Speaking up for the Hazaras

Here is what I said in Parliament on Monday 1st September about the plight of the Hazaras, both those who have been forced to flee their country and those still living in danger.

Watch the discussion on BBC Democracy Live.

“I beg to move,

That this House has considered the position of Hazaras in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

I am grateful for this debate, and I speak as an MP and as chair of the Hazara all-party parliamentary group. In recent weeks, we have seen ethnic and religious minorities face appalling violence at the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Iraq and Syria. This debate is about another community that has suffered at the hands of very similar ideologues for far too long.

I knew little of the Hazara until I met constituents who were part of the Hazara diaspora and who had been forced to flee violence. I believe that might be true of other right hon. and hon. Members who want to speak in this debate. The Hazara are an indigenous people of Afghanistan, predominantly but not exclusively Shi’a Muslims. The community in Quetta in Pakistan’s Balochistan province was established in the late 19th century by Hazaras fleeing religious persecution in Afghanistan. It largely prospered, providing education for men and women and showing a deep-seated and industrious work ethic, until it became the target of terrorist attacks from about 1999.

Hazaras comprise between 10% and 20% of the population of Afghanistan. Persecution continued into the Taliban era, with thousands killed in massacres during the civil war and under the Taliban Government. In part, the Hazara are victims of the violence against Shi’a Muslims and other religious minorities that is endemic in Pakistan and has featured strongly in the history of Afghanistan. I do not want to underplay the common features shared with the wider violence against the Shi’a community, but Hazaras have suffered disproportionately, in part because their distinct ethnic identity makes them easily identifiable and targets for prejudice and discrimination.

There is little doubt that sectarian groups have received finance from states and individuals in the Gulf. Today, they might be recognising just what they have created in Iraq and Syria, but we and other western countries have been silent for far too long on their role. Just occasionally, the violence in Quetta makes the international news: in June 2012, when a university bus was bombed, killing four and injuring 72; and in early 2013, when two bombings killed 180 Hazaras. Continuing violence has been well documented in the recent Human Rights Watch report “We are the Walking Dead”, published in June 2014.

The community in Quetta comprises about 500,000 people, yet nearly 1,500 people have been killed since 1999 and more than 3,500 injured. The attacks have targeted breadwinners and forced businesses to close, promoting economic deprivation, while some recent attacks have directly targeted women and children. Perhaps 55,000 people have fled to Australia or Europe—of course, not all survived the journey—and following attacks on transports, students no longer attend university. In Quetta, the community is restricted to two enclaves with a total area of just 4 square miles. The community is isolated, with travel restrictions imposed by the Pakistani Government.

Shockingly, in the past 16 years, not one person has been brought successfully to justice. The al-Qaeda-affiliated organisation Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has openly claimed responsibility for the killings, while leading members have been seen associating with public figures and politicians in Pakistan. A few people have been arrested, but have then been released or able to escape or cases have been dismissed. It is clear that the Pakistan authorities have failed to act with any effectiveness to protect the Hazara community, with attacks taking place close to the presence of security forces…”

Read the full debate here.

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