Gallery of the Dead

By Arooj Zahra

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When Hassan’s best friend Baqir was not responding to his calls for more than a week, fear griped him and he decided to visit the place where someone missing from the sense for long could be found: Alamdar Road. To his horror, Hassan located him – well not exactly him but his picture, hanging amongst the hundreds of Hazaras killed in a several suicide blasts. ‘I met him last month and in a mischievous mood he said he should have a nice picture ready which can be used for the photo gallery on Alamdar Road in case he got killed, and look he is there’, tearful Hassan said while pointing towards his late friend’s picture.

For Hazaras seeing pictures of their loved ones on Alamdar Road has unfortunately become a routine. Hanging pictures of the dead along the road is their way of protest. During the last decade more than 2000 Hazaras have been killed – their crime? They are Shia Hazaras. The dead include doctors, engineers, policemen, army officials and politicians. ‘It’s ethnic cleansing; they target our top class professionals. Our problem is we are easy to identify’, said a dejected Kumail, a Quetta resident.

Kumail appreciated solidarity protests across Pakistan but suspected Majlis e Wahdat e Muslimeen (MWM) and Hazara Democratic Party (HDP) were exploiting Hazaras’ cause for political point scoring. He also rejected the notion that military’s presence in the city helps in security. “Military exploits our miseries and launch targeted operations against Baloch nationalists who have never harmed us. Their struggle is political in nature, not sectarian”.

Quetta, the capital city of Balochistan have areas where Pashtuns are in majority while others have Baloch but Baloch accuse army of bringing Afghan refugees into Quetta to unsettle the demographic map of the city. These Pashtuns don’t think very highly of Hazaras. Hazara suspect that Army helped setting up hundreds of seminaries in Quetta and its surrounding areas which nurture militancy and provide recruits Lashkar e Jhangvi (LeJ) which proudly claims responsibility for Hazara killings. However military denies it provides support to LeJ.

‘‘If for a split second we believe what the army says then how come LeJ assailants roam around in Quetta military Cantonment freely? Its common knowledge terrorists have centers on Saryab Road and that is why these target killers are never in hurry after killing Hazaras” Abbas told me. I could sense frustration amongst members of the community with the security forces.

Residents told me that right outside Cantonment on Jinnah Road they chant slogans like Shia Kafir (Shias are infidel) and these security agencies look the other way. Some accuse local traders who finance terrorists in order to expel Hazaras from their land. A local trader Raza explained how non Hazara traders used terrorists for pushing Hazaras to sell them their shops in Quetta’s main Liaquat Bazar. Hazaras used to own garments and shoes shops in the bazaar but due to the threats they had to sell their shops at cheap prices. Now Hazaras live in two enclosed towns; Alamdar Road and Hazara Town. ‘My father’s partner was kidnapped along with his driver in 2003. They demanded ransom from his family. Despite paying the ransom they killed them; that is how Hazaras are being treated. There is no one to help us, not even the police and Frontier Constabulary (FC) but how can the FC help us whose uniforms and cards are being used by these terrorists? said Hussain, another Hazara trader whose business once thrived in Liaqat Bazzar.

“At first we thought they wanted to kill us all, but now I believe they want to have whatever we own and then want us to die out of poverty, look at our businesses, our people have been leaving their houses, migrating to other countries, it’s not easy leaving behind everything but in order to survive one has to take every step’’ Hussain added.

Life has become difficult for Hazaras in Quetta city. Many families have migrated to European countries and many more are applying for asylum. Some have fled to Punjab and other parts of the country. There was a time in Quetta when everyone lived happily or at least things were not that bad as they are today. Muhammad Mehdi, an old Hazara man living in Quetta said, ‘When we were kids we had Baloch and Pashtun friends. They used to participate in Muharram processions with us, we never felt any difference. But then things changed. We now live in two enclosed areas; we rarely go out and meet others. But I am hopeful that one day things will get better, they have to as there is no other way.’

The violence and target killing has also destroyed student life in Balochistan capital, that’s why students prefer going to other provinces for educational purpose. Taqi is one such student, his whole family lives in Australia now. He is studying in Punjab and plans to leave for Australia after getting his degree. For his family the turning point came when his father received a call to pay extortion money and later on his younger brother had to leave Pakistan’s National Squash Team due to security threats. I asked him if he still lives in fear in Punjab, he gave a tense smile, ‘Well people over here think that we are foreigners. Most of them don’t even know where Quetta is; they think it’s a small town in Peshawar. They live here peacefully and without any fear so why should they know about us – the people of no land”

But we live and study here peacefully, we have friends here and they take good care of us, for example when policemen stop us and without listening take us to police stations then our Punjabi friends help us. Punjab Police think we are foreigners as we look different so we might be doing something illegal, Taqi said.

“We are labeled Iranian agents here and Pakistani agents in Iran. The irony is the State will attack those who are weak and cannot defend themselves” Taqi added.
Another Hazara student was listening to our conversation; he cleared his throat, looked over his shoulders and said in a very low voice, “The problem is that of our thinking. Look at this two nation theory? Where are those who made that theory? What happened to the Ahmedis, Hindus, Christians and Shias? I don’t see my people in Naya (new) Pakistan which ideology is going to be militant Islam”

He believed that the education system is so biased and full of hatred. Young minds are polluted in the name of two nation theory which starts from hatred ends in hatred and that’s exactly what is happening to Pakistan. Most of the parties ask for votes in the name of religion, what happened to the dream of a secular state? Or that dream was never existed? Was it all a lie? I am not hopeful about my future, all I see is darkness’ and with that he smoked and looked away.
Some female Hazara students said that wherever they go people cast suspicious glances at them. Some mistake them for Pashtuns while others take them as Baloch.

When I asked Taqi about his future plans, he blushed and said, ‘I want to get married to my class fellow, these days I am teaching her my language Hazargi. She is a slow learner but one day she will learn and then we will get married if before that I don’t end up in the gallery of dead on Alamdar Road.’’