The snooker club which was first targeted by terrorists in the January 10 attack on the Hazara Shias of Mariabad is being reconstructed, and the crater that formed on the road outside in the second — more devastating blast — the same day has been filled up. But memories of that afternoon will take much more to fade as the community lives in perpetual fear.
The January 10 attack and the one in mid-February on the other Hazara settlement in the provincial capital — where 90 people were killed in a single blast — have not only made fear a constant companion of the community but also affected their lives in ways they least expected.
The tightening of security in the two settlements has ghettoized the community even more. With no one allowed into the two areas without identification, shopkeepers complained that their businesses were suffering as now they catered for only the Hazara community since people from other neighbourhoods and ethnicities avoid shopping here because of the restrictions.
“The increased security has in a way spelt doom for our little businesses,” Sher Mohammad told a group of visiting foreign journalists. And with many a member of the community wary of stepping outside the localities for fear of being targeted by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), limited liquidity is affecting spending power. Some months ago, the LeJ launched an SMS service in some places of the city, asking people to report to a certain mobile number as soon as they spot a Hazara who are easily recognizable because of their Mongoloid features.
Those working in government offices say their colleagues and seniors understand their predicament and allow them to skip work in case word gets around of a heightened threat on any given day. The provincial government, both Hazaras and non-Hazaras vouch, has been accommodating in this regard. That consideration, however, does not extend to those working in the private sector. With little option but to go out and work, they do so with their hearts in their mouth.
Since the two settlements are old with schools within the area, schooling has not been as much affected as higher education. Attendance of Hazara students tends to be erratic, though they have returned to their colleges; but their education under these circumstances is a concern for the community that attaches great importance to education of both boys and girls.
At the Balochistan University of Information Technology Engineering & Management Sciences (BUITEMS), Hazara students and teachers flagged the ironical situation created by a security arrangement. After a bomb attack on a bus ferrying students from the community killed three students and a teacher last year right outside the university’s main gate, the bus service to the two Hazara settlements was discontinued as a security arrangement.
Consequently, the students now have to wait for the university buses at designated points well outside their colonies, exposing themselves to the risk of being attacked in ones and twos that had become a fairly regular feature last year. Though such attacks have reduced since the two big bombings this year, fear has taken permanent residence in their lives.
According to Abdul Khaliq Hazara, chairman of the Hazara Democratic Party (HDP), many members of his community have fled the country. He puts the number at one lakh, but there is no data to substantiate this claim. “We want to leave, but that is not an easy option. Neither is moving to another city in Pakistan as Shias are targeted everywhere and we are easily recognizable,” explained Asadullah Hazara on Alamdar Road, which made it to international headlines when members of the community picketed the thoroughfare in sub-zero temperatures with the bodies of their dead in January.
In the case of the Hazara political leadership, the threat has also affected their election campaign. The HDP leader — who is contesting the general election from Quetta — rued that he was unable to campaign outside the Hazara areas because of the threat. Though Quetta has always been a multi-ethnic city with all communities living in harmony, the growing radicalisation of society has made Hazaras unsure of their Baloch and Pashtoon neighbours, particularly the former since the police claim that there is a linkage between the sectarian Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and some of the Baloch insurgent groups.
The community feels so traumatised now by living on the edge day in and day out that one resident of Mariabad — who did not want to be identified — said: “The situation is such that now even if the terrorists do not want to attack, we are stricken with fear.”
Almost all aspects of their day-to-day lives have been affected, but leaving is not an option for Quetta’s Hazara since Shias are targeted everywhere in Pakistan