Lashkar-e-Jhangvi terrorists Usman Saifullah Kurd and Dawood Badini waged a war of extermination against the Hazaras of Balochistan.
by Massimo Introvigne
Balochistan, home to the largest number of Hazaras in Pakistan, is plagued by two different conflicts. One opposes Shiite Hazaras to radical Sunni Muslims. The other opposes Balochi separatists to the central Pakistani government. Roughly, 35% of those living in Balochistan are Balochi and another 35% Pashtun. Both are (mostly, since they include Shi’a minorities) Sunni Muslims, but they are ethnically different and speak different languages. While a secular enmity between Pashtuns and Hazaras developed in Afghanistan, Hazaras and Balochis maintained mostly amicable relationships. The creation of an independent Balochistan is supported by a sizeable number of Balochis, although there are Pashtun separatists too, and a larger movement claiming that Pashtuns are discriminated. The roots of a large part of Balochi separatism are secular, connected with economic grievances expressed through the tool of Marxist ideology. Most Pashtun organizations frame their discourse in religious Islamic terms. Some of the Balochi separatist organizations have military wings and have been involved in terrorist attacks.
Do the two conflicts, Hazara-Sunni and Separatists-Government, interact in Balochistan? This is an important but also a controversial question. The government claims that the Balochi affiliate of the anti-Shi’a terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), discussed in the previous article of this series, has forged an alliance with Balochi separatists against the Army and the police, based on the principle that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” On the contrary, senior Hazara leaders and some scholars believe that the government protects LeJ and use its militants to assist with the “dirty work” against the Balochi separatists.
The jury is still out. However, those who believe that the government has some hidden relationship with LeJ point out to the fact that, as we mentioned in the previous article, the two local LeJ leaders in Balochistan, Usman Saifullah Kurd and Dawood Badini, managed to escape in 2008 from what was supposed to be a maximum-security jail in Quetta, a feat difficult to accomplish without some official complicity.
Be it as it may be, Kurd and Badini reorganized LeJ-Balochistan, and in 2011 published a manifesto, announcing that anti-Hazara terrorism was back for a third wave, after the first that had targeted Hazara leaders between 1999 and 2002, and the second that had produced the mass killings between 2003 and 2006. “All Shi’a are worthy of killing they wrote. We will rid Pakistan of unclean people. Pakistan means ‘land of the pure,’ and the Shiites have no right to live in this country. We have the edict and signatures of revered scholars, declaring the Shi’a infidels. Just as our fighters have waged a successful jihad against the Shi’a Hazaras in Afghanistan, our mission in Pakistan is the abolition of this impure sect and its followers from every city, every village, and every nook and corner of Pakistan. As in the past, our successful jihad against the Hazaras in Pakistan and, in particular, in Quetta is ongoing and will continue in the future. We will make Pakistan the graveyard of the Shi’a Hazaras, and their houses will be destroyed by bombs and suicide bombers. We will only rest when we will be able to fly the flag of true Islam on this land of the pure. Jihad against the Shi’a Hazaras has now become our duty.”
These were not empty words. In fact, attacks had already started before the manifesto. On September 3, 2010, in Quetta 73 Shiites, mostly Hazaras, were killed in a suicide attack. Paradoxically, the procession celebrated the Quds Day, an annual event of solidarity with the Palestinian cause, which LeJ also supports. On May 6, 2011, LeJ militants opened fire in a playground in Quetta where Hazaras were playing cricket and soccer, killing 8 and wounding 15. On September 20, 2011, a bus carrying Hazaras was attacked en route from Quetta to Taftan, leaving 28 dead. Another bus was attacked on October 4, 2011, in Akhtarabad, with 13 Hazaras killed.
2012 as a year was even worse, with 125 Shiites killed in Balochistan, 120 of them Hazaras. On April 9, 2012, a raid by motorcycle-riding gunmen killed six Hazara shopkeepers in Quetta’s Prince Road. On April 14, a LeJ terrorist group killed six Hazaras in an attack against a taxi in Quetta, while another two Hazaras were killed while they were waiting outside the Passport Office in the same city. A university bus was the target of a suicide attack on June 18, which killed 4 Hazaras and wounded another 72. On September 1, seven Hazaras were assassinated in Quetta in two separate incidents. On September 20, a bus of Hazara pilgrims en route to Iran was attacked in Mastung, killing three and wounding twelve. In Kuchlak, on October 4, gunmen targeted a taxi carrying three Hazara government officials, one of whom was killed. On October 16, a LeJ attack against a Hazara auto repair shop left four men dead. Two Hazara taxi drivers and two of their passengers were killed in Quetta on November 6. Another Hazara taxi driver was shot on November 10. On December 13, Hazaras were targeted in the Qandahari Bazaar, and three died.
Worse was to come in 2013, when LeJ claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing against a snooker club that killed 96 Hazaras on January 10, and for a bomb that exploded in Quetta’s Hazara Town vegetable market on February 16, causing 84 victims. The attacks showed that LeJ was now focusing on less frequent but more deadly attacks. The trend was confirmed in 2014, when yet another bus carrying Hazara pilgrims, this time coming back from Iran, was attacked by a suicide bomber on January 2 in Mastung, killing 30. Other Shiite pilgrims, from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, were attacked at a transit hotel in Taftan on June 9. The 30 victims were non-Hazara Shiites, but the terrorists planned to attack a wing of the hotel where some 300 Hazara pilgrims were sleeping, killing all of them, and were prevented to do so by the arrival of the police.
There was a political reaction by the Hazara parties in Balochistan, who called for international intervention. One was the Hazara Democratic Party, a secular organization established in 2002, whose first leader, Hussain Ali Yousafi (1958–2009), had been assassinated by LeJ in 2009. Another was the local branch of Majlis-e-Wahdat-e-Muslimeen (MWM), a national religion-based Shi’a party, which is supported by a part of the Hazaras in Balochistan. The government has accused MWM of retaliating against Sunni Muslims, and claims it is connected to half a dozen murders of Deobandi leaders.
The consequences of the terrorist campaign of 2010–2015 were dramatic for the Hazaras. Children were pulled out of schools by their parents for fear of terrorism. Hazaras rarely ventured outside the Hazara-dominated neighborhoods in Quetta, although they were not safe even there. Some 100,000 Hazaras left Balochistan. Some moved to the largest cities in Pakistan. Others went to Australia and other Western countries.
On February 15, 2015, Usman Saifullah Kurd was killed by the Pakistan Frontier Corps. Although his second-in-command Badini remained at large, and was able to organize other terrorist attacks in 2015, with Kurd the Balochi branch of LeJ lost its charismatic leader. Hazaras rejoiced, until they understood that in the same year a new deadly enemy was coming to Balochistan, the Islamic State.