Hazaras of Quetta: From a Thriving Tribe to an Enclaved Community

The Hazara people migrated from Afghanistan to colonial India in the 1840s and later settled in Pakistan. The estimated population of Hazaras in Pakistan is around 650,000 to 900,000, with 500,000 living in Quetta. They predominantly belong to the Shia branch of Islam and exhibit Mongolian features. After migrating to present day Pakistan, Hazaras initially worked as laborers, some of them were enlisted as soldiers and others joined the colonial government or started businesses. Following the creation of Pakistan in 1947, around 50,000 Hazaras established themselves as part of the civil and military workforce in Balochistan province. Notably, General Muhammad Musa Khan Hazara served as the 4th Commander in Chief of the Pakistan Army from 1958 to 1966, and later as Governor of Balochistan for four years. Despite their migration for safety, Hazaras in Pakistan have faced ongoing massacres by extremist militant organizations. 

For  very long time the Hazaras are facing numerous challenges that threaten their security, well-being, progress, and integration into society. These challenges include targeted killings, which instill fear and uncertainty among the Hazara Tribe. They also face social and economic isolation, limited access to education and employment, brain drain, and insufficient basic services. Additionally, the Hazaras experience religious discrimination and unequal treatment, impeding their participation in Quetta’s larger population. These challenges perpetually violate their human rights without visible efforts to restore them.

In addition, The Extremist groups such as the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, ISIS, and Sipah-e-Sahaba have committed bombings, massacres, and abductions targeting the Hazaras, resulting in loss of life and displacement. Since 1999, there have been multiple terrorist attacks targeting prominent figures, police cadets, and civilians, resulting in the deaths of about 2,000 Hazaras and injuries to about 4,000 of them. This ongoing violence has forced hundreds to flee Pakistan and seek refuge in neighboring countries. The Hazaras have long been marginalized due to their identifiable appearance and religious affiliation. Their ethnic features make them easy targets. This mistreatment has led to violence and a constant state of fear, resulting in limited social interactions and movement for many Hazaras.

Furthermore, The Hazara People predominantly reside in two neighborhoods in Quetta: Marri Abad in the south-eastern area, and Hazara Town in the western side of the city. These areas are heavily protected by security checkpoints due to the ongoing security situation. While the government provides security escorts during religious processions, this has not solved all the problems for the Hazara people. Instead, it has led to economic isolation and worsened their marginalized status. The residents of these neighborhoods complain about how the heightened security measures have turned their localities into ghettos and caused socio-economic isolation. They are restricted from conducting business freely within the city and can only open a few shops within the protected enclaves. As a result, they have to rely on outsider vendors who charge inflated rates for consumer goods. The Hazara people are now primarily buyers, despite their significant contributions to the local economy. For example, according to one of the Hazara elders Major Nadir Ali, “Marri Abad is home to 15 banks that have been attracted to the area due to the availability of money, including foreign currency brought in by Overseas Pakistanis”.

Furthermore, Hazaras in Quetta face multiple struggles in jobs and education due to discrimination and targeted attacks. They have difficulty finding employment in both public and private sectors, with a quota system reducing their presence to only 5% in the public sector by 2011. Hazaras also face fear of attacks and discrimination, causing many to not apply for jobs and employers to avoid hiring them. In addition, the Hazara community faces challenges in education, with limited resources and constant threats from extremist groups. The fear of attacks and kidnappings has led many families to be reluctant to send their children to school or pursue higher education. Recent bombings at universities have further heightened this fear. These circumstances greatly hinder educational opportunities for the Hazara people.

Besides that, Hazaras faced social isolation and persecution, leading to a sense of rage among the youth. Hazara neighborhoods are heavily guarded, which creates a feeling of confinement and exclusion. This has caused conflicts in Quetta, affecting the entire population. Hazaras have experienced discrimination throughout history, leading to a migration of widespread diaspora across various countries. Unfortunately, many highly educated individuals have left Pakistan, resulting in a brain drain within the Hazara community. This migration has led to tragic loss of lives on immigrant boats. One of which was Shahida Raza, Pakistan’s National hockey player who in search of better life lost her life on the immigrant boat traveling to Italy. The loss of skilled professionals has further hindered the progress and development of the Hazara community in Pakistan.

Moreover, The Hazaras also face ethnic discrimination, especially when accessing public services like passport and NADRA offices. Obtaining a passport becomes a challenge with unnecessary delays and bureaucratic hurdles intentionally imposed on Hazaras. They are also forced to prove their nationality and face biases and obstacles when registering with NADRA. Due to their marginalized status, this community is targeted with violence, terrorism, and persecution, leading to limited opportunities and social exclusion. The lack of representation makes it harder for them to protect their rights. This discrimination goes beyond bureaucracy, as Hazaras are targets of hate crimes and violence, reinforcing the challenges they face when accessing public services.

Looking at the challenges of Hazara Tribe in Pakistan, there can be some short-term and long-term policy recommendations. 

In the short term, policies like establishing a satellite office of the Ministry of the Interior in or near Hazara town to provide localized support and services, establish a communication network, collect intelligence, and address security concerns. There should also be a hotline between Hazara representatives and the Ministry of Interior and Human Rights Commission. The government should create a dialogue forum for the Hazara tribe to voice their concerns and present potential solutions. Strict protocols should be implemented in Passport and NADRA offices to prevent discrimination. Affirmative action policies should be introduced to provide equal employment opportunities for Hazara individuals. The responsibility of maintaining check posts should be transferred from the Frontier Corps to the police force to improve security. As the recent incident, in which the FC was accountable for assault and harassment, has led to complaints from the locals who argue that “these check posts not only fail to safeguard our community but also subject us to harassment. Female members of our community are often greeted with uncomfortable stares, and there have been instances of harassment by FC personnel.”

In addition, efforts should be made to increase awareness and understanding among different communities through cultural exchange programs. The government should establish specialized scholarship programs for Hazara youth to overcome economic barriers to education and empower them.

Furthermore, In the long term, Hazara leaders should gather information to understand causes and gaps. They should develop policies to prevent future incidents and demand rights. An impartial task force, including Hazara representatives, should investigate and act against extremist groups. The UN and Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission should participate to ensure transparency and adherence to human rights standards. The government must prioritize the safety of its citizens and eliminate the threat of extremist groups. Hate speeches and extremist religious scholars targeting Hazaras should be banned. Economic opportunities should be provided to the Hazara community to uplift their socio-economic status. Hazara politicians should integrate themselves within mainstream political parties to enhance their influence. Lessons of tolerance should be taught in schools and colleges to groom the coming generations. It is high time that the Hazaras in Balochistan are given sense of safety to live and progress peacefully along with other communities in the province.

[Photo by AhlulBayt News Agency, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons]

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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