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Film: Pakistan’s Hazara Shi’a

2 min read

Hazara are an ethnic group predominantly based in Afghanistan, but also with a large population in Pakistan, with estimates of this group ranging from 650,000 to 900,000. The majority of Hazara in Pakistan, approximately 500,000, live in the city of Quetta, the provincial capital of Baluchistan. While some Hazara are Sunni, the majority identify as Shi’a.

As both an ethnic and religious minority, Hazara Shi’a face intersectional discrimination. As Muslims, Hazara Shi’a do not face certain restrictions affecting other religions. However, extremist Sunni groups that operate within Pakistan – in particular, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) – view Shi’a as apostates and regularly carry out attacks against them. The Hazara Shi’a population, who due to their ethnic identity are readily identifiable, are especially vulnerable as a result.

According to some estimates, between the period from 2009 to 2015, 1,659 Shi’a were killed and 2,950 were wounded in a total of reported 320 incidents. The situation for Hazaras in Quetta is particularly serious due to their clearly identifiable features, as highlighted by the series of bomb blasts around Alamdar Road in Quetta in January 2013, which killed at least 91 people and injured 190 others, and a number of violent attacks thereafter.

In addition to such high-profile incidents, there are frequent incidents of shootings and other attacks against individuals or small numbers of Hazara Shi’a in Quetta. While previously known to have been the most educated community in Quetta, figuring prominently in public life in Balochistan, their freedom of mobility has been heavily restricted due to threat of attack. At present the Hazara community in Quetta has been effectively ghettoized to two predominantly Hazara areas, namely Hazara Town and Alamdar Road. Insecurity has in turn affected other areas of their everyday life, including access to education and employment. This insecurity also manifests itself along gendered lines, with the mobility of Hazara women particularly restricted.

Though the government has taken some welcome steps to address the situation facing Hazaras, including in the context of the National Action Plan, progress towards effectively addressing their insecurity remains limited. Indeed, just months after authorities expressed satisfaction with the reduction in attacks on Hazara Shi’a as a result of the NAP in February 2015, attacks have followed. This includes the killing of two Hazara Shi’a brothers in Quetta in November 2015 by gunmen; an attack gunmen August 2016 which killed two more members of the Hazara Shi’a community; and the killing of at least four Hazara women at the beginning of October 2016. The targeting of Balochistan’s legal community in a suicide attack August 2016 which killed over 70 people, further highlights insecurity in the area. As those who have been working on minority and related issues in Pakistan have long noted, addressing issues of extremism requires more substantive action, tackling underlying structures of discrimination and impunity in line with Pakistan’s international commitments.

The film Shaheedo Tum Kahan Ho (O martyrs! Where are you?), directed by Mohammad Waseem in 2014, gives an account of the targeted killings of members of the Shi’a Hazara community in Pakistan, highlighting how they face discrimination in their everyday lives, while security concerns and death threats make routine activities like going to school or the market a potential hazard.