JNN 28 Feb 2013 Quetta : Ismatullah holds an AK-47 and checks vehicles on the road. “Enough is enough. We have no trust in the security forces any more and we’ll protect our community ourselves,” says the teenage Shiite student.
Extremist Sunni Muslim bombers killed nearly 200 people in Pakistan’s southwestern city of Quetta in the two worst bomb attacks to strike Shiite Muslims from the minority Hazara community, just weeks apart on Jan.10 and Feb.16.
After each attack, thousands of Hazaras, including women and children, camped out in the bitter cold demanding that the army step in to protect them. The government brokered an end to the protests, but refused to mobilise the troops.
Outlawed extremist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility and has threatened to exterminate all Shiites. Few believe that dozens of men rounded up after the bomb attacks will ever be brought to justice.
Pakistan’s Supreme Court and rights groups accuse the authorities of failing to protect Shiites and now young men like 18-year-old Ismatullah have to take up arms to defend themselves and their families.
Ismatullah’s best friend was shot dead last June near Hazara Town. He lost more friends when suicide bombers flattened a snooker hall on Jan.10 and a massive bomb hidden in a water tanker destroyed a market on Feb.16.
“I couldn’t control myself when I saw scattered pieces of so many children and women of our community,” said the first year college student.
“Our community is only interested in education and business, but terrorists have forced us to take up whatever arms we have and take to the streets for our own security.”At the moment they operate as volunteers under the name, Syed-ul-Shohada Scouts, registered as part of the Baluchistan Scouts Association, an affiliate of the worldwide scouting movement.
For years, young men like Ismatullah have volunteered to protect sensitive events, such as religious processions during the holy month of Muharram.
But their chairman says the threat is now so great that they should be paid full time as an auxiliary to government security forces.
“We have around 200 young men who perform security duties on specific occasions, but most of them are students and workers, and can’t work full-time,” said Syed Zaman, chairman of the Hazara Scouts.
“We are trying to make a system to start their salaries for permanent deployment and also coordinate with the security agencies. Hopefully, we will be able to form a regular force… and salaries in a month,” he said.
Scouts president Ghulam Haider said it was a mistake to rely on government security when the first of two suicide bombers struck at the snooker hall in the Alamdar Road neighbourhood.
“It resulted in another bomb blast minutes after the first one and we lost many more people,” Haider told AFP.
“We didn’t want that to happen again, so immediately after the blast on Feb.16, we armed our youth to man the streets and entry points, which helped to prevent the chances of a second attack,” he claimed.
Hazara Town, where the market was bombed, is very exposed, in the shadow of the Chiltan mountains and near the bypass which links the Afghan border town of Chaman to Pakistan’s financial capital Karachi.
While paramilitary Frontier Corps and police patrol the main approaches, they are not visible inside the neighbourhood.
“Security agencies can’t protect us. They don’t know the area because most of them come from outside Quetta. So we’re planning to set up our own permanent posts inside our areas,” said Haider.
The police, however, have their doubts.
“If we start private policing by arming one particular community, it will set the wrong precedent,” said Fiaz Ahmed Sunbal, head of Quetta police operations.
He claimed police were planning to close entrances to Hazara Town, and would recruit 200 young Hazaras to patrol their own areas.
Haider says closing off roads will isolate the community but welcomed the recruitment of Hazara Scouts as a long-term solution.
Others warn that time is running out.
“If they don’t do anything and something happens again, we will take up guns and go out and kill our opponents. There will be open war,” said 26-year-old shopkeeper Zahid Ali.
This is the First Step by the Shia Hazara Community to safe Guard themselves from the Terrorist who are their Bloody Thirsty, The precedent is now being well thought over by whole of the Shia Community across Pakistan from Parachanar to Gigit Baltistan to Karachi, as they are right now in the Process of finalizing to make such Community Policing set up in all the Majority and risk area of the community , so the Peaceful Shia People can be safe guarded and can freely perform their Religious and Social Rituals safely across Pakistan . And can live in Peace and Harmony with all the sections of the Society.
The Shia elders have pointed out that this is the not the first time the Security agencies have failed to protect the Shia Community , Not long ago , while on the same Pattern the Shia Community in Parachanar was also hit hard by the Taliban Terrorists , and Hundred of Shia Men were Martyred , By firing , Slaughtering and In Bomb Blasts , but when finally the Community Policing was introduced their and the Community took the control of their Security , then they were a bit relaxed and terrorist attacks and Bombs Blasts could be averted.
BACKGROUND of Shia Hazara Community
Pakistan’s Hazaras, a prosperous, moderate community who found refuge after brutal crackdowns in Afghanistan, are again living in fear as they suffer record levels of sectarian violence.
Overwhelmingly Shiite Muslim, the roughly 550,000 Hazaras in the southwestern city of Quetta are descendants of migrants from Afghanistan, where the community opposed the 1996-2001 Brutal Taliban regime where they were killed mercilessly by the Taliban , but after Migration has since prospered.
They are known for hard work, being educated and having more liberal attitudes towards women than other communities in Pakistan’s ultra-conservative southwest, where they live alongside ethnic Pashtun, Baluch and Punjabis.
Hazaras first came to Quetta in the 1890s, when Afghan ruler Abdur Rahman Khan crushed a series of Hazara uprisings, which left thousands dead and saw lands confiscated, beginning a long period of discrimination in Afghanistan.
Many arrived with nothing and took jobs as labourers, went into business, joined the army and the civil service, and sent their children to university.
Their Persian dialect is similar to the large Hazara community in central Afghanistan and in Iran, where they also report discrimination.
Hazaras are a minority in Pakistan, but in 1958, one rose to become army chief of staff General Mosa Khan , often considered the most powerful job in Pakistan, and they have also taken senior positions in the civil service.
“The whole of the last century went very well with us. We excelled in education, the military, bureaucracy and business. We were respected as hard workers,” said Mohammed Ali Hazara, a lawyer who runs a private school in Quetta.
But in 1999, the then Baluchistan provincial education minister was shot dead, becoming the first high-profile Hazara victim of a new wave of violence.
Since then, Hazaras say 1,200 of their people have been shot dead or blown up in Quetta, including nearly 200 in two bomb attacks on Jan.10 and Feb.16, in different Hazara neighbourhoods.
Human Rights Watch says more than 400 Shiites were killed in Pakistan in 2012, the worst year on record, more than 125 of them in Baluchistan and the majority Hazaras.
Many of the attacks have been claimed by Pakistan’s outlawed, extremist Wahabi group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which has vowed to exterminate all Shiites.
Hazaras are thought to have Mongolian ancestry and their distinctive facial features make them easier to identify than other Shiites.
Some believe they are targeted because of their opposition to the Taliban, whose leadership was long presumed to live in Quetta, and for their support of the Northern Alliance, which backed the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
The community’s main political party, the Hazara Democratic Party, has no seats in the Baluchistan or national assemblies.
Its chairman Abdul Khaliq Hazara told AFP his priority was to win seats at national and provincial level, but expressed fears that without an improvement in security, campaigning would be difficult for upcoming elections due by mid-May.
But those crippled by grief have little hope for the future.
“All I know is that all terrorists should be removed from this land,” said Aiwaz Ali, 65, who lost five members of his family on Feb.16.
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