Tears were still welling into her blood-shot eyes, which the young, hijab-clad, girl tried to dab with her shirt-sleeve as the reporter of Al-Jazeera International television asked her to comment on the scene of carnage around her. She had obviously been crying for a long time at the appalling devastation of human life that spoke volumes.
The scene was from Quetta, the capital city of Baluchistan, which makes up 40 per cent of the Pakistani landmass but is its least populated province. The date was February 16; the exact location was Quetta’s Kirani road, a high-density area of Hazara ethnic group’s presence in the city. It had just been hit by a massive bomb blast. Explosives had been packed inside a water-tanker; police sources estimated them to be a thousand kilograms, almost a tonne. The monster blast took an enormous toll of life: by conservative official estimates, it was 91 killed; the injured were at least 160, some of them critically. The unofficial toll put the figure of the dead at around 115.
But what the young girl told the television reporter in response to his question sounded more devastating than the monster blast; its reverberations could be heard around the world. Responding to how she felt standing in the midst of all that horrific carnage around her, the young lady coldly observed: “This is the ugliest face of Pakistan.” Hazaras of Baluchistan belong to the minority Shiite sect in a predominantly Sunni-Wahabi Muslim Pakistan. Their presence is minuscule — not more than 600,000 in Pakistan’s 180 million.
They are descendants of the Mongols who ruled vast areas of Central Asia, Afghanistan and Iran at the peak of their stormy campaign of conquest of the then Muslim world in the 13th century under Genghis Khan and his sons. However, within three generations after Genghis they converted to Islam, mostly to its Shiite branch.
But while their ancestors may have been marauding conquerors and empire builders, the Hazaras of Pakistan are a peaceful ethnic community that very much keeps to itself. For the history buff, however, the subtle irony of their lot in presentday Pakistan is hard to ignore: yesterday’s conquerors are being hunted down like the beasts of prey at the hands of fanatical religious terrorists who would like to foist on every Pakistani their brand of a vindictive and intolerant Islam. Shiites, in general, have been at the receiving end of a dastardly campaign of sectarian terror mounted against them by fanatics belonging to terrorist outfits like Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) — which literally translates as ‘the Army of Companions of the Prophet of Islam, — and an equally notorious and murderous band, called the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), or an ‘army hailing from the city of Jhang, in the heartland of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province. Once again, a subtle irony that can’t be ignored in reference to LeJ: its provenance, the city of Jhang, is the very place that spawned the great scientist, Dr. Abdus Salam, the only Muslim Nobel Laureate in Science, to date.
SSP and LeJ, both, are known to have strong links with the Pakistani Taliban, as well as with the globally notorious Al-Qaeda. LeJ has also been known for its ‘fraternal bonds’ with the terrorist outfit run by Hafiz Saeed, the man wanted by India for having master-minded the 2008 carnage in Mumbai. But while the Shiites have been sniped at with impunity in a number of places in Pakistan in recent years — especially since the Pakistani Taliban entered the country’s terrorist terrain with vengeance in the wake of the American occupation of Afghanistan — it seems that the anti-Shiite campaign of murder in Baluchistan has been waged with extra ferocity and bestiality.
As far as the poor Hazaras of Baluchistan are concerned, the terrorists have had an open season on them for years, smug in their knowledge that the corrupt ruling cabals in Islamabad and Quetta couldn’t care less how the Hazaras were being set upon by blood thirsty fanatics sworn to their ethnic cleansing.
The February 16 carnage wasn’t the first of its kind. A month before — last January 10, to be exact — a similar bomb blast had ripped through a pool-parlour in the heart of another Hazara ghetto of Quetta killing at least 96 unsuspecting Hazaras, according to official figures; the unofficial tally put the number at close to 130.
The January 10 carnage had snapped the Hazara patience. In an act of defiance that palpably flew in the face of the general Islamic practice to bury the dead at the earliest, the Hazaras sat down on Quetta’s main thoroughfares with the shrouded coffins of their dead. They refused to bury them until the government was fired.
Islamabad had to relent and gave in to their demand. The gallivanting Baluchistan Chief Minister — then on an extended British holiday — was fired and governor’s rule imposed on the bleeding province.
Terror bands like LeJ — which brazenly accepted responsibility for both incidents of carnage in Quetta — have been flaunting their credentials with pride and getting away with mass murder. Knowledgeable observers and pundits have long been pointing the finger at Pakistan’s own vaunted intelligence agencies for colluding with the terror purveyors masquerading as defenders of religious faith and dogma. That there is, at the very least, some sort of understanding — if not collusion — between the terrorists and intelligence gurus was on ample display when the GHQ in Rawalpindi was occupied by radical invaders in October 2009. The head of the blood thirsty LeJ — then still serving a long sentence in jail for murder — was brought to GHQ from his jail cell to act as a mediator between the invaders and the military brass.
Even if the intelligence watchdogs aren’t in bed with the radicals sanctioning murder and mayhem in the name of God, they have been turning a blind eye to their nefarious activities. The Punjabis have a hangover of perpetual enmity with neighbouring India which simply wouldn’t go away. Ergo, for the Punjab ruling elite the Jihadists are a second line of defence against India. Little wonder that Hafiz Saeed, sought by India for his Mumbai crimes, stalks the land freely and is seen in the media hobnobbing with political stalwarts.
Karamatullah K Ghori is a former Pakistani diplomat.