With bold initiatives of Alan Johnson, Labour MP for Kingston Upon Hull West and Hessle, half hour interactive debate took place in British House of Commons on the genocide of Hazaras in Quetta, Pakistan.
Hazara People (Quetta)
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Angela Watkinson.)
We are extremely grateful to the Minister for agreeing to meet us last December to discuss the issue and for being here for the debate today. As we discussed it, there was consensus that it needed to be aired on the Floor of the House of Commons, which is why I am so pleased that the debate was granted today.
There are about 600,000 Hazaras living in Quetta city and many fled there from Afghanistan, where they were a specific target for the Taliban. Hazaras in Quetta are being killed practically on a daily basis and it has been estimated that about 600 have been killed so far, yet not a single perpetrator has been captured and brought to justice.
Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham, Conservative)
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. By way of declaration, Mr Deputy Speaker, I worked with Benazir Bhutto from 1999 to 2007. On the point about the Hazara community being affected, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is not the only community being affected? The Christian, Muslim, Sikh and Hindu communities are also suffering as a result of Pakistan’s having been a front-line state in the war against Russia and then in the war against al-Qaeda after 9/11. As a result, radicalisation and sectarian violence have spread from Afghanistan to Pakistan, leading to the murders of Benazir Bhutto and Shahbaz Bhatti, the Christian Minister. Of course I understand the right hon. Gentleman’s concern, but everyone has suffered as a result of the sectarian ethnic violence spreading from Afghanistan to Pakistan, not just the Hazara people.
is insufficient awareness nationally and internationally about what the Hazaras are going through, despite the best efforts of the Hazara community and organisations such as the Hazara Organisation for Progress and Equality, or HOPE, which seeks to raise these issues in Parliaments around the world.
The attacks are intensifying. Hazaras are murdered when they stay in Quetta and killed when they try to leave. Fifty five young Hazaras were drowned in the waters of Indonesia on 20 December when trying to escape their perilous existence. The Hazaras believe that the religious militant groups carrying out these killings are state sponsored, and there is evidence for that assertion. The Asian Human Rights Commission reported on 6 January that the Pakistan army had created a militant organisation to kill intellectuals, activists and Hazaras in Balochistan. I have seen a copy of an official letter from theGovernment of Balochistan informing the military authorities and the police in Quetta about the presence of a man called Sabir Mehsood, whose stated aim was to murder Hazaras, but no action was taken to apprehend him. Thus, more than 80 Hazaras were killed in Quetta by this man and his fellow operatives last year.
The international community cannot allow this persecution to continue. There are significant Hazara populations in countries around the world, particularly in Australia, and these countries should co-ordinate and intensify their efforts. I know that the Minister is fully engaged in trying to pressurise the Pakistani authorities to protect the Hazara community in Quetta, and I know that the Foreign Secretary is equally committed.
Pakistan is an old, valued and trusted ally of the United Kingdom and is seeking to renew its democratic credentials after years of military rule. It is a country beset by problems, and its citizens have suffered at the hands of terrorists more than any other country in the world, as Rehman Chishti pointed out. However, the Pakistani Government must do more to root out state-supported terrorism wherever it exists. It undoubtedly exists in Quetta city, and the Hazaras are its principal victims. It is a good place to begin this process.
Before talking about the Hazara community in more detail, I will take the opportunity to set some of the issues in context, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham and Rainham suggested. Sadly, sectarian violence is not isolated to Balochistan. Tragically, across the country the Pakistani people have suffered from the scourge of sectarian violence. Sunni and Shi’a alike have endured terrible violence, as have other minority communities. I join the Pakistani Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, in condemning this week’s disgraceful attacks in Kohistan, which killed at least 18 Shi’a Muslims. It is vital that the perpetrators of all sectarian violence, including this week’s vicious attack, are brought to justice.
The United Kingdom and Pakistan have a long history and a strong relationship founded on mutual respect, mutual trust, and mutual benefit. Our respect for Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is absolute, so we must be clear that the security of Balochistan, as with all provinces of Pakistan, is a matter for the people and Government of Pakistan. The improvement to regional security to which the international community is committed requires all countries to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of their neighbours.
Although sectarian violence across Pakistan is a growing concern, it is important to note the progress being made in a range of human rights areas, including removing reservations to human rights treaties. It is vital that Pakistan now works to ensure that it effectively implements the international human rights treaties to which it is a signatory. None of the communities of which we have spoken in the debate will truly be secure unless these advances are made.
“no discrimination between one caste or creed and another”,
for Pakistan is founded with the
“fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one state”.
I have met many Pakistanis who are working tirelessly to realise that vision today, and none was more courageous than Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, whose work towards peaceful, moderate change was met with such brutal violence. Since his assassination I have twice met his brother, Dr Paul Bhatti, and underlined the UK Government’s support for human rights in Pakistan.
Human rights are intertwined with a wide range of issues, including education, stability and development.The UK’s engagement with Pakistan is therefore broad and strategic, covering education, economic stability, security, and cultural co-operation. The Pakistani Foreign Minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, had a successful visit to the UK last week, during which I discussed security and economic development with her and raised my concerns over the rights of religious minorities, including the Hazara community.
