A community under siege
QUETTA: Saeeda’s house is barely a few metres away from the snooker hall in Quetta’s Alamdar Road which was struck by devastating twin bombings on Jan 10. For her the sectarian violence targeting Balochistan’s Hazara community has come home: her eldest son Irfan Ali Khudi lost his life in the second of the two blasts.
The young man, who worked as a community activist and was married a year and a half ago, had gone to help the injured after the first blast at the snooker club.
She also lost her son-in-law Zahid Hussain in the blast while her other son Ali was injured, but has since recovered.
Saeeda is just one mother out of countless that have lost sons, husbands and brothers to the relentless wave of sectarian violence that has targeted Hazara Shias in Balochistan.
Upon leaving Alamdar Rd one arrives at the Hazara graveyard at the foot of the ominously named Koh-i-Murdar. There is a separate section for ‘shuhada’ and it is filling up fast. Brightly coloured pictures of young men in sharp suits, some barely teenagers, stare back from above the graves. There are pictures of older men as well. Some have flowers in the background, others feature motifs of Karbala and other sacred places.
Some of the faces are sombre, others display exuberance. In nearly all the Hazara-dominated neighbourhoods of Quetta, especially Alamdar Rd, the pictures of the victims are everywhere, on every street corner, looking back at the onlooker, perhaps awaiting justice. Mohammad Nabi’s eldest son Nazir Hussain, 22, was also killed in the Alamdar Rd bombing. The young man was in the police. “He had gotten engaged and preparations were being made for his nikah. He had joined the police two and a half years ago,” Nazir’s father says.
Many of those who have lost loved ones to sectarian violence in Balochistan belong to low-income backgrounds. Terrorism has only compounded their financial misery.
“Irfan’s father passed away when he was very young and I raised my children by sewing clothes. Our income was supplemented by my late husband’s meagre pension,” says Saeeda, who lives in a rented three-room house.
Mohammad Nabi lives in a tiny mountainside house in Marriabad adjacent to Alamdar Rd that he shares with his two brothers and their families. A day labourer, he does not speak proper Urdu and is not literate.
“After Nazir’s appointment in the police there was an improvement in our financial position. But I am unwell, often unable to work,” he says.
Mohammad Nabi has only received Rs20,000 from the police department, even though the provincial government announced Rs1 million compensation for each victim. “The police have promised me a job, but my other sons are too young to work.” He
adds that Nazir’s police dues have not yet been cleared.
‘There is no government’
Though Saeeda says the government has paid her compensation, she feels let down by the state and society. “There is no government in this country. There is no value for human life. I cry tears of blood.”
No government official has visited to condole with the bereaved family. She also bemoans the fact that “terrorists are not caught. They are not punished. Where do they disappear”?
As Saeeda explains her plight her maternal grand-daughters Itrat and Sidra Batool enter the room. One is a class V student, while the other studies in class III. “Their father used to wake them up for school every morning and have breakfast with them.
Now they mourn his loss every day. Who will look after these girls?”
Asked if the sit-ins by the community with the victims’ bodies have made a difference, Mohammad Nabi says, “after the first dharna there were promises from the authorities. Yet a day before the chehlum of the Alamdar Rd blast the Hazara Town bombing occurred. We still face threats. The terrorists have made it clear the only place for Hazaras in Quetta is the graveyard.
But we will not let go of our faith.”
Across the city in Hazara Town, the other major Hazara locality in Quetta, the mood is equally depressing.
Ahmed Hussain, a father of four, worked in a coalmine and was out buying vegetables when the devastating blast of Feb 16 occurred. An Afghan citizen, he came to Quetta in 1999.
“He left Afghanistan due to war and poverty. Also, the Afghan Taliban had killed members of his family,” the victim’s nephew Mohammad Musa says.
Ahmed Hussain was his family’s only breadwinner. Now his brother Qurban Ali, also a miner who has five kids of his own, will have to look after his brother’s family as well. Both families share a rented two-room house.
‘Nothing to go back to’
“Our relatives in Afghanistan have asked us to come back. But we know there is nothing to go back to,” says Musa. Mr Hussain’s family says the Afghan consulate has contacted them and asked for documents; officials told them the Afghan government and the UNHCR would try to help.
Mohammad Jan was also an Afghan miner. He came to Pakistan 12 years ago. He lost his life in an incident of targeted killing in Mach in June 2012. He left behind his wife and seven children. His oldest daughter is blind.
“We fled poverty. But here we lost everything. How will I raise my children? How will I feed them”? asks Mohammad Jan’s widow. “After the Hazara Town blast fear is everywhere. When my daughter leaves for school in the morning, she tells me she
doesn’t know if she’ll return.”
Several days after the blast, the site of the Hazara Town bombing is still a shambles. Debris is everywhere. Bricks are strewn about, as are rotting fruit and mangled pieces of metal. A burnt-out motorbike and taxi remain frozen in their tracks. Shattered
glass is everywhere while shops are still charred. On one wall bloodstains are clearly visible. It is early evening and people are milling about, surveying the damage with empty, blank faces.
A tractor-trolley towing a large water tanker rumbles by on Kirani Road, much like the one packed with 1,000kg of explosives that caused the havoc of Feb 16. The sight is enough to send chills down the spine.
The stories of all the families affected by terrorism were depressingly similar: the lives of sole breadwinners, promising sons, doting fathers and caring brothers were all cut short, with the families unsure if the killers of their loved ones would ever be
brought to justice.