Editorial: Dawn’s obfuscation of the Shia genocide in the aftermath of Mastung massacre


On 26 January 2014, Shia Muslims of Quetta, most of them Hazara Shias, buried 40 members of their community after protesting for two days with their dead lying in coffins. All mainstream newspapers reported the killing and the burial. Although these newspapers gave different numbers of the Shias killed (ranging from 20 to 34), they were unanimous in one thing: None of them reported that all the 40 males and females of different ages were Shias. All of them identified them as “Hazaras” only.

In the backdrop of the burial, Dawn, Pakistan’s liberal and supposedly most-balanced English-language daily, published a series of articles. In this editorial, I will try to take a look at what information Dawn gave its readers about the Hazara Shias.

I have four questions on my mind as I look at the Dawn articles: How did Dawn identify the people killed? Why were those people killed? Who were the killers? Why did they kill?

I believe that these are the most legitimate questions. In any act of killing, these are basic questions that anyone—investigators to general inquirers—have to ask.

Let us begin with a long article, over eleven hundred words. Tilted “Know my name,” written by Fouzia Nisar Ahmad (http://www.dawn.com/news/1082698/know-my-name), the article begins with a narrative of a 21-year Eltaf Hussain who lives in Karachi as a refugee from Quetta. According to the author, Hussain’s father sent him to Karachi where he, hopefully, will not be killed. Killed by who? The writer does not inform. She quotes him, the refugee, profusely to make her article authentic. She begins her article,

It was Jan 13, 2013, when 21-year-old Eltaf Hussain was on his way to the dharna outside Bilawal House, Karachi to protest against Hazara killings in Quetta. “How can the rest of the world go on with their daily business, when such a terrible incident has happened to us?” he thought? “Why doesn’t the world stop after so many people have been killed?”

Who is this man protesting against the Hazara killings? In the next paragraph the writer informs her readers, “Hussain belongs to the Hazara community of Quetta, a city where he has spent most of his young life.”

In the rest of the articles, the writer narrates the travails of Eltaf Hussain’s life in Quetta at the hands of the police and the FC, but she does not make a single mention of the fact that the “Hazaras” are being killed not for being an ethnic group, but for being Shias. In one place, the author mentions the killers of the Hazara (and non-Hazara-Shias) only to defend them. In her own words, “While the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi has claimed credit for the mass casualty attacks, Hussain suspects there are also those who are seeking to exploit the situation.”

After this, she quotes Eltaf Hussain to corroborate her theory that even if the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has claimed responsibility for killing the Shias, the terrorist outfit should not be blamed. She has the following words squeezed from Eltaf Hussain,

“When killings are rampant, other elements take advantage too, so anyone threatened by Hazara businessmen also thought it was good opportunity to get rid of them under the umbrella of sectarian killings. For instance, the owner of a shop on Sariab Road did good business and he was targeted. Since the past five or six years, Hazara traders, who were mostly mobile phone distributors have been completely removed from the main bazaars like Sariab Road and from outside the market areas”.

After this confession from the “Hazara” man, the writer gives her verdict, “Indeed, the Hazara are clearly being pushed into increasingly ghettoised neighbourhoods.

Another article published by Dawn is “Haunted by horror,” written by Syed Ali Shah (http://www.dawn.com/news/1082699/the-forsaken-haunted-by-horror). This article also begins with a tragic narrative of Yousuf Ali,

Every step is agony for Yousaf Ali, a victim of the Alamdar Road blasts of Jan 10, 2013, as he walks with the help of makeshift crutches. Both his legs were severely fractured when a suicide bomber rammed his explosive-laden vehicle into a snooker club on that fateful day, and he is still undergoing treatment.

After this, the article quotes Ali as talking about the memories of January 2013 when over one hundred Shias were killed in Quetta,

“Walking through this Chowk brings back painful memories,” says Ali. Having survived the first blast miraculously unscathed, he was busy shifting the injured to hospital when another bomber struck.”

Who is Ali? Here is Syed Ali Shah’s answer: “Hazara”. Period.

