For most of us, it is difficult to imagine that a homicidal someone is waiting out there to kill us merely for being born into our given ethnicity and religion. For the Hazaras of Quetta, this is their basic reality.
The year 2013, a particularly bloody year, opened with bombings on Alamdar Road and Hazara Town that killed around 100 people. Using large quantities of explosives in crowded market areas, they were timed to inflict maximum civilian casualties. These were only the highlights in a campaign of killing that has claimed thousands of Hazara lives in recent years.
The increasing sophistication of these attacks is matched by a feverish creativity, such as bombings on-board buses carrying schoolgirls. These innovations are the product of a dialectic between terrorism as a political spectacle, meant to attract maximum coverage, and public indifference.
Hardly a day went by in Quetta in 2013 without another targeted assassination in the city; the Hazaras continue to live in ghettos, defended enclaves. And yet, in the face of every provocation, they have remained resilient as a community largely committed to non-violent, non-sectarian resistance. In a country where the most insidious effects of oppression are the ways in which they beget themselves within their victims, the Hazara community’s courage and conscience stand as a lesson in the dire necessity of anti-chauvinist solidarity as resistance not only to violence but to the obscurantist forces of the order that produces that violence.
Condemned for being Shia, profiled by their Central Asian features, the Hazara community, insofar as it is represented by the Hazara Democratic Party and its associated student groups, has refused to define their plight in purely sectarian terms. They, instead, highlight their suffering within the context of a wider struggle against oppression in Pakistan, and the necessity for solidarity across the divisions by which the oppressors seek to divide and conquer. We are you, they have said, again and again. It is a stance that resists the easy exoticism of the extremist killer.
In fairness, the mind recoils against intentions that must frankly be characterized as genocidal. But to ascribe violence to religious extremism in itself explains nothing. Rather, we should search for the material conditions and interests that give sustenance to extremism, that sustain it, that stoke its fires in pursuit of the maintenance of a particular system of power.
The failure of the state to provide physical security and economic welfare to its swelling population has led to the growth of parallel and militant informal politics, whose extralegal violence and criminality in turn serve powerful interests. By way of example, one only has to look at certain pre- and post-electoral accommodations in Punjab between political parties on the one hand and sectarian, militant organizations on the other, or particular arrangements of political coercion on the part of the military in the post-colonial tribal areas. It is a system of extreme economic inequality and, therefore, violence.
The plight of the Hazaras, and of Pakistan’s ethnic and religious minorities in general, is thus an indictment of the entire system of power in Pakistan, at whose pinnacle stands the very elite that sermonizes about extremism. The murdered Shia civilians are merely the most visible victims of an order founded on violence and subjugation and of a patronage system fed by armed criminal control of a vast informal economy.
It is in this light that the Hazaras’ commitment to secularism and solidarity stands out as an exemplar of resistance. Without denying the particular plight that marginalized groups like the Hazaras are facing, or the need for community strength and mobilization in such times, the question of solidarity across ethnic and religious lines becomes crucial to understanding violence and its causes. A politics of identity, by contrast, obfuscates those causes.
How long can the Hazaras last, before something gives? In the last national election, we saw the emergence of the Majlis Wahdat-e Muslimeen (MWM), an explicitly Shia and religious political party which managed to capture a seat in the provincial assembly in Balochistan. To many, the sudden success of the MWM seems like an oft-repeated story, that of the security state’s cultivation of religious and reactionary forces as a means to sap groups whose principles threaten a strong centre, whose leftism threatens the power of capital and the old order of patronage and whose secularism threatens a whole vocabulary of religious mobilization.
But let us not forget that violence reproduces itself. It divides and radicalizes, it wears away human and social capital and embitters and enfeebles its survivors. The violence of the oppressor becomes mirrored in the violence of those who would resist through the same means, and this violence corrupts both sides alike. The terrorized become terrorists. This is the story of Pakistan’s violence, nowhere more evident than in Karachi. But the mask of ethnic and religious hatred hides the true gears of power, turns an intelligible story of exploitation and profit into one of sound and fury, signifying nothing.