My friend was killed in the Quetta blasts last year…I still await justice

Published: January 13, 2014
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Even though a whole year has passed by since the tragic event at Alamdar Road, the families of the victims are still unsure if the killers of their loved ones will ever be brought to justice.

January 10, 2014 marked the first anniversary of the Alamdar Road blast in Quetta, where over 100 people were killed and more than 169 injured in a twin blast. The explosion took place near a snooker club where a suicide bomber detonated the bomb at approximately 8:50pm in the evening.

When the first blast took place, a large group of people reached the area in order to rescue and help the victims. However, after about 10 minutes, another blast took place at the same location – this time it was a bomb which was remote detonated in a car nearby.

The second blast was deadlier than the first one, as it targeted a larger pool of people. From aid workers to security personnel, from media reporters to all those who had rushed to the scene to help the victims of first blast, many people lost their lives to terrorism that day.

The blast on Alamdar Road, Quetta, left many mothers grieving; since the blast took place near a snooker club, most of the victims were young, with most of them being under the age of 25. The relentless wave of sectarian violence that had targeted the Hazara Shia Muslims in Balochistan, has taken away many sons, brothers and fathers from the community, especially in Quetta.

Amongst these mothers is Saeeda Bibi, who lost her eldest son Irfan Ali Khudi – a young man who worked as a social activist and had been married for only a year and a half. Irfan, like many others, had gone to the snooker club to help the victims of the first blast but, unfortunately, he too fell prey to the sectarian attack when the second blast took place.

Irfan Ali Khudi. Photo: Asif Magsi

Another victim of the tragic event was my friend, Saifur Rehman, the SAMAA News cameraman, who had reached the scene to report the incident that had taken place and help those in need. Saif, however, went on missing for many hours after the second blast; it was only later that day that the news of his death was announced to everyone. He had succumbed o his injuries at the Combined Military Hospital (CMH).

Saifur Rehman. Photo: Asif Magsi

There are many Saeeda Bibis in Quetta who have lost their Irfans and many friends who have lost their loved ones during this killing spree. Many of them have left their homes, jobs and careers, and the ones who are still living there are limited to the boundary walls of the Hazara dominated areas in Quetta. They are being hunted and killed, with no one coming to their aid.

Even though a whole year has passed by since the tragic event at Alamdar Road, the families of the victims are still unsure if the killers of their loved ones would ever be brought to justice.

Malik Siraj Akber, the US-based editor of Balochistan’s first online English newspaper The Baloch Hal, in his interview to Al Jazeera, said,

“The Pakistani government has no policy of countering sectarianism in the south-western region…”

Militant groups openly operate in Balochistan and attack the Hazara Shia community. Many a times these groups target buses transporting pilgrims through the region – they take all the passengers off the bus and ask for their identity cards. If someone belongs to the Hazara community or the Shia sect, they are shot then and there. Such buses have also been targeted via suicide bombings.

Pakistani Shia Muslim mourners sit beside the coffins of blast victims at a mosque following overnight twin suicide bombings in Quetta on January 11, 2013. Photo: AFP

Albeit dictatorship or democracy, governor rule or provincial assembly, the Hazara Shia community has suffered continuously, for the last 13 years, without a moment of respite.

Despite the fact that this community is perhaps one of the most peaceful groups in Pakistan, they are often targeted and massacred. Even after the twin attacks took place, the community did not become violent. They protested peacefully, with the dead bodies of their beloveds lying in front of them, in below-freezing temperatures on the streets of Quetta.

Shia Muslims demonstrate and sit amongst the coffins and portraits of bomb blast victims in Quetta on January 12, 2013. Photo: AFP

Within the last 13 years, more than 1200 people of the Hazara community have been brutally killed and around 3500 have been injured and paralysed for life.

Although not all Hazaras are Shias, a majority of them do belong to this sect. Thus a sectarian motive to these killings seems logical. They can be easily recognised because of their distinctive facial features, making them effective targets. In Quetta alone there are half a million Hazaras, being the second biggest concentration in the province.

A market engulfed in flames (L) set off by the massive bomb attack in Quetta on February 17, 2013. Photo: Mohammad Zafar

Concerning the security situation and targeted attacks on themselves, people have adopted particular measures to safeguard themselves from violence. Despite being liberal Muslims, Hazara women are forced to wear veils and burqas, while the men wear sunglasses to hide their identities.

As per a Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) report, a few years ago there were around 250 Hazara students in the Balochistan University, Quetta. Presently, there are only two to three. Of the 11 Hazara faculty members at the university, not one is present today.

Protest against Shia Hazara community persecution. Photo: Reuters/File

In view of this, a trend amongst the Hazaras to seek asylum in other countries has become visible. Many of them run considerable risks and travel illegally by sea, via unsafe boats, to find refuge. Many of these boats capsize on the way but despite these dangers, around 6,000 Hazaras have left to claim asylum in Australia. They would rather take their chances with these boats than to stay home and wait for the inevitable to happen.

Even after a year, the condition of this community remains largely the same. Keeping all these things in mind, one can’t help but question where the government has been – the very government that boasts its merit and promises to protect its people.

Where does the government disappear when it comes to the Hazaras? Are they not Pakistani too?

Asif Magsi

Asif Magsi

A Lahore based researcher and human rights activist, he has completed a Masters degree in Media and Communication from the University of Balochistan, Quetta.

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