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The trouble with being Hazara in Pakistan's Quetta city

On September 3 2010, at around 3pm, Mariam (who does not want to reveal her last name), sat down in disbelief, crying, at home in Islamabad, Pakistan.
A few hundred miles away, her hometown, Quetta, was yet again under attack by militants targeting the ethnic Hazara minority, to which she belongs. News channels were reporting that it was a suicide attack and early updates said that at least 50 were killed. This figure also included one of Mariam’s close family friends.
As she lamented his loss, Quetta, already shaken by the impact of the suicide bombing, echoed with the cries of grieving Hazara families who had lost their loved ones in the blast.
One of a string of many attacks against Hazaras of Balochistan province, the explosion occurred during an al Quds day procession, which is organised by Shia Muslims on the last Friday of every Ramadan to express solidarity with Palestinians.
“It was painful,” Mariam says. But the worst was yet to come.
Her younger brother, Mujtaba was spending his summer break at their residence in Quetta. She tried to reach him by phone as a Hazara is more likely to land into trouble than any regular Pakistani.
The phone call went through and Mujtaba told her he was at Meezan chowk – the site of the blast.
"I told him to immediately go home," Mariam tells TRT World.
A few minutes later she called him again to find out if he was home. Several calls went unanswered until one of Mujtaba’s friends received one telling her brother had been shot.
“I don't remember what happened afterwards,” she says.
Mariam later learned that Mujtaba had left home telling their mother he was going to donate blood to the blast victims. He and his two friends first stopped by the blast site to help the wounded victims and send corpses to morgue. An exchange of gunfire broke out between the militants and police, in which Mujtaba lost his life.
Hazaras, who follow the tenets of Shia Islam, have a longstanding history of being subjected to sectarian violence by the Taliban and other Sunni extremist groups in Balochistan. A report released by the National Commission for Human Rights last year stated that 509 members of the Hazara community were killed and 627 injured in various incidents of terrorism in Quetta from 2013 to 2017.
According to Mohammad Jibran Nasir, a Pakistani human rights activist: “The main reason behind violence against Hazaras is sectarian dispute.” He also points out that Hazaras are more vulnerable to being attacked than others Shias, their typical Mongolian features disclosing their identity and making them easily recognisable. 
According to statistics issued by the United Nations, militant groups working under the patronage of the Taliban have killed more than 1,500 Hazara Shias in Pakistan in the past decade. Continual violence perpetrated against Hazaras, in the form of suicide attacks, targeted killings and bombings, has forced them to live in restricted areas, which has further led to economic difficulties for the minority.
“Everyone who leaves for work, leaves under the fear that he or she might not return," Mariam says. "Scores of Hazara men and women have left Pakistan for good because employment opportunities [in Pakistan] were extremely limited and the available ones were never safe”.
Human rights activist Nasir says whenever Hazaras face violence from militant groups, it's common to see non-Hazara people being invited to TV studios where they make sweeping remarks and judgements on the persecuted community. 
“They don’t even get to talk about their grievances themselves on the media,” he says. “They are not considered important enough to be given a platform, so when they die no one cares.”
After Mujtaba's death, Mariam and her family changed drastically. Her parents are ageing fast and she struggles to find peace and happiness.
“Every time I have been happy, I have wept too,” she says. “We lost our baby – the youngest member of our household – the centre of all our hopes and dreams,” she says.
While Mariam deals with the trauma of her brother's perpetual absence, she also feels that the tragedy defines who she is and what she stands for. 
“Someone once told me how he was shot. I chose to forget that. Call it denial, but that’s how I have survived all these years,” she says.
Mariam and her family settled down in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, and except for the anniversary of Mujtaba's death they barely visit their relatives in Quetta.
The only memory Mariam holds on to is the last few moments she spent with her brother when he was taken to hospital after being shot. 
“I almost fainted at the sight of him lying in the hospital bed,” she recalls. “He looked so pale. I waved at him. He smiled back. That was the last time I saw him.” 

