|"Many members of the Hazara Shiite community killed by Sunni extremists are buried in a graveyard in Quetta, Pakistan." (Declan Walsh/The New York Times)|
By Declan Walsh
The New York Times, December 3, 2012
"Calligraphers linger at the gates of an ancient graveyard in this brooding city in western Pakistan, charged with a macabre and increasingly in-demand task: inscribing the tombstones of the latest victims of the sectarian death squads that openly roam these streets. For at least a year now, Sunni extremist gunmen have been methodically attacking members of the Hazara community, a Persian-speaking Shiite minority that emigrated here from Afghanistan more than a century ago. The killers strike with chilling abandon, apparently fearless of the law: shop owners are gunned down at their counters, students as they play cricket, pilgrims dragged from buses and executed on the roadside. The latest victim, a mechanic named Hussain Ali, was killed Wednesday, shot inside his workshop. He joined the list of more than 100 Hazaras who have been killed this year, many in broad daylight. As often as not, the gunmen do not even bother to cover their faces. The bloodshed is part of a wider surge in sectarian violence across Pakistan in which at least 375 Shiites have died this year -- the worst toll since the 1990s, human rights workers say. But as their graveyard fills, Hazaras say the mystery lies not in the identity of their attackers, who are well known, but in a simpler question: why the Pakistani state cannot -- or will not -- protect them. 'After every killing, there are no arrests,' said Muzaffar Ali Changezi, a retired Hazara engineer. 'So if the government is not supporting these killers, it must be at least protecting them. That’s the only way to explain how they operate so openly.'
The government, already battling Taliban insurgents, insists it is taking the threat seriously. During the recent Mourning of Muhurram, when Shiites parade through the streets over 10 days, the Interior Ministry imposed stringent security measures such as blocking cellphone signals for up to 12 hours -- to try to prevent remote bomb detonations -- and banning doubled-up motorcycle riding. Even so, Sunni bombers struck at least five times, killing at least 50 Shiites and wounding several hundred. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the biggest attacks, highlighting an emerging link between that group and traditional sectarian militants that has worried many. Yet the unchecked killings have also raised wider questions about Pakistani society: about the spread of a cancerous sectarian ideology in a public that even just a decade ago seemed more tolerant, and about what might be spurring the growing audacity of the killers, some of whom are believed to have links to the country’s security services. ... In the worst killing this year, militants dragged 26 Hazara men from a bus headed for a religious pilgrimage site in Iran, and executed them in front of their wives. [...]"
[n.b. The gender dimension is typically invisible, but apparently pervasive.]