Why The Hazaras Are Fleeing

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Pakistan’s ethnic Hazaras, a community who are easily distinguishable because of their Asiatic appearance, have for over a decade born the brunt of ferocious massacres at the hands of religious extremists in Pakistan and Afghanistan. They also constitute the largest segment of asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat.

Although the Afghanistan-Pakistan region is a consistent source of bad news, very little of the everyday mass murder of the Hazaras and other minority communities makes its way into the Australian news.

Members of the community are the target of execution style killings and massacres by Taliban and Al-Qaida affiliated militants who have vowed to rid Pakistan of the presence of minorities such as Hazaras. The frequency of these attacks has gone from a few attacks a month to multiple attacks per week.

The first victims of the attacks were lawyers, doctors, teachers, and public servants. Today, it’s the vegetable vendors, taxi drivers and passengers, students, laborers and the ordinary men, women and children who bear the brunt of the latest atrocities. In light of the recent changes to Australia’s offshore immigration regime and the mass following of SBS’s Go Back to Where You Come From, it is essential for Australian politicians and the wider community to know what the so-called boat people are fleeing and the circumstances that force people to flee their ancestral lands, leave behind their families and board rickety boats not knowing if they will ever make to our shores.

On the morning of 20 September 2011 a passenger bus carrying more than 60 people left the Pakistan city of Quetta, headed for the Iranian border. Among those on board were men of various backgrounds and ages. Some were pilgrims travelling to Iran to visit the shrines of various Shi’a saints. Most were traders and labourers hoping to perform manual jobs in Iran and provide for their families back home.

Some were teenagers and young men in their 20s who were fleeing the growing spate of killings and insecurity in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Men who hoped to go to Iran and eventually make their way to Europe and seek asylum. At around midday, some 30 kilometres south of Quetta, their buses were stopped by masked men armed with rocket launchers and Kalashnikovs.

Hazara passengers were forced off the buses at gunpoint, lined up and then shot. The wounded were then shot again and again as they lay bleeding on the ground, breathing their last breath, not knowing the crime for which they were being killed. The masked men then chanted, "Allah is great’ Shi’as are infidels".

Mere hours later, as distraught relatives of the victims rushed to the scene of the incident, two further Hazaras were killed when masked men sprayed their car with bullets. The perpetrators filmed the massacre of the 26 Hazara men and later distributed the video through online news services and YouTube.

This massacre in Mastung was only one in a chain of targeted attacks against Pakistan’s minority communities, in particular members of the Hazara community who follow the Shi’a sect of Islam. In the year following the attacks, hundreds more Hazaras fell victim to discriminate attacks by the Taliban affiliated Sunni extremist group, Lashkar-e Jhangvi. The events in the last few days alone are a testimony to the ferocity and frequency of this gradual genocide in the making:

On 27 August, three Hazara men were killed and two injured when their taxi was attacked in broad day light on Quetta’s Spini Road, a few hundred metres from a checkpoint manned by Pakistani security forces.

On the morning of 30 August, a Shia judge along with his bodyguard and driver were killed as they made their way to the district courts.

On 1 September, seven Hazaras were killed in two coordinated attacks in the Hazaraganji area. Five of the victims were vegetable vendors who had arrived at the local vegetable market to purchase vegetables while two of the victims were waiting to board a bus to travel to Iran for work. While these attacks are discriminate in that they target Hazaras and Shias, Hazaras of all backgrounds are targeted indiscriminately.

The Pakistani state has consistently failed to apprehend the perpetrators of these attacks or clamp down on the extremist religious groups who openly and unabatedly preach hatred against the country’s minority Shi’as, Ahmedis, Christians and Hindus.

It continues to turn a blind eye to the presence of thousands of Islamic madrassas and Taliban training centres across the country. These centres are funded by petro-billionaires from Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar, and supervised by Pakistani security agencies that use these centres for the pursuit of larger geo-strategic goals such as proxy warfare in Afghanistan and Indian Kashmir.

The Pakistani military maintains a distinction between the good extremists and the bad extremists, depending on how useful they happen to be at the time. The courts are reluctant to punish militants, and often release men known to have been involved in multiple sectarian murders, facilitators of suicide bombers and clerics involved in preaching hate.

Last year, the Pakistan Supreme Court freed Malik Ishaq, the founder of the Lashkar-e Jhangvi. Ishaq had previously been detained in connection with 70 sectarian murders. Upon release, he was received and hailed as a hero by a crowd of tens of thousands. The organisation Ishaq founded continues to claim responsibility for attacks against Hazaras and Shi’as across Pakistan. Ishaq himself continues to attend political and religious rallies where he urges followers to teach the Shi’as a lesson.

The Hazaras are disappointed with apathy of the international community, in particular the inaction of the United Nations. In both Afghanistan and Pakistan, they continue to be victimised by militants who enjoy support from powerful elements within the government. They cannot turn to Pakistani security agencies in hope of protection and have for too long appealed to the international community to come to their aid — all to no avail.

Hazaras hold grave concerns about the implications of the planned US/NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014. The withdrawal, they suspect, will bring the Taliban back into power and mass murder will turn to full-scale genocide.

Desperate and fearful, some Hazaras make to it our shores in search of asylum. As such, Hazaras and other ethnic and religious minorities are in desperate need of full support and protection of the international community, including Australia.

New Matilda

New Matilda is independent journalism at its finest. The site has been publishing intelligent coverage of Australian and international politics, media and culture since 2004.

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