There was a time when I could walk through Quetta

Published: July 7, 2012

There was a time when Balochistan was far removed from any ethnic killings. PHOTO: ASIF NAWAZ

Balochistan, and Quetta in particular, is very close to my heart. I have an emotional attachment to this place since a great part of my childhood was spent travelling though it’s scenic landscape. There was, indeed, once a time when this was possible.

It was far removed from any ethnic killings. There were no Baloch Liberation Tigers (BLT) and people were not opened fired on for just passing though the area. The killing of 18 people in Turbat yesterday left me heart-broken and shocked. Was this the same place where I spent some of the happiest moments of my childhood?

I have been to Iran eight times and seven of these visits occurred in either my childhood or teenage years. During these visits, I travelled through Quetta back and forth. Thus, with every trip to Iran, I visited Quetta twice.

Being from a reasonably well off Shia family meant that almost every year, my family would go for different pilgrimages, for example Umrah, Iraq, Syria, Iran. Shias hold a deep spiritual attachment to these holy places and visiting them was a treat indeed.

Iran was always the first choice for us to visit. Since it was controlled by a Shia government, the pilgrims did not face the same kind of problems as they did in Iraq under Saddam’s regime or in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The second factor, of course, was that it was a cheaper route via Quetta through trains and buses.

Journeys from Multan to Quetta on the Quetta Express are one of the most cherished memories of my life. This was a time when we were never worried about assailants open firing on us. Life was peaceful back then.

At some places between the passage towards Quetta and then to Iran’s border, I would find message filled with hatred, like “Shia kaafir hai” (Shiites are infidels), carved on stony mountains. I do not recall my blood boiling at that time upon seeing such phrases because I was used to seeing them back home too.

At the time, we could walk freely in the bazaars of Quetta without fear. Families would shop for hours in the markets. Shopkeepers would ask us to pray for them when we went for pilgrimage. No one showed any signs of hatred because of my ethnicity or sect. If some people did think on those lines, perhaps they just kept quiet.

My favourite part was the journey from Quetta to Taftan; the border town that linked with Iran’s Mir Jawah. Although the elders in the family loathed the journey due to its tiresome nature, I always looked forward to it. The 800km long road from Quetta was almost all barren. I reckon that the only three ways for locals to earn a livelihood here was through travellers, trade between the two countries or construction work, because there was no agricultural land or industrial area in sight.

I was seventeen when I last visited Quetta and since then, things have progressed from bad to worse.

Maybe the constant hatred levelled at Shias finally got to me – I don’t know, but as I grew older, I started to take those hatred filled messages carved on mountains more seriously. Ground realities of the Pakistani society and life in general were causing me to grow cynical, although I would not say it was uncalled for.

Slowly, I have witnessed everything go downhill in Balochistan; the railways, the security situation, and so on. The route became more and more dangerous till we stopped using it. Reports started coming in about attacks on Imambargahs, Hazaras and Punjabis settled there. My distant cousin was working in Balochistan ─ a very pro army and patriotic guy. All of his team members were attacked one day by unidentified men while the Frontier Constabulary (FC) guards providing them security were suddenly nowhere to be found. He survived but not everyone in his team was as fortunate as him.

Gradually the number of people going to Iran through Quetta decreased by a very large number. I wonder if I will ever be going to Quetta again as the situation is not very forgiving. It seems that attacks on Shias are becoming routine now and Hazaras are the group that, unfortunately, suffer the most.

I cannot see any reason why nationalists would attack a group of people based on ethnicity or sect.

I just cannot understand the logic behind this.

I believe  that this wave of attacks can help those corridors of power who would gain if the lawlessness in Balochistan is shown as a result of sectarian and ethnic clashes rather than a nationalist cause triggered by lack of rights given to the people of the region.

