Since the 19th century, the Hazaras have migrated from Afghanistan to Pakistan, primarily to the city of Quetta, for a variety of political and economic reasons, including discriminatory policies of the ruling governments, forced migration, and systematic killings. The current population of Hazaras in Pakistan is estimated to be 900,000, with 600,000 living in Quetta and the remainder in cities such as Attock, Peshawar, Lahore, Karachi, and Islamabad. In Quetta, the capital of Balochistan, the Hazaras are the third largest population after Balochs and Pashtuns. They are concentrated in two localities, the residential areas of Maryabad and Hazara Town, which are separated by a distance of approximately 13 kilometers.
Bismellah Alizada and Maisam Iltaf have recently conducted research, titled ‘We Are Turning Pakistan into Their Graveyard’, for the Porsesh Policy and Research Institute. This research, which has recently been published, analyzes the target attacks on the Hazaras in Pakistan from 1999 to 2022, and contains new information on terrorist attacks against the Hazaras and sectarian violence in Pakistan.
This research has revealed that since 1998, when sectarian violence in Pakistan was at its highest, 276 attacks against the Hazaras have occurred. Of these, 15 attacks were in Lahore and Karachi, and 261 attacks were in Balochistan, with 223 of them in Quetta. The statistics provided by this research indicate that 2012 was the most violent year in Pakistan, with at least 75 terrorist incidents, while 2020 was the most peaceful year, with no terrorist attacks.
Between 1999 and 2007, the average number of attacks was approximately four to five per annum, however since 2008, the number of attacks has doubled, indicating a significant rise. The growing strength of extremist organizations and the animosity towards the Hazaras by Sunni extremist factions are among the influential factors in the increase of these attacks.
In 2014, the Pakistani Army initiated the Zarb-e-Azb Operation against terrorist and extremist groups, resulting in a decrease in the number of attacks for the first time since 2008. The chart above illustrates the number of injured, killed, and attacked since 2014, with 2017 and 2019 being the most violent years for Pakistan’s Hazaras in the last two decades. In 2017, 15 explosions occurred, resulting in 42 fatalities and 32 injuries. Similarly, in 2019, four attacks caused 24 deaths and 68 injuries.
In total, from 1999 to 2022, at least 1,262 people were injured and 1,46 were killed (83% of whom were men and 17% women). The researchers noted that this statistic demonstrates the minimum number of attacks; many casualties, and accidents are not reported or overlooked for various reasons.
The data indicates that most of these attacks have occurred in social settings such as workplaces, modes of transportation, local markets, mosques, shelters, sports centers, and hospitals. Most of these attacks occurred when the Hazaras of Quetta were travelling between Mari Abad and Hazara Town or vice versa. The workplace of the Hazaras has also been a target of extremist groups. Recently, the attack on workers in the coal mine was one of the most violent attacks by extremist groups against the Hazaras in Baluchistan province, which elicited regional and global condemnation.
Targeted assassinations have the highest number of victims among other attacks, with approximately 220 such attacks having occurred. Suicide attacks are in second place, accounting for 11% of attacks, and the explosion of embedded bombs is in third place.
So far, no extremist group has claimed responsibility for 133 out of the 265 attacks. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has been responsible for the majority of the attacks, while Jaysh al-Islam, ISIS Khorasan, Jaish ul-Adl and al-Sunnah, and Jamaat are in the process of doing so. These groups all have/had anti-Shia sentiments and have targeted the Hazaras due to their religious beliefs.
Based on data received up until the 1980s, all ethnic and religious groups in Balochistan lived in harmony and there was no violence. However, following the 1980s, with the commencement of Jihad in Afghanistan and the rise of fundamentalism during Zia-ul-Haq’s rule, sectarian violence in Pakistan increased.
“Hell on Earth”
In his book ‘Islam and Sectarian Violence in Pakistan: The Terror Within’, Eamon Murphy states that there are numerous minorities in Pakistan, however the Hazara minority is the only one that has been subjected to sectarian violence. Murphy claims that Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is responsible for the killings of the Hazaras in Pakistan, and that the leaders of this group have declared that they will “turn Pakistan into their graveyard”. Murphy further states that this “jungle army” has made the land a living hell for the Hazaras, who are still fearful when they venture outside of their local area. These attacks have had a devastating psychological impact on the mental health of the Hazaras in Quetta, with survivors of these incidents suffering from both mental and emotional challenges.
These attacks have also confined the Hazaras to two neighborhoods, providing them with relative security, yet making them more susceptible to attack. By congregating in one area, extremist groups are able to identify their whereabouts and launch assaults more easily.
During the latter half of the twentieth century, the Hazaras had a significant impact on Quetta‘s politics, culture, education, and economy. They had a relatively high level of education, and their presence in offices, markets, and businesses was growing. It is likely that local competition over the market and politics also contributed to the rise of sectarian tensions. Even now, the millennial areas of Quetta are at the forefront of culture, education, and sports activities. Despite the many difficulties, some politicians and intellectuals of Pakistan‘s Hazara community are attempting to foster coexistence and peace for the inhabitants of Quetta by establishing contact and relationships with them. However, the terrorist attacks of the last two decades have inflicted deep wounds on the relations between the Hazaras and other residents of Quetta, which will require considerable effort and political acumen to heal.
- Alizada, B. & Iltaf, M. (2023). We will make Pakistan their graveyard. Porsesh Policy and Research Institute.
- Murphy, E. (2018). Islam and Sectarian Violence in Pakistan: The Terror Within. Routledge.