Liberals in Pakistan fear hate crimes following lynching victim Mashal Khan's death

Mashal Khan, a student in Pakistan, was accused of blasphemy and killed by a mob in 2017. Now, the trial to convict his killers has raised questions about whether legal punishments will help prevent future hate crimes.
Twenty-three-year-old Mashal Khan was a student of mass communications at the Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan, in Pakistan's northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. He was beaten and shot to death by an angry mob on April 13, 2017, after being accused of blasphemy. The lynching took place within the premises of the university. Soon after, a video of the incident was shared on social media.

According to Mashal Khan's legal team in June 2017, a 13-member joint investigation team (JIT) concluded in its report that the allegations of blasphemy were unfounded and were used as a pretext to incite a mob against the student. The JIT found that Mashal had been vocal about the rights of students at the university, challenging the appointment of a new vice chancellor for reasons related to students' obtaining their degrees. The investigation also exposed illegal and criminal activities taking place, including the harassment of female students.

Altogether, 61 people were initially charged for their alleged involvement, with 57 being sentenced and four acquitted of all charges. Those recently convicted included Arif Khan, a councillor belonging to Prime Minister Imran Khan's party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI). The court said Arif provoked and instigated a mob of students against the victim. Two other accused were released.

"After the unfortunate incident, four of the accused had fled and they were arrested a few months ago. [The] verdict was against these four accused, with two of them released and two others handed down life imprisonment. We will appeal in the high court against the release of the two," Shahab Khattak, one of the lawyers representing Mashal Khan's family, told DW.
He also clarified that one of the guilty persons was sentenced to death and five others sent to prison for life. Twenty-five others were given a four-year jail term each. Now, the high court will hear the appeals of all convicts.

Although the family of Mashal Khan has expressed satisfaction over the verdict, Mashal's relatives feel that more needs to be done. Muhammad Iqbal, a poet and the father of Mashal Khan, told DW that he wanted all those who were involved in the murder to be convicted: "The murder of my son did not happen in any cave or in rugged mountains infested by militants and extremists. He was mercilessly lynched in broad daylight in an urban area. At least 57 fanatics participated in the lynching, of these, 26 were released. We have appealed against their release and I will go to any extent to get them convicted."
Protests in Pakistan after a mob murdered Mashal Khan (Getty Images/AFP/B. Khan)

Rise in blasphemy-related killings

Blasphemy, the supposed "insult" of a religion, in this case of the Prophet Muhammad, is a crime in the South Asian country, where 97 percent of the 180 million people are Muslim. Rights activists claim the law is often used to settle petty disputes or personal vendettas.
Despite convictions in Mashal's case and several others before, incidents of blasphemy-related lynching have not subsided. On Wednesday, a student in Bahawalpur in Pakistan's Punjab province killed a professor on a college campus of a college for merely organizing a farewell party. The killer believed the professor's gathering, which included men and women, was un-Islamic. The incident shocked progressive circles of the country, who feel the space for liberal ideas is increasingly shrinking.
Bahawalpur also serves as the headquarters of Jaish-e-Mohammad, a militant outfit, which India blames for attacking a military convoy in India-administered Kashmir in February. In the last years, religious seminaries have mushroomed in the city, with a university lecturer languishing in jail for years on blasphemy charges. Similarly, in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, an Urdu language professor is in prison on charges of insulting Islam.

