“In the end, we do not remember the actions of our enemies but the words of our friends”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Pakistan has faced several inter and intrastate conflicts. From economic anguish to unstable administrations. So many things have plagued the country. However, one can not deny the fact that religious extremism and intolerance in our society have shaken the country from its core. From TLP and its ferocious protests in the name of religion to extremists killing “infidels” in the name of religion. Pakistan has seen it all; to some extent, the country has been desensitized to issues such as sectarian violence. In the years 2000-2015, it was routine for a suicide bomber to attack a religious procession – now things are better, but one should always reflect and analyze the past as it can recur in the future with more intensity.
When we analyze the sectarian killings in Pakistan, there is no doubt that the Hazaras have been the community that has faced the worst of the worst. There have been numerous attacks on the community which has led to their entire families being deprived of male members. In a gut-wrenching interview after the recent Mach massacre, a sister of the martyr said that “there is no one left in our family who can bury our dead – we only had one brother and alas he is gone too”.
These interactions are imperative to dive into the lives of Hazaras in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Where they are dealing with a latent genocide. There have been many instances where after these suicide attacks, the families have sat in the freezing weather of Quetta and requested the government to take tangible actions against the repressors. But the government has not done much besides some performative discourses.
Words without actions are seldom a mirage that does not last long. As the smoke subsides, Hazaras get back to what they are used to – and then once again the cycle recurs. An attack happens, Hazaras come on the streets, negotiations take place, and they go back to their homes only to be back after some time. It is like a vicious cycle that never comes to an end.
Hazaras And Their Ancestral Lineage
Many stories go around regarding the origin of the Hazaras. According to some, they are the indigenous community of Afghanistan that came along Genghis Khan in 1912. However, some say that their origin was from a land called Hazaristan. However, some sources say that that they belonged to the tribe of Khizi.
It is important to note, that is the issue is not only related to Pakistan but has spread its roots across three countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran. The origin of this conflict lies in Afghanistan but due to the perpetual persecution, Hazaras have migrated to Pakistan and Iran to flee the atrocities.
The roots of the conflict
Every conflict begins with microaggressions. A subtle change in narrative over time develops into a protracted conflict that is too convoluted to solve. When we zoom out and analyze the Hazara conflict, the narrative around the Hazaras changed significantly when they were labeled as traitors by the Afghans. According to the Afghans, the Hazaras allegedly supported the Russian in the three Anglo-Afghan wars that took place in 1839, 1878, and 1880.
The wars were ignited by the British to counter the influence of the Russians in Afghanistan. Soon, the Afghans showed their support to the British and participated in the war (with the ammunition provided by the British).
One can say that this conflict does have some colonial undertones as the initial polarization happened because of the British and their attempt to form their colonies in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the label of traitors haunted the Hazaras for a long time. Amir Abdul Rahman (a leader in Afghan who actively participated in the Hazara genocide) wrote in his autobiography that the Hazaras paid no heed to Afghanistan, they were always ready to join the invaders who were after the sovereignty of Afghanistan.
These incidents show how the latent phase of the conflict was purely based on the change of narrative around the Hazaras by the leaders and the general population. Consequently, the British colonizers also exploited the situation and played from both sides of the fences.
As the conflict emerged from the latent phase. Abdul Rehman Khan, to confiscate the land left by the British and the Russians, waged a war against the Hazaras. This chain of events led to the bloodshed that resulted in the disposition of thousands of Hazaras to Pakistan around 1901. Now the conflict is seen to emerge on the surface where it is still not ripe, but effects are beginning to show up adding to the miseries of the Hazaras.
The conflict emerged rather sporadically, the timelines lie in different countries and do not follow a straight curve. However, the escalation began when Abdul Rehman led a genocide against the Hazaras in Afghanistan. He garrisoned soldiers in the Hazarajat to counter any potential insurrections.
An estimated 60% of the Hazara population was exterminated during the 1890s genocide of Hazaras in Afghanistan. During and after the genocide, Hazaras lands were confiscated and distributed to the Pashtuns (including the Pushtun Nomads known as Kuchis), and tens of thousands of Hazaras men, women, and children were sold as slaves. Since then, the Hazaras have been on the target on many occasions.
In Pakistan, there have been many such attacks where the Shia Hazara population was killed off in their religious procession during Moharram (Alamdar chowk). Similarly, in an incident – several Hazaras were taken off buses (on their way back from pilgrimage) and killed off if their names were “too Shia” or just by recognizing them by their facial features (pressed noses on pale skin). Moving on, the most recent has been in Mach. As 11 Hazara Shia coal miners were slain, and their bodies mutilated.