Syed Ali Shah has another “Hazara” thrown in to add to the tragedy of the “Hazara community”,
A government school teacher by profession, Naseer Ahmed now runs his elder brother’s general store at the Alamdar Road Chowk in the evenings. Ahmed’s elder Noor Ahmed was also killed in the blast and financial circumstances forced Ahmed to keep his dead brother’s shop open as his meagre salary cannot cater to the family’s needs. “My nieces ask me everyday about their father’s return. They think he has gone away for business.” Everyday, he has to invent a new story to tell them. . . . Like Ali, who now walks on crippled legs, Noor Ahmed was also engaged in rescue work when the second attack took place. Police said the suicide bomber used an ambulance in the second attack, pretending to be one of the rescue workers he targeted.
After this, the article gives an account of the suffering of the “Hazara community” but no account is given of the reason for their killing. Not a word about their killers is given either, let alone identifying them for what they are: the Takfiri Deobandis operating as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamat, Sipa-e-Sahaba, or Taliban.

The article concludes on a vague, if sombre note, “Memories of the victims continue to haunt the broken and shattered families of Alamdar Road. They remain haunted by horror.”

Ahmed Yusuf’s “No exit” (http://www.dawn.com/news/1082696/no-exit) continues the obfuscation. It is about how their suffering in Pakistan have forced the “Hazaras” into self-exile. This article is about a 22-year old man who after losing his father and relatives in Quetta violence, lost his brother and sister while in detention in an Australian asylum-seekers’ centre. The writer begins his article thus,

Nobody can understand the pain and plight of 22-year-old Mohammad Naqi. A father murdered in Quetta. A forced migration from his hometown. A brother stabbed in a “detention camp” in Nauru. And a sister who died in his lap due to lack of treatment in the very same camp. Ironically, this family of three had fled from Quetta to protect their lives.

“Naqi’s plight started in 2012,” the writer continues, “when his father was shot dead in a Quetta.”

Who is Naqi, then? Here the writer informs his readers, “Even for a community used to migration, the concept of ‘Home’ is fast-becoming alien to many Hazaras.”

After this, the article discusses problems in detention centres in Australia and condemns the centres’ conditions. Without telling his readers why the “Hazaras” are being killed, why they have to leave Pakistan, and who has been killing them, the writer concludes his article with the following words,

The Hazara people in Pakistan are a people defined by migration: Naqi’s grandparents migrated from Afghanistan and he himself had to move to Australia. He is now living in Sydney as a permanent Australian resident, but in search of safety, Naqi lost the very family he tried to save.

The author is informed and sympathetic enough to trace the history of the “Hazara” suffering from Afghanistan to Pakistan to Australia, but he is mum when it comes to identifying the cause of their suffering—being Shias—and the identity of their killers, the Takfiri Deobandis.

The last article published by Dawn is by Saleem Javed. Its title is “Hopelessness vs helplessness” (http://www.dawn.com/news/1082637/hopelessness-vs-helplessness/2).
With such a strong title, it can be expected that the author will denounce the killers and defend the helpless victims of the Takfiri Deodandis. The author certainly mentions Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. But he does not say that the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is killing the Shias for being Shias (or killing the Hazaras for being Shias). He condemns Dr Malik, the Balochistan chief minister, for his inability to take on the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, but at the very next moment he defends Dr Malik, “. . . it is obvious that CM Baloch does not have full control in the province. If he orders an operation against Lashkar-i-Jhangvi quarters, it would be extremely difficult for him to ensure the protection of civilians.”

After defending Dr Mallik, the author criticizes the previous government for its failure to defend the “Hazaras”. Then he proposes a solution to the problem of terrorism, which is no more than a pure obfuscation of the Shia genocide. His solution is,

“The only solution to the ongoing havoc is a national consensus for the elimination of all sorts of terrorism, which is unlikely to happen in the near future.”

What other “sorts” of terrorism are playing havoc in Pakistan the author does not deem fit to tell. But the obfuscation is complete: make no mention of the word “Shia”; do not say who is killing who; and do not name the planners and executors of the Shia genocide.

I began this article by asking four questions about the Shia genocide in Pakistan. None of the Dawn articles has dealt with even one of these questions while discussing the Shia genocide. The authors of these articles want their reader to believe that yes there is something like the killing of a community taking place on a regular basis. But on what basis are the members of this community being killed? Who are their killers? One may ask is: Is Dawn and its authors practicing some kind of self-censorship? Is it a taboo to use the word “Shia” and a politically correct thing to conceal the identity of the Takfiri Deobandis? If Pakistan’s most balanced newspaper promotes obfuscation of the Shia genocide, what can one say about other newspapers?

(This is an excerpt from a work in progress on Shia genocide in Pakistan and the role of the print media. The author, Abbas Zaidi, will welcome comments on this excerpt with gratitude.)




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