Recently, a mentally ill person belonging to the Christian community was charged under the blasphemy law after a mob thrashed him in Punjab's Sialkot district. The community of Christians in the district is living in fear after the incident. Like Pakistan's Christians, most blasphemy victims are from marginalized sections of society and any attempt to reform the blasphemy law could trigger a backlash.
In the past, a Christian federal minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, and the former Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, were killed for making demands to amend the law or stop its misuse. Taseer's assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, was handed the death penalty and hanged a few years ago, but this did not help prevent the wave of extremism. Instead, his followers declared him a hero, constructing a shrine on his grave close to the federal capital that is visited by thousands of people every year.
Similarly, people accused in Mashal's murder case, who were released some time back, were given a warm welcome, and many liberals fear that the convicted in this case will also be accorded a heroic status.
Protests in Pakistan after a mob murdered Mashal Khan (Getty Images/AFP/F. Naeem)
'No encouragement' for extremist groups
Given the circumstances, rights activists are not optimistic. "I do not think it will help reduce such incidents," Asad Iqbal Butt of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, an independent rights group that tracks human rights violations and such incidents, told DW about bringing the murderers to book.
"Until and unless we change our syllabus, crack down on extremist elements and take action against religious seminaries spreading hate, nothing will improve. We also need to change our state policy. We should not encourage extremist groups to set up religious seminaries in a bid to prepare jihadis [fighters] for waging wars in other countries. Such elements do not harm other countries only, they also wreak havoc in Pakistan, killing thousands of innocent (people)," he added.
Mashal's father agrees with Butt: "I think our syllabus [school subjects] and narrative need to be changed. We need to appoint teachers in schools and other educational institutions that do not propagate hatred and do not contaminate the minds of our children. We need to give the message of humanity to our new generations. Otherwise such incidents will continue [to happen]."

'Erasing the poor': Pakistanis feel crunch of rising prices

Saad Sayeed, Syed Raza Hassan
Pakistan’s surging petrol prices have more than halved the income of taxi driver Yasir Sultan, just one of many consumers whose faith in a government elected last year on a pledge to help the poor has been shattered.
Inflation at its highest in more than five years has shocked many Pakistanis who voted for Prime Minister Imran Khan and his promise to eradicate poverty, create jobs and build an Islamic welfare state.
“Imran Khan has said big things about getting rid of poverty, but he isn’t erasing poverty. He is erasing the poor,” Sultan, 30, told Reuters.
“Sometimes I think I should set this taxi on fire,” he said from behind the wheel of his rundown 1980s-era Suzuki Mehran.
Wrestling with a ballooning current account deficit as it seeks a 13th bailout package from the International Monetary Fund, the government has a hard choice - impose pain now or face a balance of payments crisis that could crash the economy.
Foreign reserves of $8.5 billion are better than the start of the year, but barely cover two months’ worth of imports.
“Demand compression is part of stabilization to bring down current account and trade deficits,” said Asad Sayeed, an economist at the Collective for Social Science Research.
Inflation was over 9.4 percent in March, its highest since November 2013, with strong increases in food and energy, the two most sensitive items for most consumers.
The central bank forecasts growth at 3.5-4 percent in the 12 months to end June, well off a government target of 6.2 percent.
With a large pool of surplus labor keeping wage rises in check, living standards will suffer, Sayeed said.
“I voted for PTI believing in Khan’s slogan for the change. Now, I am repenting,” said Sara Salman in the bustling eastern city of Lahore, referring to the prime minister’s party, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf.
With the rupee losing over a quarter of its value in the past year, the squeeze is acute in the creaking power sector where the government is under pressure to cut subsidies cushioning consumers against sharp price hikes.
Authorities on Monday hiked petrol prices by 6 rupees to 98.88 rupees ($0.70) a liter, bringing pain to skilled workers who earn 1,000-1,300 rupees ($7.08-9.20) a day and laborers who make up to 600-800 rupees.
The price hikes will keep consumers away from all but essential items, economists say.
“The fiscal trajectory now depends on what extent the government is going to adjust energy prices,” said Saad Hashmey, chief economist at Topline Securities, adding it has to fix the energy deficit and bring earnings in line with production costs.
“If they are to go the full extent they need to plug the gap, then inflation in a few months will go into double digits,” he said.
Finance Minister Asad Umer has said an IMF deal could be agreed by May, its 13th bailout since the late 1980s and the last one needed by Pakistan, the government says. While talks continue, Pakistan has sought help from China, its partner in the $60-billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, part of Beijing’s vast Belt and Road infrastructure initiative.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have also extended about $11 billion in loans and credit arrangements on oil deliveries in recent months.
The government says it is stepping up efforts to replace imports with domestic production and build up an export sector that has traditionally relied on textiles with special economic zones designed to attract new investment. It is also trying to widen the tax net to boost collections, but has struggled on both fronts.
Rising oil prices and a currency devaluation “were bound to happen”, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said this week, adding, “God willing, a better time will be coming.”
For a government that promised an “Islamic welfare state” focused on uplifting the poor, the forecast is uncomfortably vague, observers say.
“They have to undertake a very painful economic adjustment,” said Khurram Hussain, business editor of Pakistan’s Dawn Newspaper. That means higher taxes and interest rates, lower imports and government spending, and a devalued rupee, he said.
“In that environment it is extremely difficult to deliver on welfare oriented promises,” Hussain said.
While economists believe Pakistan has no choice but to cut spending and raise prices, consumers’ patience is wearing thin.
“The current financial policies and price-hike shows contempt for the people,” said Muhammad Waqas, a Lahore school teacher. “If the PTI government cannot resolve these problems, it should step down.”