On the other hand, under the presidency of Ashraf Ghani and former afghani leaders – the Hazaras faced constant threats and attacks. There have been numerous attacks in Kabul alone, the most recent one being at a girl’s school in Daste-Barchi (a Hazara majority area).
The pattern of this conflict is redundant in nature – the attacks happen followed by condolences and negotiations and after some time, the pattern repeats. Although Islamabad has been more active in recognizing the conflict than Kabul. The complexity and inability to find viable solutions have followed this chain of events that is unbridled in both countries.
Following the erratic pattern of this conflict – the de-escalation and negotiations are also divided into different parts. For the sake of the analysis, let’s put these attempts into two categories; the emergency negotiations that take place right after any incident and second, the long-term negotiations to mitigate the lingering conflict.
An example of the emergency negotiations can be taken from the recent Mach massacre, as the bodies of the martyrs were taken to the roads – the government officials from Islamabad started pouring in. After a series of continuous back and forth, an agreement was signed, and the bodies were buried by the families. There are many examples of such negotiations in the recent past, where the pressure from the media (or social media) leads to such talks. The longevity of such negotiations is questionable as despite many such events – the cycle continues like a hamster while.
Although it is important to acknowledge that recently the gap in the middle of such events has increased, there is some relief from the torment.
On the other hand, the long-term negotiants include efforts from the Hazara community and to some extent from the government of Pakistan. Due to the constant looming peril over the Hazaras, the government has appointed 19 platoons of the FC to protect the area of Mariabad.
Similarly, checkpoints have been established at the entry points to check who is entering the areas where Hazaras live. Finally, to provide opportunities to the Hazaras – the government of Pakistan has opened a university in Mariabad so that they can have access to education while staying within their vicinity.
Conversely, the Hazaras have taken the matter into their hand by initiating their peace process. The community is keenly involved in its peacebuilding process. They negotiate with the government whenever any incident takes place.
On top of this, Hazaras have started to work harder to gain ground to stand on. To get out of the constant rut, they have started to open u their small businesses to support their community. The Hazaras who have managed to migrate to foreign countries like Australia and New Zealand often send remittances back to Pakistan to support their community.
Finally, the Taliban have been constantly in a rift with the Hazaras, from labeling them as infidels to carrying out suicide attacks at their religious sites such as Mazar-e-Sharif. Now there is a new wave of change, as the Taliban have involved the Hazaras in a peace-building process in Afghanistan.
An Ideal Approach Towards Peace Building
The ground realities are different where different bystanders are involved in the peace process. However, if we analyze the conflict some steps are vital for a successful peace-building process. Let us talk about the elephant in the room first, whenever a sectarian conflict emerges in Pakistan – the general narrative is of erasure of difference. Perhaps because it the most portable one. However, this is damaging the peace process to many levels. On the contrary, if the government and the public acknowledge that there is a difference that is evident due to these constant bloodbaths, there can be some progress. The first step in problem-solving and peacemaking is the acknowledgment of the fact there is an ongoing conflict that needs attention.
On top of this, the media needs to participate. As it is a pillar of the state, the pressure of the media can be a game-changer in this peace process. There must be a critical discourse involved rather than just some shallow reporting. Especially when the international media is constantly chugging out content from their perspective, it is important to add on to that narrative from a local perspective.
Moving on, the peace process must be tailored according to the local narrative. In Pakistan, the Religio-political parties like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and TLP have time and again mobilized people against the minorities.
It has cost Pakistan a lot, and it is about time that these radical parties should be bound under jurisdiction. The government needs to address where the pawns are being addressed from, only then can we put this conflict to rest.
The Hazaras have faced years of persecution. The conflict transcends three borders and has both sectarian and ethnic undertones. The issue of ethnicity was more prevalent in Afghanistan as the Pakhtoons did not accept Hazaras as their own. However, in Pakistan, the sectarian side of this conflict is far more rampant.
Pakistan is plagued with many issues, but the recent wave of sectarianism is concerning as the society grows more intolerant as it levitates toward religious extremism – bills like “Tahafuz-e-Bunyad Islam” can badly damage the footing of minorities in Pakistan.
Therefore, the government should focus on long-term solutions rather than reactionary measures to curb this wave of sectarian conflict so it cannot further plague the country.