COMMENT : Denigrating the Hazaras — I — Dr Mohammad Taqi
The post-1978 ethno-national revival of the Hazaras has been a subject of serious scholarship, which apparently Mr Marri is unaware of
An article titled “Balochistan: sectarian strife or Hazara community targeted?” written by Mr Surat Khan Marri appeared in these pages this past weekend. The piece is not just an extremely callous one but is littered with factual inaccuracies too. Given the prevailing situation in Balochistan and the important position of Quetta, where most of the Pakistani Hazara community resides, it is pertinent to set the record straight.
Mr Marri starts with a not-so-subtle attack on the ethnic origins and the social and political status of the Hazaras in Afghanistan. He wrote, “The Hazara community may claim to be descendants of the Great Khan of the Mongols or a remnant of the Mughals/Mongol conquerors of India via Afghanistan. However, in their recent abode, Afghanistan, they are considered and treated as of low-caste, compelled to work as sweepers and clean latrines, like some Christians in Pakistan and Harijans in India. In Afghanistan, they are in a considerable number, maybe half a million, but in Afghan challenges or wars against the British, Russians, the recent resistance termed as the war on terror, American and NATO aggression, the Hazara community in Afghanistan has no role. Afghans blame them for collaboration with the US and Pakistan.”
I find Mr Marri’s slur no different than, and perhaps picked from, 14-pages that the Afghan Gazetteer had dedicated to the Hazaras or Mountstuart Elphinstone’s 1815 drivel against the Hazaras. It is well known that Elphinstone never went beyond Peshawar, and even there, he stayed about four months and gathered information from people who had been fighting the Hazaras for ages. There is no hiding the fact the Hazara of central Afghanistan have historically remained at odds with the Pashtun dynasties of Afghanistan and faced extermination at the hands of the latter. Persecuted communities and especially those forced into internal and external displacement doing hard labour — I would not even call it menial or odd jobs — is not an uncommon phenomenon around the world. But Mr Marri has thrown the epithet to rule out a political role for the Hazaras in Afghanistan, and by extension in Pakistan, as he states later.
On the eve of the 1978 Saur Revolution in Afghanistan, the Hazaras, like most other Afghans, were active on both sides of the political divide. They were a part of the Marxist movement in the 1960s, especially in the Parcham faction of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA). Affiliation with the Parcham earned them the wrath of the Khalq faction, which imprisoned thousands of Parchamis during the intra-party feuds of 1978. With the rise of the Parcham leaders Babrak Karmal, and then Dr Najibullah to power, the Hazara leaders like Dr Sultan Ali Kishtmand and the brothers Syed Nasir Nadiri and Syed Mansur were restored to power. Dr. Kishtmand remained the prime minister of Afghanistan until parting ways with the PDPA in 1991. Syed Mansur’s forces in Shiberghan and Baghlan had the status of the official PDPA government militia. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the rural Hazara uprisings against the PDPA started as early as 1979, e.g. in Waras and Yakaolang and led to the formation of Shura-e-Inquilab-e-Ittifaq-e-Islami and its various reincarnations, including an eight-party Mujahedeen alliance, and then the Hizb-e-Wahdat party of Abdul Ali Mazari and Karim Khalili (currently the second vice president of Afghanistan). The post-1978 ethno-national revival of the Hazaras has been a subject of serious scholarship, which apparently Mr Marri is unaware of.
Another allegation Mr Marri has levelled is that the Quetta Hazaras somehow exploited the local Baloch welcome. He fails to mention the dominant Pashtuns as the host population, who switched loyalties first to the British and then to the succeeding state of Pakistan. He says: “On their migration to Balochistan, they enjoyed and felt comfortable living in a Baloch liberal and heterogeneous society. However, they soon realised that power and the future lay somewhere else. They allied themselves with British employers and camp followers and had friendly relations with local Baloch-Pashtun collaborators.” Mr. Marri alleges that the Hazaras of Quetta found new patrons in the new Pakistan Punjabi/Urdu speaking elite and somehow, were given more than their due share in government services, especially the armed forces. This assertion ignores the fact that Pashtuns like Qazi Issa and Baloch like Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti Shaheed had also embraced the new power players like Mr M A Jinnah — the same ‘Karachiite’ that Mr Marri castigates elsewhere in the piece.
Mr Marri then writes, “Because of their (Hazara’s) allegiance to the new power, the rulers were of the opinion that this minority may replace and fill the vacuum created by the departure of the British army Gurkhas. The Pakistan army started recruiting a large number of Balochistan-based Hazaras, some of whom rose to the rank of general — General Musa being one example; brigadiers (Brigadier Sharbat), and other high ranks.”
Sharbat Ali Changezi was a Hazara but not a brigadier. I know this because his children were my schoolmates in Pakistan Air Force School, Peshawar in the 1970s/80s. Air Marshal Changezi served multiple tours of duty at Peshawar at the PAF base and then the Air Headquarters. Out of the two servicemen, Mr. Marri names to make his case, he is wrong about both. Even his spiel about Hazaras being a replacement for the Gurkhas is a farfetched one. The British had formed a Hazara Pioneers regiment but it was already disbanded by 1933. One will be hard pressed to find names other than General Musa and AM Sharbat Changezi in the top tiers of the Pakistani armed forces. Officers like General Musa were absorbed into the Frontier Force regiment and no Hazara ‘Gurkha’ regiment ever existed in Pakistan.
Mr Marri’s claim that made the lead was, “When General Musa became the governor of West Pakistan, he declared the Hazaras a local tribe of Balochistan through an ordinance.” This assertion needs vetting as the Political Agent Quetta-Pishin issued the final notification declaring Hazaras and three other Afghan tribes, viz Durrani, Yusafzai and Ghilzai, as local/indigenous tribesmen of Quetta on June 22, 1962. The notification refers to two letters dated February 19, 1962 and May 10, 1962 from the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions. The dates put Nawab Amir Muhammad Khan of Kalabagh as the governor West Pakistan and General Musa as army chief, not governor.
Regardless, it is the xenophobic and sectarian undertones of Mr Marri’s article that are of primary concern in the evolving situation in Balochistan.
(To be concluded)
The writer can be reached at email@example.com and he tweets at http://twitter.com/mazdaki