In the killing fields of Pakistan, the bloodletting continues unabated. In a latest incident, on March 03, a massive car bombing just yards away from my sister’s house in seaport city of Karachi claimed 45 lives, and left 150 others critically wounded.
My sister and her family escaped unhurt but two of her close relatives – a father and a son – were not as lucky. According to reports, terrorists (Deobandi militants of ASWJ-LeJ) struck when a large contingent of city police was busy in protocol and security duties at the engagement ceremony of Sharmila Faruqui, a provincial minister from the ruling party, and Hasham Riaz Sheikh, an aide to President Asif Ali Zardari. The car laden with 150 kilograms of explosives was parked in a Shia-dominated locality Abbas Town, between four-storey buildings, which were reduced to rubble. The dead bodies had to be taken out of the debris on a road with a 10-foot wide and four-foot deep crater.
President Zardari issued a statement, expressing sympathies with the bereaved families and directing the authorities to ensure the best medical treatment to the injured. It’s not the first time he has given a clean chit to himself in the shape of these statements. It sounds too monotonous and repetitive now, and has become a standard operating procedure for this government.
In Karachi, people are no strangers to violence and vicious targeted killings. In Muharram last year, many Shia Muslims were killed while they were participating in an annual mourning procession.
In February 2010, a series of blasts claimed 18 innocent lives. In June 2009, a suicide bomber blew himself up, killing 40 people. In July 2006, a massive explosion resulted in the death of many people, including the chief of Tehreek-e-Jafria Pakistan, Allama Hassan Turabi.
Karachi, however, is not the only dangerous place in Pakistan, if you fit a certain stereotype. As my friend said, for those who have relatives (Shia) in Pakistan, get in touch before it’s too late. It is not a shaggy dog story. Pakistan is a bleeding nation today. Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Sir Mohammad Iqbal’s dream stands in tatters. It’s difficult to absorb the full extent of this horror and mayhem, but certainly, silence at this point is criminal. It amounts to either complicity or cowardice.
The 40 dead in Karachi blasts included small children and women. My sister’s family is not the only bereaved family in Karachi right now, and it is not the first time these families have lost their loved ones in heinous targeted attacks. It’s a story of every Shiite family in Karachi, in Lahore, in Hyderabad, in Gilgit, in Parachinar, in Dera Ghazi Khan, in Dera Ismail Khan, in Jhang and in Quetta. As one Pakistani commentator wrote in his recent newspaper column, if you are a Shia in Pakistan, you are on your own.
There are heartrending tales of helplessness, of bravery, of resistance, of loyalty, of pride and of honour. Shias of Pakistan are a proud community and staunch nationalists. Like many other families in Pakistan, my sister and her family have also received threats, but they refuse to leave their country. Many families have lost their sole breadwinners, but they have not relocated anywhere. They remain loyal to their country. It is the unflinching love for Pakistan that gives them courage to walk the tightrope between life and death.
After battling for her life on a ventilator for close to three months, 12-year-old Mehzar Zehra is finally showing the signs of recovery. A few days back, she walked out of a local hospital in Karachi, escorted by her mother. The little girl, who has been called Pakistan’s Anne Frank, was thrilled to rush home and go back to her school. Almost three months back, on November 30 last year, her world turned topsy-turvy. A grade 7 student, Mehzar was heading to school with her father Syed Nazar Abbas when some scooter-borne assailants sprayed bullets on the father-daughter duo. Her father succumbed on the spot, in front of her, while Mehzar survived with four bullets. The bullets ripped through the lungs, ruptured stomach and badly damaged the spinal cord. Doctors initially refused to operate because they feared she might get paralysed. But, the 12-year-old showed the fighting spirit, and survived to tell the tale.
The calamitous incident has changed their life forever, but they have not left the country. The family is picking up the pieces and trying to rebuild their lives again. The memories of good old days, however, haunt them. Mehzar’s brother has left the small menial job he had. His mother is wary of letting him venture out. She doesn’t want her son to meet the fate of his father. The police investigations into the case have yielded no results. The case has been shut for the ‘lack of eyewitnesses’, despite the fact that the incident took place in broad daylight on busy Shaheed e Millat Road in Karachi.
Notwithstanding the myriad trials and tribulations, 12-year-old Mehzar’s mother is still grateful for her daughter is still alive and breathing. In Lahore, the ill-fated mother of 11-year-old Murtaza Haider is still in shock. She has not uttered a word since the fateful afternoon of February 18, when her son and husband were shot dead. As people in the country were mourning the massacre of 87 Hazara Shias in Quetta, Murtaza was on his way to school with his father, an ophthalmologist at Lahore General Hospital, when some armed men on motorbike opened fire at them on Kanal Road in Lahore. Murtaza’s father was shot multiple times in the face and head, and he died on the spot. Murtaza was shot in the head, before killers disappeared from the scene. The wounded boy was taken to the nearby hospital, where he, after fighting a losing battle, breathed his last. Murtaza’s mother is haunted by her son’s memories now. She wants to die and reunite with her son, but the thought of leaving the country has not even crossed her mind.
