Editor’s NOTE: The following op-ed, penned by me, was originally published in Daily Times on January 14, 2013. I’m pleased to cross-post the article on my blog from Daily Times without any editing. (Ali Salman Alvi)
A progressive developing nation would cater to the rights of all its citizens, including the minorities. The UN charter for Citizens Rights also mentions the rights of minorities but the rights of the Shia community in Pakistan are presently at the mercy of the game being played by radicals, which is endorsed by political groups as that of ‘pious ones and infidels’. With this mindset, the radical groups are busy eliminating the Shia from Pakistan with vigour. The passing of the buck is the easiest action for those sitting in government to those holding the microphones on primetime programmes. The irony is that no one listens because we do not want to listen to the cries and appeals of the Shias. How can a common man with no power survive when the Quetta police itself is being issued stern warnings by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi to keep its hands off its jihadists or else it will suffer dire consequences?
Amidst all this chaos, where does a common Shia visualise his future? Does he live under the psychosis of fear of following his faith or the schizophrenia of society that is considerate of the entire Muslim community but alienates itself from Shia killings, which go on unabashed? Where should a Shia go because the media remains silent and chooses to look at other trivial issues as ‘breaking news’? The Shias silently protesting for their safety have not been paid attention to by either government or media, as the burning issue of Shia killings remains orphaned at the hands of bigotry and the political tussle of extracting maximum voters by aligning with hardliners. For how long should the Shia community lament the bloodshed of its own, because once again the apathy of the government goes to the drone attack victims but not a word on the citizens being killed by the Takfiri ideology? Where does the blood of Shia martyrs go? Because of bigotry and deep-seated hatred for Shias, does their sacrifice become any less important? Now it seems that the killing of the members of the Shia community has definitely failed to arouse the forever-asleep government officials. What more is required for them to wake up?
The statistics found in a report released by the home department states that 758 members of the Shia community were killed in 478 incidents from 2008-2012 in the province of Balochistan. Of these 758 victims, 338 belonged to the Hazara community while the other 420 belong to other ethnicities. The figures clearly indicate that all these victims were killed for the same reason and that is the school of thought they chose to follow. A bloody 2012 ended on a sombre note for Pakistan’s besieged Shia community. The penultimate day of 2012 saw 20 Shia pilgrims butchered in a massive car bomb attack that targeted a convoy of buses carrying 180 Shia pilgrims to Iran. The year 2013 started in the worst possible way. Alamdar Road, the Shia-Hazara dominated area of Quetta, was targeted last week on Thursday. More than 85 people were butchered, in back to back blasts, and well over 150 were wounded, as members of the Shia community continue to be massacred in cold blood. After the barbaric attacks, the Lashkar-e- Jhangvi, as usual, claimed the responsibility for the attacks.
Quetta has seen a severe downward graph of Shia-Hazaras who have stopped attending schools/colleges/universities. Government employees either have taken leave or are being thrown out of service, a gross murder of the legitimate rights of this Shia minority but it does not move the power bigwigs. Shias from the Hazara community are a soft target since they are easily distinguishable from the other ethnic groups because of their features. In the last few years, scores of Shias from the Hazara community have moved to Australia and Canada. Some of the immigrants take grave risks, as dozens of them died of suffocation in containers. Some of them died while crossing borders while others lost the battle of their survival in shipwrecks. So desperate are people because of this barbarity and injustice that they think of only an exodus as a means of survival. They are willing to take every risk to get out of the land where they are being butchered relentlessly. When will the silence end? Will the others in majority wait until the Shia Hazaras are declared an extinct community from Pakistan? The Taliban have wiped off the Hazara community from the Bamiyan region and its affiliated missionaries have begun to face persecution at the hands of those who are distorting the demographical proportion of Pakistan.
The theory of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban is nothing but a utopia, a fable story, for the think tanks to dwell upon and the world to believe that the ‘poor tribal’ people’s agitation has nothing to do with the people of Pakistan, whereas the same groups hit only those whom their version of Islam declares infidels without any challenge from any corner whatsoever and the result is the mass persecution of the Shias in the name of ‘Islam’. This month, a minister told an interviewer that associations of decades could not be washed away in a matter of months and we have to see the ground reality. The reality for the deep state, they say, is that the Taliban are a strategic asset.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is gaining new ground or is on its last legs, depends on who you are talking to. Interior Minister Rehman Malik insists that the TTP is on the verge of collapse given that its channel of funding is effectively being choked by the government. While the TTP remains apolitical, its off-shoots and allied parties are moving into mainstream politics but the other radical parties are increasing, resulting in a mass exodus of the Shias first from Quetta and now in Karachi, where every other day a Shia is killed. The media goes silent on the Shia killings but the audacity of the Laskhar-e-Jhangvi is that they have issued threats to the media houses to print their threatening statements. It is alarming, as its consequential and psychological effects are too abysmal with the passage of time. The population of the millions of Shias is searching their identity in a tide of radicalism. The psychosis of fear haunts, marking even women and children, like Mehzar and the four-year-old Suhana who was brutally killed, for no reason. But for some the reason is clear enough for them that being a Shia is equal to being an ‘infidel’. The Shias have had the biggest setback of having faced discrimination silently since the black era of Ziaul Haq, lingering to date, which is answered by peaceful protests from the Shia community.
Today it is the Shia community, tomorrow it will be some other, but the bottom line is concrete enough for the concerned authorities to act. It is ‘a Pakistani is killed’ but it should not be played down because that Pakistani is a Shia because as mentioned earlier a country’s first duty is to protect its citizens irrespective of their faith, religion, gender or language. Circa 2013, the country has seen bloodshed because of the political incapability of federal and provincial governments. The theory of vote bank politics stands tall in front of the mass Shia killings; therefore, the political parties remain silent whereas lip service of standardised comments follows for media bytes. Today, the Shias of Pakistan stand amidst blood splashed on the soil of the very country where their contribution stands tall.