Members of Pakistan’s tiny Hazara minority are staging a sit-in protest to demand protection from the government.
On April 6, hundreds of Hazara men and women continued their protest for the sixth day in Quetta, the capital of southwestern Balochistan Province.
“We are being murdered in cold blood,” said Jalila Haider, a Hazara lawyer and activist. “We are now protesting to end this carnage.”
Haider said the protest was launched by taxi drivers from among Quetta’s estimated Hazara population of half a million. “Members of our community, including women and children, are participating in this sit-in to highlight the issue of [our protection],” she said.
Activists say more than 2,000 Hazaras have been killed in the past two decades as insecurity has forced more than 70,000 community members to flee their homes. Hard-line Sunni extremist groups such as Lashkar-e Jhangvi and the Islamic State militants frequently claim credit for attacks on the Shi’ite Hazaras in Quetta.
“We have been facing a systematic genocide for the past 20 years as we are frequently targeted [in assassinations and bomb attacks],” a young Hazara activist, Nisar Ali, told Radio Mashaal. “We now want the state to protect us to grant us the right to life.”
Another protester, Ali Khan, said they are posing a simple question to the authorities. “Why it is so simple to target us everywhere [in Quetta]?” he asked. During the past week, two people were killed and eight more injured in attacks on Hazaras in Quetta.
Balochistan’s authorities have not yet reacted to the ongoing protest, but senior military and civilian officials frequently give the Hazaras pledges of protection. In January 2013, Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf sacked Balochistan’s provincial government days after a bomb attack killed more than 90 Hazaras.
The ancestors of Quetta’s Hazaras fled persecution and poverty in central Afghanistan in the 19th century to seek shelter in what was then a fortified British garrison town.
While the community prospered for more than a century, they became a target for radical Sunnis nearly two decades ago.