Posts Tagged ‘Quetta’

Editor’s NOTE: The following op-ed, penned by me, was originally published in the Express Tribune on February 18, 2015. I’m pleased to cross-post the article on my blog from the Express Tribune without any editing. (Ali Salman Alvi)

Ibtihaj and Rida

It’s been more than a year since the pictures of a pretty little girl with her cute younger brother went viral on the social media. In one of the pictures, they could be seen sitting on each side of a snowman with their faces beaming with happiness and innocence; in another they could be seen in their school uniform with their tongues sticking out in a playful gesture. The tale behind these pictures was shockingly heartrending. These pictures were of 11-year-old Muhammad Ibtihaj and his 12-year-old sister Rida Fatima. Ibtihaj and his family members were returning home from the Iranian city of Taftan after a pilgrimage when a powerful explosion ripped through their bus – carrying 51 pilgrims – when it reached the Dringarh area of the Mastung district. Ibtihaj was injured in the attack but this was not the worst. In the blink of an eye, his entire world had come crashing down. His sister Umm-e-Farwa, 19, his mother and grandmother had been killed in the attack along with 25 other pilgrims by the murderous sectarian group, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), also known as the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamat (ASWJ). His beloved sister and best friend Rida was lying lifeless in a pool of blood. After a 48-hour-long sit-in, in the wake of government assurances that the elements behind the attack would be brought to book, the victims were laid to rest in the Bahisht-e-Zehra graveyard that is running out of space faster than the other cemeteries in Quetta.

 

Ibtihaj & Rida

Ibtihaj and Rida

 

Ibtihaj is now 12. He has recovered from his injuries but not from the loss of his loved ones. At this tender age, he has been led to worry about issues which children of his age normally don’t have to. He is concerned about his security. He is worried about his future in a city, Quetta, where being a Hazara makes one the softest target of Pakistan’s homegrown terrorist group, the LeJ/ASWJ. He wonders why the state has so miserably failed to combat the group that killed hundreds of Hazara community members with impunity for the last so many years. He mulls over the question of why the government does not act against a group that has carried out hundreds of terrorist attacks. He says that he has rested his case against those who have been patronising the terrorist group that killed his sisters, mother, grandmother and hundreds of his community members.

The ongoing spate of targeted terrorist attacks in Balochistan, particularly in Quetta, was led by Usman Saifullah Kurd, who was recently killed in a clash with paramilitary troops. He was the operational commander of the Balochistan chapter of the LeJ/ASWJ. While Kurd had head money of Rs2.5 million on him, his deputy, Dawood Badini, carries head money of Rs2 million.  Both Kurd and Badini were sentenced to death for masterminding two terrorist attacks in Quetta which killed 65 people, predominantly Hazaras.

After Kurd and Badini were arrested some years ago, sectarian attacks had almost come to a halt in Quetta. But, in 2008, under darkly mysterious circumstances, both the convicted terrorists managed to break away from the jail located in Quetta cantonment’s high-security zone, where no one can even enter without prior permission. According to a report, 758 Shias have been killed in 478 terrorist attacks. Of these, 338 belonged to the Hazara community while 420 belonged to other ethnicities. A Human Rights Watch report, released in 2013, said the LeJ operated with “virtual impunity across Pakistan, as law enforcement officials either turn a blind eye or appear helpless to prevent attacks”.

Things have turned worse for Ibtihaj’s father after the deadly attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar. He feels that his son is exposed to greater danger, particularly in a city where they live in fear 24 hours a day. He now fears the consequences if someone entered his son’s school. “Ibtihaj is a Hazara boy. If anyone came to attack the students, the Hazaras would be killed first,” he says. He is concerned about his son’s future. He says that even if the government would give Ibtihaj a scholarship to study at a university here in Quetta, the institution would be located in a no-go area for Hazaras, an area where they will be identified from miles away and shot dead.

Mehrin

Mehrin Kausar

Among the Mastung blast injured, who were admitted to a hospital in Karachi, Mehrin Kauser, a zoology student at the Women University Quetta, could have come back to her university by now had the university management not terminated the pick-and-drop facility that was available to her prior to the attack. A clearly dejected Mehrin, who refused to see herself as a victim of that brazen attack in which she lost her sister and mother, told me that she had to discontinue her education because going to university poses a serious threat to her life. If it was the ghastly bombing that took her mother and sister away, it was the state of Pakistan that denied her the right to educate herself. Mehrin is the face of quite a few Hazara students who had to discontinue their studies due to the precarious security situation in a city where their distinct features mark them out as easy targets. This very fact is symptomatic of the state and society’s broader failure. Both the civilian and military leaderships and each and every person holding key positions in the state and security apparatus at least owe an apology to Mehrin and dozens of other students who had to discontinue their education because the authorities have failed to provide them with a conducive security environment.

Each and every terrorist act brings with it a feeling of deja vu. TV channels run tickers showcasing the statements from different individuals/groups condemning the terrorist act as well as highlighting their concerns over the agonising trend of the inexorable march of terrorism penetrating our society. Government officials burst on television screens with false promises of apprehending those behind such acts of brutality. An inquiry is promptly ordered to probe the incident and this is where the case is closed effectively. The more the number of casualties swells in such an attack, the more air time it gets on media and then the incident sinks into oblivion. We have fast turned into an insensitive crowd that is immune to human tragedies. We have forgotten about the victims of the countless terrorist attacks our country has had to face and, as I conclude this column, I learn that not only are they forgotten; they are being abandoned as well.

Source: Forgotten and abandoned

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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.

Source: VIEW: Tholobate of silence on a volcano of violence —Ali Salman Alvi

After the 2011 Hazara Town shooting Lashkar e Jhangvi exclusively talked about Hazara Town shooting in one of their night letters distributed in Quetta by LeJ Balochistan Unit. Please find the English translation of the letter as following.

Lashkar e Jhangvi Pakistan

Balochistan Unit.

All Shias are liable to be killed. We will rid Pakistan of [this] impure people. Pakistan means land of the pure, and the Shi’ites have no right to live here. We have the decrees and signatures of the revered clerics in which the Shias have been declared infidel (kaafir). Just as our fighters have waged a successful jihad against the Shia-Hazaras in Afghanistan and buthchered them, our mission [in Pakistan] is the abolition of this impure sect and people, the Shias and the Shia-Hazaras, from every city, every town, every village, every nook and corner of Pakistan. Like 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 their graveyard — their houses will be destroyed by bombs and suicide bombers. We will only rest when we fly the flag of true Islam on this land. Our fighters and suicide bombers have [already] successfully operated in Parachinar, and are awaiting orders to operate across Pakistan. Jihad against the Shia-Hazaras has now become our duty. Our suicide bombers have successfully operated in Hazara Town on May 6, 2011 (referring to a massacre of Hazara people on May 6, 2011 in Hazara Town, Quetta city of Pakistan which left 8 dead and at least 15 wounded) and now our next target is your houses in Alamdar Road.

As long as our innocent friends aren’t freed [from incarceration], we will continue our operations.

The Chief,

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Pakistan

LeJ threat letter

Scanned copy of the threat letter distributed by Lashkar e Jhangvi Balochistan Unit