We Are the Walking Dead: Killings of Shia Hazaras in Balochistan, Pakistan
Human Rights Watch Report
Online Link for Full Report: https://www.loc.gov/item/2015413444/
They asked who the Sunnis were, asking for names. Then they told the
Sunnis to run. We jumped and ran for our lives. But while they allowed
everybody who was not a Shia to get away, they made sure that the Shias
stayed on the bus. Then they made them get out and opened fire.
—Haji Khushal Khan, bus driver, Balochistan, December 2011, Quetta
On September 20, 2011, near the town of Mastung in Pakistan’s Balochistan province,
gunmen stopped a bus carrying about 40 Shia Muslims of Hazara ethnicity traveling to
Iran to visit Shia holy sites. After letting the Sunnis on the bus go, the gunmen ordered
the Hazara passengers to disembark and proceeded to shoot them, killing 26 and
wounding 6. Later that day, gunmen killed three of the Hazara survivors as they tried to
bring attack victims to a hospital in Quetta. The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), a Sunni militant
group, claimed responsibility for the attack. The Mastung shooting marked the first
time—but not the last—that the LeJ perpetrated a mass killing of Hazara after first
separating them from Sunnis.
Asked how he intended to “stem the tears” of the Hazara community, Balochistan’s thenchief
minister, Aslam Raisani, told the media, “Of the millions who live in Balochistan, 40
dead in Mastung is not a big deal. I will send a truckload of tissue papers to the bereaved
families. I’d send tobacco if I weren’t a politician.”
In recent years, Pakistan’s Shia community, which constitutes some 20 percent of the
country’s overwhelmingly Muslim population, has been the target of an alarming and
unprecedented escalation in sectarian violence. Armed Sunni militants have conducted
numerous shootings and bombings across Pakistan, killing thousands of Shia citizens.
Militants have targeted Shia police officers, bureaucrats, and a judge, Zulfiqar Naqvi,
who was killed by motorcycle-riding assassins in Quetta on August 30, 2012. Human
Rights Watch recorded at least 450 killings of Shia in 2012, the community’s bloodiest
year; at least another 400 Shia were killed in 2013. While sporadic sectarian violence
between Sunni and Shia militant groups has long persisted in Pakistan, attacks in recent
years have been overwhelmingly one-sided and primarily targeted ordinary Shia going
about their daily lives.
“WE ARE THE WALKING DEAD” 2
This report documents Sunni militant attacks on the mostly Shia Hazara community in
Pakistan’s southwestern province of Balochistan from 2010 until early 2014. The Hazara in
Balochistan, numbering about half a million people, find themselves particularly
vulnerable to attack because of their distinctive facial features and Shia religious
affiliation. More than 500 Hazaras have been killed in attacks since 2008, but their
precarious position is reflected in the increasing percentage of Hazara among all Shia
victims of sectarian attack. Approximately one-quarter of the Shia killed in sectarian
violence across Pakistan in 2012 belonged to the Hazara community in Balochistan. In
2013, nearly half of Shia killed in Pakistan were Hazaras.
The sectarian massacres have taken place under successive governments since Pakistan’s
return to democratic governance in 2008. To many Hazara, the persistent failure of the
authorities at both the provincial and national levels to apprehend attackers or prosecute
the militant groups claiming responsibility for the attacks suggests that the authorities are
incompetent, indifferent, or possibly complicit in the attacks.
While there is no evidence indicating official or systemic state patronage of the LeJ, the
country’s law enforcement agencies, military, and paramilitary forces have done little to
investigate them or take steps to prevent the next attack. While the LeJ attacks are abuses
by private actors, international human rights law places an obligation on governments to
adequately investigate and punish persistent serious offenses—or be implicated in
violations of human rights.
The bloodiest attacks, resulting in the highest death tolls recorded in sectarian violence in
Pakistan since independence in 1947, occurred in January and February 2013, when bomb
attacks in Quetta killed at least 180 Hazaras. The LeJ claimed responsibility for both attacks.
On January 10, 2013 the suicide bombing of a snooker club frequented by Hazaras killed 96
and injured at least 150. Many of those killed and injured were the victims of a car bomb near
the club that exploded 10 minutes after the first, striking those who had gone to to the aid of
the wounded. Initial government indifference and apathy was met by the Hazara
community’s refusal to bury its dead in protest, sparking country-wide demonstrations in
solidarity. Three days after the attack, Pakistan’s government suspended the provincial
government and imposed federal rule in response to demands of the Hazara community.
