‘Every year we dig mass graves’: Pakistan’s Hazara sacrifice | Global development

AHamid Shah always dreamed of big things. Although only 17 years old, the high school student has found a job in the coal mines of Pakistan’s southwestern province of Balochistan, one of the most difficult and dangerous environments in the world. The Shah was determined to earn enough to educate himself, so he could escape the difficult life of the Hazara Shia community, one of the most oppressed minorities in Pakistan.

But Shah never saw a bright future. He was one of 10 miners resting in his mud hut near landmines in the small Balochistan town of Machh when armed militants exploded. In a gruesome video of the scene, the youths were blindfolded and their hands were tied behind their backs. A security official said his throat was slit. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the massacre.

Prime Minister Imran Khan called it an “inhumane act of terrorism”, but for the Hazara minority Shia Muslims, who have been targeted by extremists in Pakistan for three decades, who have been targeted by the majority Sunni Muslims. Itikaf understood, it was not. enough.

Shah’s mother, Amna, was working as a health care worker in the nearby provincial capital of Quetta when she heard about the massacre.

“I wanted to see my son one last time, but I was told I would not tolerate it,” says Amna. “The killers were not human beings. They killed him mercilessly.

Amna photographs her son, Ahmad Shah, who was beheaded in other coal mines in the Machh area of ​​Balochistan.
Amna has a picture of her son Ahmad Shah, who was killed by ice along with other miners. Photo: Mashal Baloch / The Guardian

After decades of injustice and neglect by the state, the Hazara community was forced to act, and as a protest against anything like this before in Pakistan, the families of 10 people were killed. They took to the streets and sat down with him. Demanding protection and justice in the freezing cold.

For a week, they did not move, saying they would not bury the bodies until the prime minister listened to their demands.

In response, Khan accused them of trying to “blackmail” him, and said he would not visit until the bodies were buried.

Ahmed Shah Mach was one of four members of his family who died in the massacre. Similarly, his cousin Sadiq, who was the sole breadwinner for his wife, children and six sisters.

Sadiq, a father of two daughters, had breakfast with his wife before dawn at his home in Quetta before leaving for Machh. One sister, Masooma Yaqub Ali, saw the news on the Hazara miners’ Facebook page and stumbled upon a photo of her brother’s blindfolded body.

“These monsters not only killed 10 people, they also killed 10 families.” “Two decades have passed since we were brutally beaten, but no one has been arrested yet.”

Masooma Yaqub Ali has a picture of her late brother Sadiq and her 17-year-old cousin Ahmad Shah, who was strangled by militants in Machh.
Masooma Yaqub Ali has a picture of her late brother Sadiq and her 17-year-old cousin Ahmad Shah, who was strangled by militants in Machh. Photo: Mashal Baloch / The Guardian

Sunni extremists such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Sipah-e-Sahaba and now ISIS have targeted thousands of Shiites for years. According to a 2019 report by Pakistan’s National Commission for Human Rights, at least 509 Hazaras have been killed for their faith since 2013. Pakistan’s non-profit Human Rights Commission says about 1,000 Hazaras were killed between 2009 and 2014, and thousands more were injured in sectarian violence.

To prevent attacks on the 600,000 people living in Quetta’s Mariabad and Hazara Town towns, authorities set up military checkpoints, roadblocks and walls around the area.

In 2014, the international organization Human Rights Watch published a 62-page report on the persecution of Hazara Shiites in Balochistan. We are dead walking.

We are living in two prisons. Our men and young men cannot go out. If they go, they will be killed. Our graveyard is full of young men who have hardly any space left. “We are tired of carrying his coffin. Every year we dig mass graves. Yet Prime Minister Imran Khan says we are blackmailers. Khan is heartless.

Behesht Zainab Cemetery in Mariabad, Hazara area of ​​Quetta, the capital of Balochistan
Beheshti Zainab Cemetery in Mariabad in the Hazara area of ​​Quetta, the capital of Balochistan. Photo: Mashal Baloch / The Guardian

The majority of Hazaras in Quetta originally came from Afghanistan and Iran to work in Pakistan, and many were clearing landmines in Balochistan.

