost six days since their sit-in began, and so far they have refused to bury their dead unless Prime Minister Imran Khan visits them. In a touching video, a young girl can be seen literally pleading the Pakistani nation, and in particularly the prime minister, to pay heed to their plight. She points out that in Quetta prayers are offered six times a day since there is inevitably a funeral prayer every day to accompany the regular five prayers.
And yet, for some odd reason, at least till these sentences have been written, Prime Minister Imran Khan has still not met with the families of the victims. He has “advised” the protesting Hazaras to bury their dead so that “their souls can find peace”; and in a latest, and extremely shocking video, the prime minister of Pakistan has accused the Hazara community of “blackmailing” him in order for him to visit. He categorically told them that he would only visit after they bury their dead. When I saw the said clip, I was shocked at his callousness and complete lack of empathy. This is not how the prime minister of Pakistan should speak about those who are grieving and need reassurance from the state that their condition will improve.
Prime Minster Imran Khan’s attitude after this latest episode is truly puzzling. He has also implied in a tweet that India is responsible for the deaths of the miners who were brutally killed on Sunday. My mind went back to an old video from 2012 in which Prime Minster Imran Khan made tall claims that once in power he would never blame any foreign powers if the Hazara community was targeted. He blamed state failure for the 2013 blasts, and now when he is in power somehow “foreign powers” have become responsible. In 2013, he visited the victims and blamed the then Prime Minister, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, and President Asif Zardari for being corrupt and not coming to Quetta. Shortly after his visit, Raja Pervaiz duly met the protestors and complied with their demands by sacking his government. Today, when he himself is prime minister, Imran Khan has still not visited the families of the victims and, far worse than this, is accusing the Hazara community of somehow trying to blackmail him. Prime Minster Imran Khan’s priorities can be gauged from the fact that when protestors were holding a sit-in in the freezing cold, he was busy meeting the team of the popular Turkish drama serial Ertugrul.
I have always opposed Prime Minster Imran Khan for his reactionary type of politics, but I still used to admire him for having some empathy. After all, he is the main driving force behind the Shaukat Khanam Hospital, a monumental philanthropic achievement, and had also spoken for the Hazara victims when in the opposition. However, now that he is in power, it seems even that quality has faded away. He may eventually visit the aggrieved families after the burial since there is considerable pressure from the opposition – whose main leaders Bilawal Bhutto and Maryam Nawaz have already visited the protestors – and some citizens of the country, but by then it would be too little too late.
But the problem is not only with the prime minister since our society also has the tendency to trivialise and deny what is so blatantly a slow-moving Shiite genocide, with a particular focus on the Hazaras. It is easier to target them mainly due to their distinct facial features and the fact that they are concentrated in one city. Every time they are killed, our standard response is to either blame “foreign” powers or to trivialise it by saying that in Pakistan Sunnis and others also get killed.
We are unfortunately wrong on both counts. Anti-Shiite sentiments are rampant in Pakistan, and barely a few months ago anti-Shia protests were held in Karachi. There have been open calls from some quarters to declare them to be non-Muslims, and the chant “Kafir Kafir Shia Kafir” is an extremely pervasive slogan in the country. Over the past two decades, more than 7,000 Shiites have been killed or injured. Moreover, Pakistan has witnessed target killings of Shiite religious scholars, doctors, lawyers and other professionals. Even if, for the sake of argument, “foreign” powers are involved, they are merely using ammunition which is exclusively home grown. Secondly, while it is true that in Pakistan, given the security situation, everyone is in danger, the violence against Shiites, particularly the Hazara community, is targeted and is being perpetuated specifically because of their religious sect. These are not just “Pakistanis being killed”, these are Pakistanis who are killed because they belong to a specific sect. Understanding this reality is important, otherwise we won’t be able to address the blood-stained issue at hand.