When East Pakistan’s rebellion was being crushed, the same group of people participated in violent crimes as the group wrecking havoc here. My Sunni friends often question my judgment whenever I talk of the army’s support for jihadis and the ‘good’ Taliban. Some think I am biased and I might as well be, but the fact is that all these organisations have the same mindset on a micro level. Names that are often associated with different terrorist and sectarian organisations have a history of changing their organisations; from one lashkar to another. Meanwhile, our people support one lashkar and keep mum on the other one because they are not being directly affected by it, whereas our state institutions openly support people who have a big clout in both type of lashkars. After all, there is a reason Mr Ludhianvi was brought on a state helicopter from prison to negotiate with the terrorists of the GHQ attack.

The reason is very obvious; maybe people staying quiet is just an excuse and, secretly, they have sympathies with the killers. Salman Taseer’s assassination showed that there does not exist a silent moderate majority, but a rather vocal and violent-minded majority.

I never imagined that I would ever become this cynical. I kick myself for silently tolerating those signs and hatred filled speeches; it is perhaps due to my reticence that now extremism has become mainstream. It saddens me that the people in Balochistan have lost a good portion of their revenue by the loss of tourists and trade, but what I hate the most  is the people who do not see any issue in the mindless killings.

Can you imagine the plight of Hazaras given that the place they used to call home has now become their slaughter house?

I hate the fact that I might not ever be able to walk freely through Quetta again.

Follow Zain on Twitter @XainGardezi

Zain Gardezi

Zain Gardezi

A software engineer by profession working in Lahore, Zain likes to write about religion and social satire in general. He blogs at rorolia.wordpress.com/ and tweets as @XainGardezi (twitter.com/XainGardezi)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Baloch

    The nationalists are not involved in Shia killings. Assosiating acts of deep state to Baloch nationalists is foolish and naive. I strongly condemn and consider it a cheap tactic to give an impression that Baloch are involved in Shia killings.Recommend

  • ali

    @baloch Stop BS. They weren’t shia’s who were killed yesterday instead they were Punjabi killed by baloch terrorist organization. Everyday Punjabi and other settlers from different part of Pakistan are killed and media is quite. If one baloch gets missing there is a big out cry and the whole quetta is struck down and when settlers are killed everyday, nobody sheds a tear and complete utter silence. WHY?Recommend

  • Multan

    I must say, ZIA ZINDA HAI……Recommend

  • Parvez

    I liked the balanced way you put your thoughts and feelings out in this write up.
    If there is a clear example of failure of the State its Baluchistan and pretty soon Pakistan will follow. What appears to be unfolding is that it is not so much simply bad governance but it is deliberate bad governance. Recommend

  • Parvez

    I liked the way you wrote this and expressed your views.
    The failure of the State is very apparent in Baluchistan and what is disturbing is that it does not seem simply a case of bad governance but more a case of deliberate bad governance that makes matters alarming.Recommend

  • Muhammad Sarfraz

    The ethnic cleansing of punjabis gets no media coverage.Instead the people on Twitter tried to spin this ethnic terrorist attack into a sectarian attack.Shameful when people don’t condemn the murders of civilians only because they happened to belong to punjab.This discrimination against punjabis should end,hundreds of thousands of punjabis in balochistan have been forced at gunpoint to leave their homes and businesses and run away from balochistan.
    It is high time the media highlighted the plight of Punjabis in balochistan.Recommend

  • Zahid Khan

    @ali:

    You’ve hit the nail on the head.The liberals on twitter were seething with anger as long as they thought that this was a sectarian attack,as soon as they found out that it was a targetted attack against Punjabis,they all went quiet,no more tweets from them,no more condemnation from them.In pakistan,it’s not a crime when the victims are punjabis.Recommend

  • asif

    Punjabis are being treated like animals in balochistan,they are being massacred frequetnly & the news channels are deliberately ignoring the punjabi genocide.The biggest crime in pakistan is to belong to punjab,your electricity and gas supplies are cut off for the last four years,you are being relentlessly murdered in balochistan,yet you cannot speak up about the atrocities against you because the media and the social media activists don’t consider your murders to be crimes at all.Recommend

  • http://rorolia.wordpress.com/2012/06/29/there-was-a-time-i-could-walk-through-quetta/ Xain Gardezi