For 15 years, another of the fish victims, Chaman Ali, traveled from Afghanistan to Quetta every winter to work in the coal mines.

“When I was here and went to Afghanistan, I was worried about his life. I would think, ‘What if he falls to the Taliban?’ I thought he was safe, but he was killed, “said Zara, his sister.

Chaman Ali is survived by his wife and eight children, the youngest being just three months old. Aziz and Naseem, from Daikundi Province, Afghanistan, first came to work in the mines with Chaman Ali. He was also killed.

Abdul Rahim, from Daikundi, Afghanistan, has a picture of his 22-year-old son, Naseem, another victim of the Machh massacre.
Abdul Rahim, from Daikundi, Afghanistan, has a picture of his 22-year-old son, Naseem, another victim of the Machh massacre. Photo: Mashal Baloch / The Guardian

Naseem, 22, began working to finance his education and arrived in Pakistan a week before he was killed. Naseem’s father, Abdul Rahim, says, “Afghanistan is in a very bad situation and we think nothing is better, which is why we have come to Pakistan just to earn a living.” When his son’s last rites from Afghanistan, along with other members of his family, could not take place, when security forces blocked roads from villages along Pakistan’s insecure border.

The victims of the Machh massacre were finally buried in a mass grave in Hazara Town on the outskirts of Quetta. The Hazara community is leaving the place to bury their dead. The cemetery is full of pictures of Hazara Shia men, women and children, many of whom were killed.

As Mongolian ancestors, many Hazaras can be identified by their distinctive features, and this is the only road leading to Mariabad and Hazara Town where thousands of people have been attacked by extremist groups.

“Our generation is in a cage. “We build houses on the mountain and are afraid to go out to see other parts of Quetta,” said Arif Hussain Nasiri, 21, the founder. The future is young Campaign. We are also afraid of other nations and communities coming together with the Hazaras. We have to survive to survive in these two ghettos.

Hazara Cemetery in Quetta. The flags represent the graves of all those killed in sectarian violence.
Hazara Cemetery in Quetta. The flags represent the graves of all those killed in sectarian violence. Photo: Mashal Baloch / The Guardian

But for Naseem Javed, a writer and political activist, the attacks on Hazara are not just about sectarianism. “I don’t think Hazaras are being targeted just because of their faith,” he says. “They are also being targeted to divert attention from the separatist movement.”

There is a separatist movement in Pakistan’s poorest province and in the province of Balochistan, which lies between Iran and Afghanistan, and has been active in the province for the past 20 years. “The area has also become a hub for international proxies, including the Taliban,” Javed added.

Javed showed the pistol that he lives near in his shop, where he sells prayer mats and prayer beads. We live in the shadow of weapons and fear. None of us have a normal life. We are being slaughtered. If the security establishment has no role in this genocide, why didn’t they arrest any of the attackers?

For many Hazaras, the solution is simply to give up. Amjad Ali, 21, made three attempts to leave Balochistan for a new life in Europe. He was first deported from Turkey and extradited to Iran, from where he was sent back to Pakistan. The second time he was deported from Iran.

During his third attempt to reach Europe, Ali, along with 25 other Hazara Shiites, was captured a few miles from the border by Jaish-ul-Adl, another Sunni militant group active mainly in southeastern Iran. Under the pretext of being Iranian security forces, the jihadist group took Ali and others to a Pakistani mountain camp near the Iranian border.

Shia pilgrims go to places in Iran. Many Hazaras try to reach Europe to escape their persecution in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Shia pilgrims go to places in Iran. Many Hazaras try to reach Europe to escape their persecution in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Photo: Mashal Baloch / The Guardian

“They were very well updated and informed. As soon as we reached their camp, they shot 4,000 people with Kalashnikovs. Two of them were serving in the Pakistani army. Two, as Jaish-ul-Adl claimed, The Iranian-backed militant force was about to become part of the Zanbiun Brigade [fighting in Syria]Ali told the Guardian.

The rest were left and their families sent random demands. Ali spent 55 days in the camp before his family managed to raise thousands of dollars in ransom for his release.

“If I get a chance to go to Europe now, I will try again,” says Ali. “Hazara Shias do not live in Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

* Amjad Ali’s name has been changed to protect his identity.

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