The mother of 28-year-old Irfan Ishaq also did not leave the country, but reunited with her son in the other world. Overwhelmed with grief, she succumbed to a massive heart-stroke besides her son’s grave in Behisht e Zehra, Karachi on January 15. She was buried in the same graveyard, next to the grave of her son. The young Irfan had been shot three times by armed motorcyclists outside his house.
Four-year-old Subhana and her father Naseer Magsi were murdered on December 03 last year at Larkana, when Naseer was hoisting a traditional black banner as part of annual commemorations in Muharram. In the sacred month of Muharram, black banners are mounted on the rooftops and cars in many parts of the world, as a mark of resistance against the forces of evil and tyranny. Subhana, the little girl, was watching her father fix the thread on the banner when a bullet hit her head, leaving her in pools of blood. The infant girl’s mother is crestfallen. Like Murtaza’s mother, she also wishes death for herself to reunite with her daughter, but leaving the country is the last thing on her mind.
While, Murtaza’s mother and Subhana’s mother atleast know what tragedy has befallen them, the two year old Mohammad has no clue where his parents are, why they abandoned him. His father Iqbal Hassan and mother Kaneez Fatima were shot dead in their car on Abul Hasan Ispahani Road in Karachi in November last year. The couple, employees of a private hospital, was returning home from work, when they were attacked by four assailants on two motorbikes.
Like Mohammad, the little daughter and son of Imran Abbas also keeps asking for their father. Imran was targeted and killed in Solder Bazaar Karachi on January 08 while on his way home after dropping his children at school. He was shot thrice in the head and was declared dead at Abbasi Shaheed Hospital.
On September 31 2011, 5-year old Hania wore her favourite dress and went for Eid congregation with her father. The special biryani prepared by her mother turned cold, but Hania and her father never returned back. She was one of the many children who died that day in a suicide attack in Quetta. Her father also died, but the family still lives in Pakistan. On December 30, 2012, a 13 year-old boy Moazzam Ali was heading to his school in Chiniot when he was hit by some unidentified gunmen. After battling for his life in Allied Hospital for many days, he finally succumbed to his injuries on January 5, 2013. His father fainted while shouldering his coffin and had to be admitted to hospital, but he refused to go abroad.
On February 10, 2013, another father-son duo, Amjad Ali and Asif Ali were killed in Orangi town of Karachi, while they had gone to nearby mosque for prayers. On February 18, a 24 year-old Syed Safdar Kazmi was killed when armed assailants opened fire on him in Karachi’s airport area. A resident of Model Colony, he was shot twice on his chest and died on the spot. Two days before that, another 25 year-old Syed Hasan Naqvi was killed in Karachi’s Paposh Nagar. On February 22, a 24 year-old Syed Faiz Hussain was targeted in Karachi’s Kati Pahari area. None of these families have left the country even after losing their loved ones, and that’s unarguably the best possible way to resist these killers and defeat them.
In the killing fields of Pakistan, death is a statistic. The manner in which most of these unprovoked targeted attacks are carried out bears striking similarity. Armed assailants on motorbikes close in; open the fire, and leisurely whisk away. Eye-witnesses look the other way. Police personnel patrolling the streets are conspicuously absent from duty or far from the scene of action. Sometimes, buses are stopped; passengers are offloaded, lined up in an open field, identified (as Shias or Sunnis) and executed. Imtiyaz, a young survivor of one such massacre at a place called Babu Sir that took place in August last year, is haunted by the memories of that fateful day. He recalls the day when almost 30 men, with long hair and saggy commando attire – carrying arms, ropes and knives – ambushed the bus he was travelling in. Passengers were instructed to show their Identitiy Cards to determine whether they were Shiite or Sunnis. Those who ‘failed’ the test were lined up and shot dead. Imtiyaz was lucky to survive as he hid himself under the bus, but he lost many friends in the attack.
Those who manage to escape eventually end up dead in massive explosions, in the markets, processions, shrines and mosques. On January 10 this year, a powerful blast on Alamdar Road Quetta claimed more than hundred lives, including small children and women. Some had gone out to buy vegetables, bakery and milk, while some had gone out for prayers. The families of victims refused to bury the dead, and in protest, sat on road in chilling cold for three long days. The provincial government of Balochistan was dismissed and governor’s rule was announced after protests erupted across the country. But bloodletting continued. On February 16, another powerful blast ripped through a crowded market on the outskirts of Quetta. The death toll has crossed 90 and hundreds are still admitted to various hospitals. It was followed by another blast on February 25, in which four people were killed and many others injured outside a Sufi shrine in Shikarpur, Sindh. Now, the Karachi blasts on March 03 have already resulted in 45 killings, and counting.
As per an estimate, more than 20,000 Shias, and thousands of Sunni Barelvi, Ahmadis, Christians and Hindus have been killed in Pakistan since early 80s by terrorists affiliated to takfiri Deobandi school of thought. Alarmingly, not less than 30 per cent of the 20,000 Shias killed have been children and youngsters.