    The murder of innocent life is greatest catastrophe that can occur. Whether it is done due to ethnic reasons by BLT, or by LeJ on hazaara shias or army’s selective targetted attacks. All of this needs to be condemned. Even in the comments some ppl r taking sides, where as what we need to do is condemn an innocent life no matter whatRecommend

  • https://twitter.com/AbsarAhmedKhan Absar

    I have been to Quetta only once in my life on a family trip. That was back in ’97. “I hate the fact that I might not ever be able to walk freely through Quetta again.”Recommend

  • Muhammad Adnan

    No place for Punjabis in PPP’s Pakistan.First,the economic and financial murder of Punjab by blocking the electricity and gas supplies to punjab’s factories and industries and then the ethnic cleansing of punjabis in Balochistan.The present ppp govt. is taking all measures to completely destroy punjab and punjabis.Recommend

  • Wasim Mir

    @Xain Gardezi:

    Your blog was focused more than 90% on sectarian killings.You,yourself have disregarded the deliberate target killings of punjabis in your blog.Over ninety percent of your blog was dedicated to the sectarian killings,u ignored the ethnic cleansing of punjabis in balochistan,just a few cursory mentions of the punjabi killings added in as a formality in the blog.Recommend

  • http://rorolia.wordpress.com/2012/06/29/there-was-a-time-i-could-walk-through-quetta/ Xain Gardezi

    @Wasim:

    If one writes about one kind of persecution it does not mean he condones the other types. I dont understand why some people tend to think that way. The blog was written after series of atacks that have happened on Hazaras. If you check for last 3 months and count the number of attacks in Baluchistan that occurred, more than 90% are on shias and Hazaaras, so it is no surprise that 90% of my blog is about that as well. But rest assured I condemn all kind of killings done in the name of religion, ethnicity, nationality or even freedom struggle. Taking life of a non combatant is murder and cowardice Recommend

  • Ali Wali

    There is no reasons to believe that forces of nihilism, hate and destruction are mainstream, well at least not in upper Punjab. Six decades ago we had few Shia villages in our area, back then people used to walk rather than take trains, and my ancestors while commuting between our two Shia villages, avoided tens of Sunni villages because of the level of hate and naked prejudice. Now the landscape has changed, there is no village in our district where there is no Shia. My father says, he saw a sea of change in his life time, I am sure same will happen in Quetta and Taftan. Recommend

  • http://www.tribune.com.pk Syed Mohseen

    I liked your this column because it’s based on reality.Hazaras in Quetta are facing this violence.Hazaras are being on the sin of being Shia,Muslims and other brother don’t play any role in order to emit the conflict among the people.They are those about whom Allah Almighty uses the word”Shar o doab”.They see the injustice,but keep their silence.I must say that India is getting her aims and goals.Recommend

  • http://www.tribune.com.pk Syed Mohseen

    I feel sorry for the the martyrdom of Hazaras. May God bless Muslims and keep their unity because it is a kind of blessing.Hazaras are in really a bad condition,but determined.May Allah Almighty bless them and their Shuhadaa.AmeenRecommend

  • muneeb

    Good article and balanced analysis,sorry but pakistan will be a terrorististan or may be Talibanistan,with no schools,no electricity,no trains,no aircraft,no industry,no economy,no cars,no buildings,no roads,no Government,no children with good diet(already it has started) because this world is not for us it is for kafirs we will be inshallah in Golden age of old Islam on the camels ,rampant poverty stricken population with lashkers and suicide jihadis,in tents,eating dates only,no tubewells,wearing arabic dresses,all militant madrassas with explosives and swords and Tokas for slaughtering human kafirs,all children getting Quranic education and understanding nothing,only sensless killing of helpless,unarmed and innocents or being themselves martyred in youth and best of them sucide shaheeds may be against china,we will make this country living hell for own children because this is not our world it is heaven for kafirs inshallah our life will be hereafter in heavens but with those deeds we are still positive that our place will be inshallah Jannat.Recommend

  • Asim

    @Syed Mohseen : Surprising, It kind of took you long to blame this on India or then somehow drag India into this.

