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In the Clutches of a Long-Standing Genocide: Pakistan's Hazara Community

A protest following an unprovoked attack on Hazara pilgrims. Credits: Mustafa Gulzari.

The minority Hazara community of Pakistan has been in the grip of sectarian violence for decades. Amidst the conflict, most Hazaras have fled the country while others await their predetermined fate. In this time of hopelessness and chaos, Pakistan's national education system, which is laden with bias and propaganda, plays a crucial role in fuelling tension between communities. It is high time the government introduces educational policy reform as a step toward conflict resolution and peacebuilding.

In the early Sunday morning of 1996, my tiny excited-self sprang out of bed. Minutes later: “Ready?” My dad glanced to check whether I had layered up adequately in the face of Quetta’s freezing winters. Together, we hit the road for our weekly adventure and drove straight into Mariabad, one of the city’s Hazara neighbourhoods. The picturesque town, flourishing at the base of Koh-i-Murdar, basked in the day’s first rays of sunshine. Navigating around the tight yet teeming streets, we approached our favourite bread maker. And from afar, the mouth-watering smell of butter melting through the toasty Naan-e-Paraki, prepared with the utmost perfection, sent my tummy growling for food. I darted out of the car, with my dad struggling to catch up. Face inches away from the tandoor, keenly observing the Afghani art of bread making, I watched the Hazara chefs work their magic, wide-eyed, salivating. And after a patient wait, carrying a bag of naan in one hand and halwa in another, clasped as tightly as a 5-year old could manage between her stubby fingers, I proudly walked back to the car, content in the knowledge that right about now my brother would be wishing he hadn’t been lazy and just come along.


A view of Mariabad. Credits: Barat Ali Batoor.


5 years later, a few miles from our cherished spot in Mariabad, a vehicle was ambushed and eight Hazaras were killed. The new millennium marked the start of a Hazara genocide in Pakistan. June 2003: Several Hazara police officers killed on their way to training school in Quetta. July 2003: Hazara Imambargah (mosque) bombed, leaving 47 dead, my uncle among the victims. March 2004. January 2009. September 2009. October 2009. February 2010. March 2010. May 2010. September 2010: Attack on a Shia rally killed 73, my childhood friend one of them. The uninterrupted pattern of targetted attacks has entered 2017. If this isn't a genocide, "the mass extermination of a whole group of people", what is?

At the time of Pakistan’s independence in 1947, the Hazaras, a Shia Muslim minority in the country, were prospering alongside their Sunni Muslim counterparts, despite increasing differences between the two sects. This, however, only lasted till the late 70s when military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq rose to power and implemented sweeping policy reforms, advocating a strictly Sunni Islamic ideology. This was only the start of an era of sectarian violence in the country, with extremist Sunni factions soon actively engaged in a calculated wipe-out of Shia Muslims, prominent among them the Hazaras, who are easily recognizable by their distinct Mongolian features. While most fled their hometowns in Pakistan, others continue to suffer silently. A progressive community of some of the best-known artists and intellectuals in the nation lives without a promise of tomorrow, fearful of its fellow countrymen.

These hostile sentiments amongst Sunni supremacists have mainly arisen from alienating violence propagated by Pakistan’s national education system, which Haq championed. By antagonizing non-Sunni Muslims through educational curriculums, he bred a generation of intolerant, prejudiced individuals, who resort to vigilantism, proselytizing the label ‘Wajib-ul-Qatal’, which translates into ‘religiously justified murder’. Hence, the first step toward combating the terrorism and healing severed ties between distraught communities is to rectify educational curriculums as an initiative for peacebuilding and social transformation. Teachers, school administrators, students and all other stakeholders need to be sensitized to religious diversity. They should be taught to celebrate and not mourn multiculturalism; a tolerant generation of individuals emerges only from embracing shared history and values instead of scorning difference. Educational institutes should also ensure safety at multiple levels. This encompasses prohibitions on hate speech among students and faculty members, and most crucially the curriculum content itself. The language employed in learning environments and the behaviour exhibited in these spaces must be regulated to facilitate peaceful communication of ideas and a fair exchange of dialogue between all concerned parties; progressive societies recognize the perils of violence and value the perspectives of all individuals equally.

