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Terror Against Hazara Muslim Minority in Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan

7:31 AM, Mar 19, 2013 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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In the two outbursts of anti-Shia bloodshed in Quetta, responsibility was claimed by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), a movement of anti-Shia zealots aligned with al Qaeda, the Taliban, and jihadist elements in the Pakistani army and ISI intelligence agency. Islamabad negotiated an end to the Hazara protests. The government, however, did not send the army to protect them.

According to the Pakistani newspaper Dawn, “few believe that dozens of [LeJ] men rounded up after the bomb attacks will ever be brought to justice.” LeJ is blamed for a third episode of mass murder on March 3 in Abbas Town, a neighborhood of Karachi with a large Shia contingent. On that occasion, 48 people were killed and 135 injured.

Quetta, with a district population of about a million, includes about 70,000 Hazaras, concentrated in Hazara Town. Quetta is best known to the world as the site of the “Quetta Shura” or headquarters of the Afghan Taliban. Many Hazaras living in Quetta are refugees from Taliban persecution. But like their oppressors, they moved to Quetta to be close to Afghanistan.

Thousands of Hazaras were driven by the Taliban from the Afghan region of Bamiyan—where the Taliban and al Qaeda in 2001 blew up the ancient Buddha statues. The ultra-dogmatic Sunni ideology of the Taliban imbued them with unrestrained hatred of Shia Muslims, whom the Taliban consider apostates from Islam. But the Hazaras had also inflicted a severe defeat on the radicals in May 1997, nine months following the Taliban invasion of Afghanistan. The Taliban skirmished with Hazaras in the far northwest of the country but were trounced by the Hazaras, who had fought against the Russian and Afghan Communists and had retained their weapons.

Fifteen months later, in August 1998, as described by Thomas Barfield in his 2010 volume Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History, the Taliban drove through north Afghanistan and killed all the Hazaras they could find, forcing Hazaras to flee to Pakistan and Iran.

For the Hazaras, however, Pakistan, as a failing state under jihadist influence, has proven as dangerous a place as Taliban-ruled Afghanistan and “friendly” Iran. LeJ claims to have exterminated 1,000 Hazaras in the past five years. It committed more than 50 homicidal raids against Shia Muslims in Karachi in 2012.

On February 20, 2013, reflecting the public outrage of the Hazaras, Islamabad announced it would arrest the entire leadership of LeJ. On February 22, LeJ head Malik Muhammad Ishaq was detained at his home in the Punjab town of Rahim Yar Khan, east of Baluchistan—for a month. Pakistani interior minister Rehman Malik accused the Punjab state government bluntly of protecting LeJ. On March 4, Malik demanded, “I ask the Punjab government if it is not supporting and patronizing Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, why these terrorists are not carrying out terrorist activities in the Punjab despite having their headquarters there. Had the Punjab government initiated action against the LeJ, over 90 percent of terrorist acts could have been prevented. . . . The Punjab government is reluctant to take action against them.”

Notwithstanding Iranian manipulation of their plight, the Hazaras do not have the militant reputation visible among Shias in Iran, Syria, and Lebanon. They have been peaceful except when faced with direct aggression. In modern times, their affliction began with the 19th-century conquest of their part of Afghanistan, the Hazarajat, by the then-ruler of Afghanistan, Abdul Rehman Khan, a theocratically-inclined Pashtun Sunni (like the Taliban). Their torment continued into the present day at the hands of the Russian and Afghan Communists and the Taliban. Enmity toward the Hazaras is often political as well as religious. The Hazaras are despised by the Afghan Taliban both because they resisted Abdul Rehman Khan more than 100 years ago and because of their Shiism.

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