    Unless we stand up to our internal ghosts, and continue to look outside to lay blame upon, it will never get resolved.Recommend

  • mystreeman

    @Muhammad Adnan: Be Pakistani, stop acting like a Punjabi nationalist.
    Don’t forget the lessons punjabis used to teach to other nationalities and ethnic groups from East Pakistan to Shores of Karachi. Recommend

  • http://@JameelurRasheed Jameel ur Rasheed

    Well everyone has his own version of story. I am from Quetta and I left Quetta for studies in 2005. Since then I visit Quetta twice a year and sometime once a year. I don’t know who is running BLA, BLT and BRP but the fact remain they all are against Settlers. Settlers include every one who is non-Baloch. When you connect all this Shia massacre with a silent majority of Quetta, you should keep in mind that the majority of Quetta is already under attack from the so called Baloch separatists. So they are no silent actually, they are just relieved that atleast, the day is not their death day! All the Shia brethren, start writing these such stuff with light gradient towards the silent majority (the sunnis) and then end their articles with the blame that all these lashkarz get support from sunnis. The current state of Balochistan has been systematically tweaked to this stage. The players of this game have very well used the dividing lines which stand tall between different ethnicities. Every one agrees that Hazars are being targetted but the fact is true that Hazaras as a nation are very unbending. With that I don’t mean they should submit themself to someone or some group, but they should tune their attitudes to the society. They know that there is an ever-existing threat on attack on ashura jaloos, they keep on increasing the size of the route each year. I remember a rally which was attacked on Meezan chowk last year. It was some Palestine Solidarity rally, Youm-e-Al Quds, the Hazara Youth broke police barriers and arrived at Meezan chowk. The rally was attacked at Meezan Chowk and it killed some 60 people. Shia community is not cooperating in this situation. Things like this happen all over the country. It happened in Peshawar and it happened in Karachi. With increased attacks, these rallies are getting a community size-show activity then some religious ritual.
    We are not at all SILENT , we are just confused what’s happening around. And all we can do as Pakistanis (Majority + Minority), is to cooperate and stop this blame game.

    And Mr. Gardezi, please also quote some authentic reference to your “ludhianvi being broght to GHQ in army chopper”. That’s a really BS! that was really a spice in your article, but i think you shouldn’t be misleading people!!Recommend

  • http://@JameelurRasheed Jameel ur Rasheed

    @at all the Punjabis nationalists

    Bangladesh was broken because of inequal distribution of resources. The resources were distributed in proportion of land. After the separation the resources are distributed in proportion of population So there was always a win-win situation for Punjab.. So please, take a real life. No one in Pakistan is 100% right and perhaps it’s now the time to recognize the mistakes every one has made and move forward. Anyone of you mentioned gas pipelines are being blown up, so let me tell you pipelines are not captioned as this one going to karachi, this one to lahore and peshawar and so on, most of the time its the pipelines which are going towards interior Balochistan. Every province has played it’s part in what ever postion is Pakistan today. I take pride in saying the mine, Balochistan, has provided a non stop supply of fuel to entire nation for more then 50 years and for which it has never been compensated. Mine is the province, which injured it’s chest so that 180 million can proudly call themselves citizens of nuclear Pakistan. There was no other place to perform test. I mean there were places but not as appropriate as this one! So please take break and think openly!Recommend

  • Critics

    @Jameel ur Rasheed:
    A caountry made out of 4 provinces! Is this a country? Or never have been a country at all! May be you are right but you have to be strong enough to prove this fact. Tell me how many of Balochs or Pashtuns of Balochistan stood on their feet for the National Anthem of Pakistan and the Flag? Yes, it may seem childish mistake but you must know that a child is brought up by the family with all the attributes it must contain to be a loayal countryman! Yes, Punjab is responsible for today’s Pakistan. But there are other ways to solve such matters instead of killing innocents! For Pakistan, be or not to be a country situation! A divided country controlled by few old Pakistani Visions! Recommend

  • http://syedaabidabokhari.wordpress.com The Only Normal Person Here.