But why did Haq turn a blind eye to the relentless bloodshed he had triggered within a peaceful community for generations to come? The answer isn't simple. When the General took over, Pakistan was still recovering from the shock of Bangladesh’s secession, formerly East Pakistan. At the height of uncertainty, when Islam had appeared to lie at the core of Pakistan’s national identity, its east wing crumpled under administrative turmoil. And in a frenzy of redefining the essence of being Pakistani, Haq pioneered an inherently sectarian Islamization movement, tearing the state apart along a Sunni/'non-Muslim' dichotomy. Also in effect during the same time was the Shia Islamic revolution of Pakistan’s neighbouring country, Iran; strengthening the solidarity of Pakistan’s Shia Muslims but threatening the state's sovereignty, which was now rooted in Sunni Islamic ideology. As another missing piece of the puzzle, prominent Shia Muslims at the time dominated the feudal order within the Punjab province of Pakistan, which was the centre of economic and political power. Turning them into targets of sectarian killing might just have been the most effective tactic of destabilizing their authority.

Therefore, without comprehending the socio-political atmosphere in which the seeds of hatred were sown, efforts for peacebuilding today would be a lost cause. And this is exactly why educational institutes in Pakistan must instigate a revolutionary change and facilitate critical thinkers who refuse to condone biased, incoherent pieces of information. It is the isolated, partial understanding of historical events like these that create resentful individuals who only speak the language of hate and violence. This historical revisionism should be addressed through the introduction of new, verified textbooks by renowned scholars like Ayesha Jalal and Hamza Alavi, who have attempted to showcase an authentic version of Pakistan’s history. Nation-wide transformation can only be expected when the public has access to new ideas and is equipped with critical thinking skills through the education system.

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” Nelson Mandela

Fareeha is a former LIDC intern and a Master's student of Education and International Development at the Institute of Education, UCL.


There is a clear leadership and conditionality role here for multilateral development organisations. This should be led by the IMF,so it'[s clear that the Fund understand the underlying problems lie in atrocious governance standards for which GoP are not held to account. To put pressure on GoP - partly by not funding programmes including education until there is a measurable and visible change in policy and attitude,since there is no point. Pakistan has been-and continues to be- so badly governed that this sort of lawless behaviour is almost the norm. Bilateral pressure does not materialise or work.Cut bilateral projects except for emergency relief. Otherwise GoP has no incentive to change or reform.Time for tough love here if the poor and marginalised are to have a voice.

Thank you for your comment. And I agree with you. Unfortunately there's also the matter of the government taking a back seat as emerging private organisations like The Citizen's Foundation and Care Pakistan take the lead in providing quality education for the less privileged.

Excellent piece of writing.. The Hazara community has been through a lot of suffering and hatered within the country,where they are supposed to live as naionals and should have been provided with life protection. I must say, it's a big time to deal with this genocide. It's not just Shia killing but genocide of Hazara community of Pakistan especially in Quetta. Life protection is their basic right as being citizen to Pakistan this should be provided to them.

Thank you Manal! And yes, merely denouncing these terrorist organisations (read LeJ) won't suffice.

Excellent writing. An oft-ignored issue that requires immediate attention. The dissection of the problem was impressive. Militancy is a symptom of the disease; a faltering education system that is dulling the minds of generations now. The role of Afghan war and General Zia's romance with religion should not be ignored though. Pakistan's policy decision to go for "strategic depth" and gaining an upper hand on the Eastern border has caused much trouble. A policy initiated by Zia in the shape of Islamisation during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan has been consistent since in some form. Funding from the Mujahideen friendly countries have resulted in a certain ideology being disseminated. The governance is undoubtedly in a very sorry state, but policies have to be rectified, as good implementation of poor policies can only cause further harm.

Thank you for bringing up the Soviet-Afghan War and the emergence of the government-backed Taliban who contributed significantly to the persecution of Hazaras, both in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It forms an important part of the narrative. For anyone reading this and interested in an in-depth study on the matter, you may check out the report '"We are the Walking Dead": Killings of Shia Hazaras in Balochistan, Pakistan' by the Human Rights Watch (2014).

I appreciate your effort of writing for Hazara genocide. A community known for its simplicity, etiquettes, cleanliness and peaceful nature is being pushed to the wall for no reason. Thank you dear

Thank for sharing

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