#Pakistan - #PPP to march on Islamabad

The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) on Thursday threatened to march on Islamabad to topple the ‘selected’ government of Prime Minister Imran Khan.
“The selected prime minister says the federation is bankrupt because of the 18th Amendment. He doesn’t know that strong provinces are the foundation of a strong nation. You can’t repeal the 18th Amendment. I am warning you, if you try to repeal it, I will … end your government,” Bilawal Bhutto Zardari told a gathering in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh on the occasion of PPP founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s 40th death anniversary.
Bilawal warned the prime minister to not attempt to repeal the 18th Amendment. “Those who are sitting in the Prime Minister’s Office have become a symbol of arrogance,” he said. “Those who are parading the idea of Naya Pakistan should first understand the foundations of the old Pakistan,” he said, and reiterated his party’s stance that the PPP would stand steadfast against the PTI government trying to amend the 18th Amendment. He went on to say that the PPP will not allow a one-unit system in the country in line with the PPP founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s political stance. “Bhutto Shaheed had said that if a One Unit [system] was brought, then he would just be kicking it away. Today I say that if 18th Amendment is rolled back or efforts are made to impose One Unit, then I will kick away the government,” he said. Bilawal slammed the prime minister for having reportedly said that he does not need Sindh. “He (PM) says he doesn’t want Sindh. You don’t want Sindh? Sindh also doesn’t need you. He only wants Sindh’s resources, and its gas. He wants to take away the rights of Sindh, steal KP’s assets, and keep Balochistan deprived.
Provincial governments make provincial decisions, and this is how nations are strengthened but this is beyond this puppet prime minister’s understanding,” he said.
Bilawal said people are being terrorised with price hike. “He [PM] is terrorising the public with hiked up prices,” he said, adding that the people are fed up of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) policies. “The public wants relief, not a rise in the price of basic necessities,” he said.
“Since PTI has come to power, they have done nothing with sincerity, except lying. There is a tsunami of inflation. Everything is getting expensive,” Bilawal said. “The finance minister says that their economic policies will make the people scream [with agony]. He says he doesn’t know anything about agriculture. I want to ask: is he a minister or an economic terrorist?” he continued. “People are being rendered homeless due to encroachment measures. Someone tell them that economy is not run on charity or magic.
When we try to show them the mirror, they start NAB-gardi. But do they think that Bhutto’s grandson can be threatened; that Benazir’s son will be scared; and that PPP workers will run away? We will fight together, struggle together and complete Benazir and Zulfikar Bhutto’s incomplete mission,” he thundered.
Bilawal asked why justice for ZA Bhutto’s ‘judicial murder’ has not been served despite four decades having passed by. “Today is the 40th year of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s judicial murder,” he said. “This is a tragic chapter of the history. This day is asking a question from this country: why was the protector of poor public murdered? He opened the way for 90,000 prisoners to return home, he turned this country into an atomic power. Who signed his death warrant? That question is still awaiting an answer,” he continued. “The [former] president submitted a request eight years ago that we should get answers for the murder of our founder. Why do the scales of justice tip one side when it comes to us [Bhuttos]?” he asked.
Bilawal said the cases against him are also based on ‘false allegations’, and claimed that he has not been given a fair chance to present his answers in the court. “I have not been able to record my statement before any court,” he said. “All I get are three minutes [to speak] before the court and then they say ‘this is something we never heard’. I want to ask the honourable judges to summon old transcripts and recordings,” he added.
The PPP leader questioned why the Supreme Court took a suo motu notice of the fake bank accounts case. “The Supreme Court’s power of suo motu is only exercised in human rights cases or legal complications,” he noted. “Why was it exercised in this (fake accounts) case? The reason given was that the progress of this case was slow, even though the case was being heard in a banking court and the FIA had even presented an initial challan. [By that argument], aren’t missing persons, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto murder cases also proceeding slowly?” he asked. “I am not saying that don’t hold anyone accountable but don’t use accountability to hide your sins or as a revenge tool,” he added.
“When I ask why the NAP (National Action Plan) is not implemented, and why do federal ministers have close ties to militants, a movement to declare me as anti-national is started. I demanded the removal of that trio but Khan instead appointed a man who is nominated in cases from Daniel Pearl to Benazir’s murders,” Bilawal said. “They can’t tolerate Benazir, so much so that they want to remove her name from the Benazir Income Support Programme. They actually want to end the programme but Benazir is not a person, she is a mission,” he asserted.
PPP Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari urged his party’s supporters to ‘march towards Islamabad’ and oust the government. “Before the elections, I told you that they want to repeal the 18th Amendment,” Zardari said. “That’s why they are lodging cases against us. At the time, some friends believed me and some people made fun. Now you have seen that the selected prime minister’s bubble has burst. He said he does not have funds. If you can’t collect funds through the FBR (Federal Board of Revenue), then leave,” he continued. “It is time for us to march towards Islamabad and oust them [government]. I don’t want to do this because I want to be in government; [it is because] he (Prime Minister Khan) has already taken the country 50 years back. If we allow him to remain, he will take us 100 years back.”