On February 17, 2013, at least 84 Hazara were killed and more than 160 injured when a
bomb exploded in a vegetable market in Quetta’s Hazara Town. The perpetrators had
remotely detonated hundreds of kilograms of explosives rigged to a water tanker when the
market was packed with shoppers.
Survivors and victims’ family members say that the ongoing attacks have caused profound
harm to Balochistan’s Hazara community. Increasingly, members of the Hazara community
have been compelled to live a fearful existence of restricted movement that has created
economic hardship and curtailed access to education. That oppressive situation has
prompted large numbers of Hazara to flee Pakistan for refuge in other countries.
These hardships are compounded by elements within Pakistan’s security agencies who
appear to view the Hazara community with suspicion. Speaking on condition of anonymity,
retired members of the paramilitary Frontier Corps, Balochistan’s principal security agency,
described the Hazara to Human Rights Watch as “agents of Iran” and “untrustworthy.” One
former official even suggested, without evidence, that the Hazara “exaggerated” their
plight in order to seek asylum abroad and “gain financial and political support from Iran to
wage its agenda in Pakistan.”
The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has claimed responsibility for most of the attacks and killings. It has
also killed with increasing impunity members of the Frontier Corps or police assigned to
protect Shia processions, pilgrims, or Hazara neighborhoods.
The rhetoric of the LeJ is both anti-Shia and anti-Iran. The LeJ long enjoyed a close
relationship with Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies, which encouraged it in the
1990s to forge strong links with armed Islamist groups fighting in Kashmir and Afghanistan.
Almost the entire leadership of the LeJ fought alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan. In
1998 it aided the Taliban in the massacre of thousands of Hazaras living in Mazar-e-Sharif.
However, in recent years that relationship appears to have fractured in some parts of the
country and generally become more complicated as the LeJ joined the network of the
Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (the Pakistani Taliban, TTP) and has been involved in high profile
attacks on Pakistani military personnel and installations, government officials,
infrastructure, and civilians. As the TTP has intensified attacks on Pakistan, the LeJ has
emerged as its principal militant partner in Balochistan and, more crucially, in Pakistan’s
powerful and prosperous Punjab province, where it is deeply entrenched and has its
origins. The Pakistani military maintains that it has no links, formal or informal, with the
LeJ, and that there is no anti-Hazara or anti-Shia sentiment within the FC or other military
agencies operating in Balochistan.
Since 2002, the operational chief of the LeJ has been Malik Ishaq. He has been accused of
involvement in some 44 attacks that resulted in the killing of some 70 people, mostly Shia,
but has never been convicted and has been acquitted on all charges in 40 of these cases,
amid allegations of violence, threats against witnesses, and fear among judges. The failure
to bring Ishaq to justice underscores seriously failings in Pakistan’s criminal justice
system and the impunity that thrives as a result of this failure.
While Pakistan and Balochistan authorities claim to have arrested dozens of suspects in
attacks against Shia since 2008, only a handful have been charged. Virtually all members
of the LeJ leadership operate with impunity, continuing to play leadership roles even when
in custody awaiting trial. A number of convicted high-profile LeJ militants and suspects in
custody, including its operational chief in Balochistan, Usman Saifullah Kurd, have
escaped from military and civilian detention in circumstances the authorities have been
unable to explain.
While some enhanced security cover in Quetta’s Hazara neighborhoods and to Shia
pilgrims travelling to Iran has been in evidence since a new provincial government
assumed office in Balochistan in June 2013, the situation of the Hazara and other Shia in
Balochistan has not improved. In January 2014, 28 Hazara were killed in a suicide bombing
attack in Mastung on a bus carrying pilgrims returning from Iran. The government
responded by temporarily suspending the bus service to prevent further attacks. On June 9,
2014, at least 24 Shia pilgrims from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province were killed in a gun and
suicide attack on a transit hotel in the Balochistan border town of Taftan. The attackers
were killed in retaliatory fire by FC personnel. Pakistan’s interior minister, Chaudhry Nisar
Ali Khan, responded to the atrocity in parliament by suggesting that the pilgrims, mostly
extremely poor, should find alternative modes of travel by air or ferry as it was impossible
to secure the 700 kilometer bus route.