Quetta after the bombing

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On Friday 12th April a suicide bomber in Quetta’s Hazarganji fruit and vegetable market detonated himself, killing 19 including 8 members of the Hazara community and wounding 50 others. One of the dead was a security official on duty at the site of the blast.

None of the minority groups in Pakistan has escaped murder and persecution at the hands of their detractors, but the Hazara community specifically and Shi’a Muslims more generally have borne the worst of the carnage over the last decade. There have been massacres of Christians and Ahmedis to be sure, but nothing on the scale of those that blight the Hazaras who form a unique ethnic group.

It is notable that the only protests at this latest atrocity is by the Hazara people themselves. Braving heavy showers and cold weather they have blocked the western bypass to the city, setting up a protest camp. Beyond this there appears to have been no demonstrations in support of the Hazara, indicative of a national mood it is reasonably assumed. The federal government has been slow to respond and Prime Minister Imran Khan is scheduled to make a visit to bereaved families on 18thApril and has Tweeted his condolences. He will meet with local officials and discuss the security environment with them – par for the course in any event such as this and essentially anodyne, more a matter of going through the motions than taking prescriptive or preemptive action in an effort to prevent such an atrocity happening again.

That said, the Quetta Hazaras have been offered a degree of security though of dubious value. They have been ghettoised and the weekly visit to the Hazarganji market was by convoy, with security personnel and vehicles escorting people to-and-fro. The gaping hole in the security net was that there was no CCTV covering the area and the bomber had no difficulty infiltrating the bazaar. It might be wondered why such an obvious loophole was not spotted and secured, a detail we will never know the truth of.

The Hazara protesters are calling for the ‘full implementation of the National Action Plan’ (NAP) and that may be assumed to be a reference to banned and otherwise proscribed groups referred to therein. Considering that Da’ish have credibly claimed ownership of the bombing the protesters have a point to make, moreover a point that reads across the vulnerabilities of every other minority group in the country no matter their faith or sect. Assorted government officials have tried to get the protesters to disperse but to no avail. The PM has pledged to see the murderers arrested, but it would be fair to say that expectations of such an outcome are vanishingly small.

Fundamental questions are begged. Does the state have the capacity to protect adequately minority groups? Even if it does is there the political will to do so? The answer is a qualified ‘no’ to both. With the best security that could be provided there is always a chance that a bomber or assassin will get through, and there is no such thing as foolproof security anywhere in the world. How hard the state makes it for those that commit murder and mayhem is another matter, and considering that the levers of power are in the hands of the majority then it is not unreasonable to assume that there will be sympathisers, fellow-travelers and facilitators within the realms of governance.

Which goes some way to answering the second question. On the surface there is a veneer of willingness, a cosmetic layer that is forced into existence simply because the state cannot go upfront about supporting outright barbarity. But this fig-leaf is washed aside by a groundswell of mainstream extremism rooted in the majority that has been nurtured over the last 20 years or so. Pakistan is an intolerant state riddled through and through with a paradigm that supports assorted terrorist groups and ideologies, have never constructed a countervailing narrative to that espoused by the extremists, and inasmuch as there is any opposition to this at all it exists largely in cyberspace and is as  ephemeral as smoke.

There is no moderate group around which a kinder polity might coalesce, no organised centrists, no liberal hub, no media group willing to stand four-square against the right-wing, though brave pockets do exist.

For extremism it is game, set and match. The state has decided that it can and will accept a level of violence in deference to the majority, and that the minorities are insufficiently organised or empowered to counter-weigh that default position. The butchery will continue. This week it was the Hazaras. Next week who knows? But we may by certain of one thing; the circle of blood will be unbroken.