    Very well written, though a bit controvertial. But I liked the way you handled the issue. All the best Zain.Recommend

  • http://rorolia.wordpress.com/2012/06/29/there-was-a-time-i-could-walk-through-quetta/ Xain Gardezi

    @Jameel:

    I guess ppl like to read selective things. Here s a reference for you:

    http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-2-57832-Lashkar%E2%80%99s-Ishaq-had-clout-even-in-jail

    However, as a time buying tactic, the negotiators decided to rope in some key leaders of several jehadi and sectarian groups to hold talks with terrorists. Special planes were subsequently flown to Lahore, Bahawalpur and Rahim Yar Khan to bring to Rawalpindi Malik Ishaq, a key leader of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Maulana Mohammad Ahmed Ludhianvi, the chief of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, Maulana Fazalur Rehman Khalil, the ameer of Harkatul Mujahideen, and Mufti Abdul Rauf, the younger brother of Maulana Masood Azhar who is also the acting ameer of Jaish-e-Mohammad. And all the three were requested by the military authorities to hold talks with the hostage takers.Recommend

  • Bigsaf

    A brilliant and well articulated article, Zain. I share your cynicism and had come to the same conclusions too after Taseer’s assassination (ironically by an enlightened Barelvi sub-sect practitioner) that a moderate majority did not exist and that there are many who condone and support extremists, not ‘just a few’.

    Since the 80s Wahhabi/Salafi/deoband/Sunni extremist ideologies were promoted by the state and seems to be successfully absorbed by the majority mainstream. Sectarian issues were always contentious in Pak. Even if u did speak out then, only few Sunnis, among the majority, would acknowledge the prejudice, bigotry and crisis of sectarianism adopted as normal ideological narrative, while most would not and just tell u to hush up or downplay it in different ways, from conspiracies to blaming the victims. Its the same today, if not worse with subtle and blunt open anti-minority sentiments.

    U r not alone in having hypocritical biased friends from a majority question you for not sharing their admiration for twisted nationalist jihadis or ‘good’Taliban, who happen to be sectarian by nature and represent values of bigotry and aggression, not values of nobility, humanitarianism or Islam.Recommend

  • Bigsaf

    @Jameel ur Rasheed: 

    the Hazara Youth broke police barriers and arrived at Meezan chowk. The rally was attacked at Meezan Chowk and it killed some 60 people. Shia community is not cooperating in this situation. Things like this happen all over the country. It happened in Peshawar and it happened in Karachi. With increased attacks, these rallies are getting a community size-show activity then some religious ritual

    Its the typical blame the victim narrative with the anti-minority resentment and negative sentiment of a minority having a ‘showing’ presence. While attacks are observed by you over all the country which also includes against non-Hazaras, accusing or demonizing them too for sabotaging their own security as a community trait, a convenient scapegoating false stereotype, amazingly not once is the root ideological cause addressed or acknowledged by you of why there are attacks in the first place and ignoring, literally being defensive, of the dogmatic state’s relationship with sectarian extremists, when there’s loads of historic evidence of collusion.
    The excuses aren’t surprising but still disappointing. Maybe it’s not a silent or supporting majority…certainly an apologist, sympathizing one for the extremists, akin to how some non-violent nice white folks would waste more time in denying culpability than actual action against
    You supposedly may not know who is running BLA, but the settler attacks have been less frequent recently than the massacres on Hazaras. It must be great selfish relief since the 80′s I guess, of not being targeted in sectarianism by lashkars like LeJ. The bubble’s been burst since 2001 for some having the Taliban Shura housed in Quetta recently. Still many are oblivious.
    Let me ease the confusion. If there is to be cooperation, the majority needs to stop the insincere denialism, undo the state wahhabification, recognize that bigoted extremism and sectarianism has grown in their views, leading to a complacent and complicit society.Recommend

