Hazaras’ Thousand Woes

Hazara peopleBy Rahimullah Yusufzai

Pakistan has become a killing field of people from different communities in recent years, but one community that has suffered the most and has been singled out for target-killings are the Hazara Shias.

The Hazaras are a distinct ethnic group living mostly in Afghanistan and having a visible presence in Pakistan and Iran. Lately, a growing number of members of the community have settled in Western countries in search of security and livelihood.

The Hazaras have traditionally faced persecution at the hands of some Afghan kings, primarily Amir Abdur Rahman Khan, and other ethnic groups due to sectarian and ethnic reasons. They were originally living in central Afghanistan, but many had to migrate to neighbouring countries, such as Iran and undivided India to escape attacks. In due course of time, the Hazara community gained a foothold in Quetta by serving in the British army and doing other tough jobs. Soldiering has been part of the Hazara life and a proportionally high number having been serving in both the Afghan and Pakistani armed forces.

According to Professor Nazir Hussain, who opted for retirement as the first principal of the prestigious Government General Musa College, Quetta Cantonment in December 1995 after serving for five years, the Hazaras first settled down in the plain at the foot of the Koh-i-Murdar mountain range in Quetta and set up the Marriabad, named after the Marri Baloch tribe who were herders and lived seasonally in huts in the area. “The Hazara population grew after 1920s and from Alamdar Road, previously known as Barnes Road, to the lap of the Koh-i-Murdar houses were built across the mounds and seasonal streams. It was known as Ward No 7 of the municipality and was sited close to Quetta Cantonment. It later became part of the provincial assembly constituency, PB-2 Quetta, from where Hazara candidates have often been elected,” he explained.

Prof Nazir Hussain said new colonies of the Hazaras, such as Gulistan, Brohi (Brewery) and Hazara Town also sprang up and members of the community with money mostly sent from abroad were able to buy or build houses there. He said Hazara refugees from Afghanistan, too, settled in these new colonies and many used Quetta as a staging point for migrating to some Western country, mostly Australia.

Hussain said until recently the Hazaras lived in peace achieving the highest literacy levels in Balochistan and prospering as businessmen. “We had excellent ties with the Pashtuns and Baloch. It was during the General Ziaul Haq era that his policy of segregation brought a change in the situation. Now we are suffering from social anarchy and the Hazaras in particular are living in “Jewish ghettoes,” he remarked.

Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, the extremist Sunni militant group banned by the government in 2002, has been claiming responsibility for the attacks against the Hazaras primarily due to the fact that they are Shias. Like the other outlawed militants groups, it has managed to operate and carry out attacks by selecting its targets at will.

Analysing the situation, a Hazara elder Air Commodore (Retd) Shaukat Hyder felt many hands were involved in the violence raging in Pakistan and directed at the Hazaras and others. He said the names of certain institutions were also mentioned, but it would be incorrect to do finger-pointing without evidence. “Nobody knows who is fighting whom and at whose behest in these battles of proxies. But we know that the Hazaras have been mercilessly killed and still there was no reaction by those with power to protect them. There was controlled deployment of the Frontier Corps and the police was helpless,” he argued. “Finally, the Hazaras decided to stage peaceful protest by putting up the bodies of their loved ones on the road in sub-zero temperatures. We showed patience and it paid off,” he opined.

Members of the Hazara community have risen to high positions, particularly in Pakistan’s armed forces. The most prominent was General Muhammad Musa Khan, who served as Chief of Army Staff from 1958-1966 and led the troops in the 1965 war against India under the overall command of Field Marshal Ayub Khan, who at the time was also President of Pakistan.

Musa was loyal to Ayub Khan as he continued to oversee the professional development of the army to enable the latter to concentrate on his politics without giving up his military uniform. Musa was a religious man and had left a will to be buried in Mashhad, the Iranian city sacred to the Shias as the burial place of their eighth Imam Reza. Musa’s body was taken to Mashshad and buried in the cemetery in the Imam Reza shrine complex. Incidentally, his grave is close to that of Raja Sahib Mahmoodabad, a freedom fighter against British colonial rule in India.

Musa’s son-in-law Air Marshal Sharbat Ali Changezi was another member of the Hazara ethnic group who occupied a high position in the Pakistan Air Force (PAF). Many other Hazaras served as officers in the armed forces and some are still in service. Saira Batool, one of the four female pilots inducted for the first time into PAF, is also an ethnic Hazara.

According to Air Commodore (Retd) Shaukat Hyder, three military officers of his Hazara community won the gallantry award, Sitara-i-Jurat, in the 1965 and 1971 wars along with many other lesser awards in recognition of their bravery on the battlefield. “In terms of numbers and keeping in view the population ratio, there are more Hazaras in Pakistan’s armed forces than any other ethnic group in Balochistan,” he added.

The Hazaras have also excelled in sports. In particular, they have done well in soccer, boxing, body-building and the martial arts. Air Marshal Sharbat Ali Changezi’s brother Shaukat Ali Changezi was a high class body-builder. Prior to him, another Hazara body-builder, Mohammad Ishaq Beg, was adjudged “Mr Pakistan” in the 1960s and was also able to compete and do well in the Asian championship. Qayyum Changezi, a popular footballer was the captain of Pakistan team for a number of years. There is a story how Qayyum Changezi as the full-back thwarted the Chinese players during a soccer match in China and some Chinese referred to him as Pakistan’s “Great Wall” in reference to the “Great Wall of China.”

The case of the late Safdar Ali Babal, also an ethnic Hazara, was unique as he played for both the national soccer and hockey teams. Boxer Ibrar Hussain Shah was well-known due to his prowess in the boxing ring but he was tragically gunned down in Quetta because he happened to be a Hazara.

Many other Hazaras have faced a similar fate. The killings have prompted the younger generation of Hazaras to migrate to the West and many have been risking their lives by attempting to reach countries liking Australia in ill-equipped boats. (Courtesy: The News on Sunday)