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Hazara killings highlight plight of Shia community in Pakistan

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NEW DELHI: Hundreds of members of Pakistan’s Hazara community (Shia) are holding protests against the killing of 10 coal miners in a targeted attack in Balochistan, refusing to bury their dead until the government meets their demands – an episode which is a reminder of the state of Shia community in South Asia’s second biggest country.

The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday “strongly condemned” the terrorist attack and killing of Hazara coal miners on January 3. Guterres expressed his sincere condolences to the families of the miners and urged the Pakistani authorities to do “everything possible” to bring the perpetrators of this terrorist act to justice.

The United Nations General Assembly President Volkan Bozkir too condemned the terrorist attack on Hazaras people and extended condolences to the families of killed miners and the government of Pakistan.

Hazaras are the Persian-speaking ethnic group native to central Afghanistan and a minority community in neighbouring Pakistan.

Since 2001, more than 2,600 Shias have been killed in violent attacks in Pakistan, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal.

Unidentified gunmen stormed a coal mine near the town of Mach, about 50km east of Quetta, on January 3, pulling out ethnic Hazaras. ISIL or ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack in a post on the group’s Amaq news service.

Most Hazaras in Balochistan live in Quetta, a city of about 1.1 million people. The city is home to an estimated 500,000 Hazaras.

“For 22 years, [our demands] are the same: that our killers are arrested, that their facilitators are arrested and those who lead them be arrested. It is not so difficult to understand this,” Al Jazeera reported quoting Saeed Muhammad Raza, a local leader of the Shia Muslim Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen (MWM) political party.

“If the rulers do not understand this, then I do not know what their compulsions are that they cannot act against those who lead these terrorists, nor can they act against [the attackers] themselves.”

The protesters have demanded that the miners’ killers be brought to justice and that the government form an independent judicial commission to investigate the continuing attacks against Hazaras.

“The demand is that the prime minister of Pakistan come here and form an independent judicial committee and that every single killer, their facilitators, their leaders and those who fund them should be identified and punished,” said Raza.

The hundreds gathered at the protest raised their hands in unison, chanting slogans acclaiming the sacrifice of their “martyrs” and reaffirming their religious identity. Between them lay 10 coffins, each draped in a white shroud, carrying a religious inscription in stark red letters, reported Al Jazeera.

Last August, around 42 blasphemy cases were registered in Pakistan. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), more than 75 percent of cases were filed against Shias in relation to speeches made at religious processions.

In September, thousands of activists of mainstream religious right-wing parties, allied with banned outfits, held mass rallies in Karachi against Shia Muslims and demanded the arrest of blasphemers, stricter blasphemy laws and for the Islam Protection Bill recently passed by the Punjab Assembly to be replicated across Pakistan. Newspapers described it as the largest anti-Shia march seen in decades.

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