  • Muneeb

    Firstly you have evolved quite a big deal, I have to congratulate you on how simply you put your delicate and convoluted case. I saw your first writing like 10 years ago or 8. I can see the elevation. I have no great talents but a great taste :D
    But since opinion is something we pakistanis hold very dear and also since we have that self righteous disease.
    So here is one for free although its just continuation then opinion :D…. I think
    such deep and logical thoughts would never dare enter a mind bearing a mythical idea and trying to make peace with his empty stomach. If we for a moment accept that as a fact you will see that majority of this country is living an abnormal life. I dont see any reason if anything normal should be expected specially by the majority. when I see see other nations and compare then I feel that the conept of peacefull majority is not valid for pakistan. maybe a peacefull tiny minority (the real liberals). But we have something that no one has a strange spieces of tolerants who are liberals about shia and conservative about qadiani, liberals about media but conservative about clothing. You are either a tolerant or you are not. and majority of pakistanis are not tolerant. i can think of 10 things right here right now that if someone would say then pakistanis would do what they are doing. Gentlemen pakistan is a no go area for free spirits. :D
    finally pardon my english language skills, I am not a native speaker.Recommend

  • http://bigsaf.newsvine.com bigsaf

    akin to how some non-violent nice white folks would waste more time in denying culpability than actual action against

    I apologize, that sentence was left uncompleted by me. It should have ended as ‘…than actual action against white supremacists, such as the violent racist KKK of the 60′s era, amongst them.’ Recommend

  • hassan

    “The reason is very obvious; maybe people staying quiet is just an excuse and, secretly, they have sympathies with the killers. Salman Taseer’s assassination showed that there does not exist a silent moderate majority, but a rather vocal and violent-minded majority. ”

    I have never read something so brilliant !

    PS: But, the problem, something so obvious is denied totally by the most of the educated sections of Pakistan. Recommend

  • Sane

    A balanced write. But, I differ about the term genocide. These are terrorists acts only by a handful terrorists. People of Baluchistan are peace loving and coexist with others. Perpetrator are supported by countries at our eastern and north western borders.Recommend

  • Asim

    Baloch are NOT involved into sectarian killings. Baloch have always been and are secular. It is the not state actors trying to neutralize the Baloch separatist movement by increasing religious fundamentalism and sectarianism in Balochistan.
    Belonging to Mastung, where 26 Shia pilgrims were put to death, I have seen this rapid shift to extremism which is, of course, supported by you-know-who.Recommend

  • Sanzar

    As Allama Iqbal says in one of his poems

    IN TAZA KHUDAON MEIN BARA SUB SAY WATAN HAY
    JO PARHAN US KA HAY VO MAZHAB KA KAFAN HAY

    NATIONALISM is RACISM wether it’s Baloch(BLA, BLT, BNP, JWP), Pashtun(ANP), Muhajir(MQM) Sindhi(PPP, JSQM) or Punjabi(PML). Recommend

  • Maryam

    @Jameel ur Rasheed:

    Oh right! so it is the shias fault that they are killed for daring to act out their religious beliefs by being open and having juloos for Muharram, yaum ul quds and other occasions! And because of their defiance of the oppression and attrocities commited against them they increase the size of their juloos to show defiance against terrorists, a perfectly brave and natural reaction! You talk like shias are a non native minority, who are not properly Pakistani and therefore they should not practice their shia madhab openly, or as openly! It is not just the juloos of the hazaras that gets attacked, shias from Karachi get attacked, shias from Punjab get attacked, shias from Pashtun areas get attacked, shias from all over Pakistan get attacked, even though the juloos, the commemoration of Muharram in public etc, has been going on in this part of the world since before the creation of Pakistan! Shias are also attacked whilst practicing witin thne rpivacy of their own masjids and hussainiyas!Even in hindu India shias don’t get attacked like they do in Pakistan, and especially not with the sanction of the government, like in Pakistan! What kind of society is so oppressive of people with different views and beliefs! Stop making out like shi’ism is some how foreign to Pakistan, and therefore the open beliefs of shi’ism will automatically be unacceptable and inflamatory to Pakistanis who are sunni! Shias should have as much right to freely and safely and openly practice Islam in their own way! as much as sunnis! and they should not be viewed as those that have apostocised and taken themselves outside of Islam, but should rather be viewed as another view point to be repsected!Recommend