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Shia Hazara minority is on front line of Pakistan’s battle with violence

SHAFAQNA| by Leila Yazdani: The brutal execution of 11 Hazara coal miners in Machh had grabbed international headlines. From politicians, anti-government forces to the international community, Pakistan’s government came under attack from every side for not protecting the rights of the minority groups in the country. In such a context, Imran Khan announced that his government was planning to set up a new security cell that would be responsible for providing protection to the minority Hazara community.

Armed men abducted and killed at least 11 coal miners in southwestern Pakistan. Their gruesome killings, near the coal fields they worked, were filmed and later posted online by Islamic State.

While, Pakistani officials have long denied the presence of Daesh in the country, but the terror group has claimed a number of attacks including a bombing at a market in 2019.

While, the Imran Khan government came under attack from every side for not protecting the rights of the minority groups, that before coming to power in 2018, he often criticized Pakistan’s leaders for not doing more to stop attacks on the minority Hazara community.

Protests have spread to other cities in Pakistan

Thousands of Hazara protesters, including women and children, had staged a sit-in at the Western Bypass in extremely cold weather for six days against the brutal execution of 11 Hazara coal miners in Machh. Protests have spread to other cities in Pakistan, including the economic powerhouse of Karachi. The protesters have asked Prime Minister Imran Khan to visit Quetta, where demonstrators have kept up a six-day long vigil alongside coffins carrying the victims’ bodies, according to Channelnewsasia.

Demands also include the dissolution of the provincial government there, and a serious effort by Islamabad to find and punish the culprits.

Special security cell to provide protection to minority Hazara community

Some of these have been met, Khan during his trip to Quetta, promised to forcefully go after the perpetrators of the recent anti-Hazara attack and bring them to justice, and special security cell to provide protection to minority Hazara community, Arabnews reported.

The community’s refusal to bury the bodies was a symbolic protest in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where according to Islamic culture people should be buried within 24 hours, before the next sunset, Trtworld told.

Pakistan’s minority Hazara community members ended their protest on Saturday and buried the bodies of 11 coal miners killed by the Islamic State terrorists.

Who are Shia Hazaras?

Hazaras are an ethnic group, primarily based in Afghanistan with a sizeable population living in Pakistan. There are 650,000 to 900,000 Hazaras in Pakistan, with approximately 500,000, living in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan, the capital of Balochistan, the country’s largest and poorest region. They remain a vulnerable group because Hazaras are mostly Shias, which makes them both ethnic and religious minorities, Eurasiantimes told. Shia Muslims, including the different ethnic groups, account for 10 to 15 percent of Pakistan’s Muslim population.

Balochistan has been troubled for some time now with terrorists and militants from sectarian and separatist groups operating in the province and carrying out attacks on security forces, installations, the Shia Hazara community members or even labourers/workers from other provinces.

The situation for Hazaras in Quetta is particularly serious. Hundreds of Hazara have been killed in Pakistan over the last decade in attacks by militant groups who see Shia Muslims as apostates, and by Islamic State militants. Attacks have included bombings in schools and crowded markets and  ambushes of buses along Pakistani roads.

Attacks by extremist groups against Pakistan’s Shia have been on the increase since the 1980s, but targeted killings reached unprecedented levels in 2013, with some 700 Shia murdered.

The attacks included a particularly lethal suicide attack followed by a car bomb in the same location in January 2013, killing a total of 91 people in Quetta. The following month, another bomb in Quetta’s Hazara Town left another 110 dead. In March, two explosions outside a Shia mosque in Karachi killed at least 50 people. Another 30 people were killed in a further suicide attack in June outside a mosque in Hazara Town.

In addition to such high-profile incidents, there are frequent incidents of shootings and other attacks against individuals or small numbers of Hazaras in Quetta, Minorityrights reported.

Pakistan’s National Commission on Human Rights has estimated that more than 2,000 Hazaras were killed in targeted attacks since 2004. A 2018 Human Rights Commission of Pakistan report reveals at least 509 Hazaras were killed and 627 were injured in violent attacks by extremist groups since 2013.