‘Zulfikar Ali Bhutto is a name that cannot be forgotten’

“Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was a real leader of the public, as he dedicated his life for the betterment and improvement of his country and his nation,” said Peoples Youth Organisation (PYO) Sindh General Secretary Shoaib Mirza in a statement released on Thursday.
He said that the 40th martyrdom anniversary of Bhutto was commemorated with honour and respect. “Shaheed-e-Jamhooriat spent his life for ensuring democratic traditions and values in Pakistan. He always did politics for the improvement of his nation and country.”
Mirza said that today the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is moving forward with the mission of its great leader. “The world knows that the manifesto of the PPP is a public service. Bhutto played a great role in making the country a nuclear force.”
He said that Bhutto’s martyrdom anniversary was celebrated with great respect as always, adding that the PYO Sindh arranged Quran Khwani in all the districts of the province. On the occasion PYO Sindh Spokesman Taimoor Ali Mahar said that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto is a name that cannot be forgotten. He also said that the PYO was offering a tribute to their great leader on his martyrdom anniversary.
He said that the sacrifices of the Bhutto family for democracy are endless, adding that the end of the Jagirdar system in the country was a great feat of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Mahar said that the constitution of the country, the equality of law for the poor and the rich, education, health, employment opportunities — these are all part of the PPP’s manifesto.
“Bhutto brought politics out of the drawing room and into the streets. The direction in which our great leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is moving forward the mission of the PPP is highly appreciated.”
He said that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s government has given nothing to the people except troubles and frustration. “The Niazi government has completely flopped. Imran Khan is an expert in U-turns. The present government has pushed the people into a sea of unemployment and troubles.”
The PYO spokesman said that politicians of today should learn from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s ideology and policies. “There is no such politician like him in Pakistan’s history. We will devote our lives to carry forward the goal of our great leader.”

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