Ahmed Shah had always dreamed of bigger things. Even though he was only 17, the high school student had found a job in the coal mines of Balochistan, in Pakistan’s southwest province, one of the most difficult and dangerous work environments in the country. world. Shah was determined to earn enough to educate himself, so that he could escape the difficult life of the Shia Hazara community, the most persecuted minority in Pakistan.
But Shah never saw a better future. He was among 10 miners who were resting in their mud hut near the mines in the small Balochistani town of Mach when armed militants stormed in. Gruesome video from the scene shows the young men blindfolded with their hands tied behind their backs. A security official said they had their throats slit. ISIS claimed responsibility for the massacre.
Prime Minister Imran Khan called this an act of inhuman terrorism, but for the Hazara, the minority Shia Muslims who have been targeted for three decades in Pakistan by extremists among the majority of Sunni Muslims who consider them heretics , that was not enough.
Shahs’ mother Amina was on tour as a health worker in the nearby provincial capital of Quetta when she heard about the massacre.
I wanted to see my son one last time, but I was told I couldn’t take it, Amina said. The killers were not humans. They killed them so brutally.
Amina holds a photo of her son, Ahmed Shah, murdered along with other miners by Isis. Photograph: Mashal Baloch / The Guardian
The Hazara community, after decades of injustice and state neglect, was pushed into action and, in a protest like never before in Pakistan, the families of the 10 men took the corpses to the streets and sat down next to them. , in the freezing cold, to demand protection and justice.
For an entire week they did not budge, declaring that they would not bury the bodies until the Prime Minister heeded their demands.
In response, Khan accused them of attempting to blackmail him and said he would not visit until the bodies were buried.
Ahmed Shah was one of four family members to die in the Mach massacre. Likewise, his cousin Sadiq, the sole breadwinner of his wife, children and six sisters.
Sadiq, the father of two daughters, had had lunch with his wife before dawn at his home in Quetta before leaving for Mach. A sister, Masooma Yaqoob Ali, saw the news of the Hazara minors on Facebook and came across the photo of her brothers’ bodies blindfolded.
These monsters didn’t just kill 10 people, they killed 10 families, she says. It has been two decades since we were mercilessly killed, but no one has been arrested yet.
Masooma Yaqoob Ali holds a photo of his late brother Sadiq and 17-year-old cousin Ahmed Shah, who had their throats slit by militants in Mach. Photograph: Mashal Baloch / The Guardian
The Hazara Shiites have been targeted for many years by Sunni extremists, such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Sipah-e-Sahaba and now Isis. According to a 2019 report by the Pakistan National Human Rights Commission, an independent watchdog, at least 509 Hazara have been murdered for their faith since 2013. Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission, non-profit lucrative, claims that from 2009 to 2014, nearly 1,000 Hazaras died in sectarian violence. Thousands of people have been injured.
Our men and our young people cannot go out. If they leave, they will be killed. Our cemeteries are full of young men Masooma Yaqoob Ali
To curb attacks on the 600,000 Hazaras living in the towns of Mariabad and Hazara Town in Quetta, authorities have built military checkpoints, roadblocks and walls around the areas.
In 2014, the international organization Human Rights Watch released a 62-page report on the persecution of Hazara Shia in Balochistan titled We Are the Living Dead.
We live in two prisons. Our men and our young people cannot go out. If they leave, they will be killed. Our cemeteries are full of young men with little more space, says Ali. We are tired of carrying their coffins. Every year we dig mass graves. Yet Prime Minister Imran Khan says we are blackmailers. Khan is heartless.
Behisht-e-Zainab cemetery in Mari Abad, in the Hazara district of the Baloch capital, Quetta. Photograph: Mashal Baloch / The Guardian
The majority of the Hazara of Quetta come from Afghanistan and Iran to seek work in Pakistan, and many end up in the mines of Balochistan.
For 15 years, Chaman Ali, another of Mach’s victims, traveled from Afghanistan to Quetta every winter to work in the coal mines.
I would be worried about his life when he was here and when he went to Afghanistan. I would think what happens if it is in the hands of the Taliban? I thought he was safe here, but that’s where he was killed, his sister Zara said.
Chaman Ali is survived by his wife and eight children, the youngest only three months old. Aziz and Nasim, from the Afghan province of Daykundi, came with Shaman Ali to work in the mines for the first time. They were also murdered.
Abdul Rahim, from Daykundi in Afghanistan, holds a photo of his 22-year-old son Nasim, another victim of the Mach massacre. Photograph: Mashal Baloch / The Guardian
Nasim, 22, started working to finance his education and had arrived in Pakistan just a week before he was killed. Afghanistan is in a very bad situation and we believe that something is better than nothing, which is why we come to Pakistan just for a living, says Abdul Rahim, father of Nasims. Along with other family members, he was unable to make it to his sons’ funerals from Afghanistan, when security forces closed roads out of villages across Pakistan’s porous border.
The victims of the Mach massacre were all ultimately buried in a mass grave in Hazara Town, on the outskirts of Quetta. The Hazara community is running out of space to bury its dead. The cemetery is full of photographs of Shiite Hazara men, women and children, many of whom were murdered.
Having Mongolian ancestors, many Hazara are identifiable by their distinctive appearance, and it is along the unique road to Mari Abad and Hazara Town that thousands of people have been attacked by extremist groups.
Our generation grew up in a cage. We are building houses on the mountain and are afraid to go and see other parts of Quetta, says Arif Hussain Nasry, 21, founder of the Future is Young campaign. We are even afraid to reunite with Hazara from other nations and communities. We have to live to survive in these two ghettos.
The Hazara cemetery in Quetta. The flags represent the graves of all those killed in sectarian violence. Photograph: Mashal Baloch / The Guardian
But for Naseem Javed, author and political activist, the attacks on Hazara are not just about bigotry. I don’t think Hazara is being targeted just because of her faith, he said. They are also being targeted to distract from the Baloch separatist movement.
Balochistan, Pakistan’s poorest province and wedged between Iran and Afghanistan, has a separatist movement that has been active in the province for 20 years. The region has also become a hub for international proxies, including the Taliban, adds Javed.
Javed shows the gun he keeps near him in his shop, where he sells prayer mats and prayer beads. We live in the shadow of guns and fear. None of us have a normal life. We are slaughtered. If the security establishment has no role in this genocide, why did they not arrest any aggressors?
For many Hazara, the solution is to simply go. Amjad Ali *, 21, has tried three times to leave Balochistan for a new life in Europe. He was first deported from Turkey and returned to Iran, from where he was returned to Pakistan. The second time he was expelled from Iran.
On his third attempt to reach Europe, along with 25 other Hazara Shiites, Ali was caught a few miles from the border by Jaish ul-Adl, another Sunni militant group that operates mainly in southeast Iran. . Impersonating Iranian security forces, the jihadist group took Ali and others to a mountain camp in Pakistan, near the Iranian border.
Buses to take Shia pilgrims to shrines in Iran. Many Hazara are trying to reach Europe to escape their persecution in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Photograph: Mashal Baloch / The Guardian
They were very well updated and informed. As soon as we got to their camp, they shot four Hazaras with Kalashnikovs. Two of them worked in the Pakistani army. Two, as Jaish ul-Adl claimed, were to be part of the Zainebiyoun Brigade, a militant force backed by Iran. [fighting in Syria]Ali told The Guardian.
The rest were held up and their families sent in random requests. Ali spent 55 days in the camp before his family members managed to collect thousands of dollars in ransom for his release.
If I have the chance to go to Europe now, I will try again, Ali said. There is no life for Hazara Shia in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
* Amjad Alis name has been changed to protect his identity.
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