Coming down heavily on the Pakistani government, Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a statement said, “The Pakistani government’s persistent failure to protect the Shia Muslim community in Pakistan from sectarian attacks by Deobandi militant groups is reprehensible and amounts to complicity in the barbaric slaughter of Pakistani citizens.”
Why is there no let-up in these killings? According to a secret dossier prepared by Quetta Police following the imposition of governor’s rule in Balochistan, the killing of 90 more Shia Hazaras on February 16 in Quetta could have been prevented had the Frontier Corps (FC) and police made efforts to capture terrorists belonging to Usman Saifullah Kurd faction of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ, currently freely operating as ASWJ). The dossier contains detailed information about the masterminds and the executioners of January 10 blasts on Alamdar Road in Quetta, which resulted in more than 100 casualties.
These concerns were also echoed by Amin Shaheedi, deputy secretary general of Majlis-e-Wahdat-e-Muslimeen. “Had the army operation been launched against the terrorists after Alamdar Road tragedy, Hazara Town tragedy would not have been occurred,” he said to media. Passing the buck to provincial government of Balochistan, Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik, during a debate in Senate, said that after 18th amendment, his job was confined to policy guidelines and sharing intelligence.
His ministry, Malik said, had provided all the intelligence inputs to provincial government of Balochistan. “We must not blame intelligence agencies. It was provincial government’s incompetence, which resulted in killing of innocent lives,” he said. The minister further claimed that the headquarters of Lashkar e Jhangvi (ASWJ-LeJ), responsible for most of these targeted killings, is in Punjab with sub-headquarters in Karachi. The explosives used in the Quetta blast, he said, were transported from Lahore. However, he reiterated that his job is to inform, not to take action.
The lawmakers, on the other hand, blame intelligence agencies of either being involved in the attacks or incapable of dealing with the scourge. “If Pakistani forces are not involved in terror activities then it is their inefficiency and inability to deal with the issue,” Senator Abdul Nabi Bangash of Awami national Party (ANP) said, asking government to disclose the names of those involved in these activities. Governor of Balochistan also termed it the sheer failure of intelligence agencies. He said the agencies are either afraid of the terrorists or incompetent to track them.
Meanwhile, as politicians squabble and pass the buck on where the killers are hiding and how to catch hold of them, the leaders of Lashkar e Jhangvi (ASWJ-LeJ) continue to issue ultimatums and threats to Hazara Shias. “The government should be under no illusion now that the imposition of governor’s rule in Balochistan has failed to dissuade us from targeting our enemy: Shia Hazaras. We want to make it clear to the Shia Hazaras that they should not consider themselves safe and secure till the establishment of the Islamic caliphate in Pakistan,” said LeJ spokesman by the name of Abu Bakar Siddiq Deobandi, while making phone calls to media persons on February 16 to claim responsibility for the Alamdar Road blast. Since then, there have been two major attacks so far.
According to Hazara Democratic Party, the attacks against Shia Hazaras in Quetta have intensified after some of the LeJ leaders like Malik Ishaq were released by courts. Some like the chief of LeJ’s Balochistan chapter Usman Kurd and his deputy Dawood Badini, who were detained in high-security ATF jail, mysteriously escaped on the night of January 18, 2008. According to a report prepared by Minority Support of Pakistan (MSP), an NGO working for minority rights, there was a clear conspiracy in their escape from a jail located in high security garrison zone of Quetta Cantonment. The report said the night Kurd and Badin escaped, the Hazara guards were relieved of duty and the roster was quickly altered by the jail superintendent. The same Kurd-Badini duo, according to security experts, now spearheads the ongoing genocide of Shia Hazaras in Balochistan.
On February 22, Malik Ishaq was again detained by authorities for one month under the Maintenance of Public Order (MPO) law on the orders of the provincial government. Hazara leaders welcomed the arrest of Ishaq, who is one of the founders of the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, however, they demand arrest of all others involved in the attacks.
Shias in Pakistan have listed out the demands for government. The demands include government acknowledging the atrocities against Shia Muslims as genocide, outlawing apostatizing of Shia Muslims by an Act of Parliament, and stringent action against Takfiri Deobandi militants of Lashkar e Janghvi. The issues to be addressed, as demanded by the Shia Hazaras, include holding army accountable for the law and order situation and safety of all people including Shias, strict enforcement of legal ban on Sipah-e-Sahaba that currently operates camouflaged as ASWJ, stopping the publication of threats and insinuations against Shia community in local press, financially compensating the affected families, releasing the Shia detainees implicated in bogus cases, and instituting a judicial commission, also to probe the allegations of nexus between terrorists, intelligence agencies and army.
Pakistan Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf has pledged to ‘go to any extent to punish the people behind the attacks’. If he is serious enough to tackle the issue, he must start working on these legitimate and humane demands of Shias in his country. If he is not, then he must not make a secret of State’s war against the Shias.
Author: Syed Zafar Mehdi is a Kashmiri journalist, activist and blogger based in New Delhi.