We work with international partners and the Pakistani Government to tackle the shared challenge of extremism and to increase Pakistan’s stability and prosperity. It is worth reminding all Members that Pakistan is on the front line of terrorism and makes bigger sacrifices in fighting it than any other country. In the 10 years since 9/11, more than 30,000 Pakistanis have been killed. The people of Pakistan will always have our sympathy, understanding and robust support in addressing terror.
The Pakistani Foreign Minister’s visit to the UK reflects the depth of our partnership and friendship. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary held wide-ranging discussions with her, within the framework of our enhanced strategic dialogue, which strengthens practical co-operation between our two countries. They discussed the progress being made to create between the UK and Pakistan a deeper and broader dialogue, including on human rights, which will strengthen our friendship and promote mutual prosperity and security.
The many links between the UK and Pakistan mean that we can engage honestly and directly with each other on many subjects: counter-terrorism, security policy, immigration, trade, development, education and the rule of law. The theme that underlines all that, and the focus of our attention this evening, is human rights.
As the constitution of Pakistan lays down, all Pakistani citizens should be able to live their lives without fear of discrimination or persecution, regardless of their religious beliefs or their ethnic group. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we regularly reinforce to our colleagues in the Government of Pakistan at all levels the importance of upholding those fundamental rights, and our strategic dialogue enables Ministers such as myself and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to do so on behalf of all minority communities in Pakistan.
The Government of Pakistan have taken positive action: they have reserved quotas in the public sector and in Parliament for minorities; they have set up complaints procedures for those encountering discrimination; and they have removed reservations to international human rights treaties. We will continue to support those who wish to see reform in Pakistan, and to raise human rights with the Pakistani Government. As I said, I raised my concerns about human rights with Foreign Minister Khar last week.
In 2011 I twice held constructive discussions with the Pakistani Prime Minister’s adviser on inter-faith harmony and minority affairs, Dr Paul Bhatti. Tomorrow, as some will know, marks the first anniversary of his brother’s assassination, serving as a poignant reminder not only of the need to tackle terrorism in order to support Pakistani progress on human rights, but of the losses that they have suffered. There is a process in place to ensure that inter-faith committees meet in the various provinces. I have seen it in action, and we are keen to continue to support it.
The plight of the Hazara community is connected to the wider regional dynamic. Hazara people fleeing repression in 19th century Afghanistan formed the beginnings of Pakistan’s Hazara. More refugees from Afghanistan followed throughout the 20th century, and Quetta’s population is now estimated to be made up of one third Hazara, with 600,000 in total in Pakistan.
The presence of the Afghan Taliban in Quetta has amplified the repression of Pakistani Shi’a, including Hazara, in the region. We welcome the progress made by the Hazaras of Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. It has seen high-profile Hazaras occupy key positions in the Afghan Government. In Kabul, UK officials engage with a range of Hazara interlocutors and continue to promote an inclusive political process. The Hazara community in Iran has also complained of mistreatment, and we will continue to appeal to Iran, including through the United Nations and the European Union, to respect human rights. Those details give Members a sense of how the Hazara community is treated throughout the whole region.
The specific issues of Hazara rights and of sectarian violence in Balochistan were raised with the Balochi authorities and with parliamentarians by British officials in October. Local discussion of those issues has continued since, with our officials engaging with, among others, Balochi members of the National Assembly.
The plight of Pakistan’s Hazara community, highlighted in this evening’s debate, will be recognised in the 2011 Foreign and Commonwealth Office human rights report, which is due to be published this month. Media reports claim that almost 700 Hazaras have been killed in Pakistan since 2004. In 2011, the Hazara in Balochistan suffered a number of major attacks, including on 19 September when gunmen killed 26 Hazara pilgrims returning from Iran. Lashkar-e Jhangvi claimed responsibility for that attack and has waged a sustained campaign of violence against the community. On 4 October attackers killed 13 passengers, mostly Hazara, travelling on a bus in Quetta. A major attack during the Shi’a processions marking Ashura was anticipated but did not occur.
Nawab Aslam Raisani, Chief Minister of Balochistan, formulated a committee on September 22 to probe the killing of 29 pilgrims in Mastung. I remain concerned about the low-key response of Pakistan’s authorities to September and October’s violent attacks. It is vital that those responsible are brought to justice. In the long term we should like to see improvements in Pakistani citizens’ access to justice throughout the country. The House may be assured that we will continue to press on these issues, in relation to that community and to others.
Enhancing the rule of law in Pakistan is vital to improving the plight of the Hazara community. A range of Government work is developing that is helping to improve the rule of law in Pakistan. For instance, we are developing a programme with Pakistan to enhance its ability to prosecute violent extremists, including working to enhance investigations, prosecutions, detentions, and legislation. The Department for International Development’s transformational work to address poverty and education will help to enhance Pakistan’s commitment to the rule of law. The UK is working with our European Union partners and the Government of Pakistan to look at ways of supporting reform and capacity building of Pakistan’s rule of law.
My hon. Friend Rehman Chishti raised, in particular, the Christian community. That gives me the opportunity to say how we try to deal with human rights more generally across the region. Our experience is that picking out one community rather than another is not always the most helpful way to address the issue. Because human rights
is an important issue right across the board, we find that many minorities are subject to these problems. Ensuring that the rule of law runs across all communities and that Governments are devoted to improving access to the rule of law and the rights of minorities across the board means that no minority can be picked out against another and that where there are those who would like to claim that favourable treatment is offered by those outside, that is not the case.
All are made more secure by attention to the rule of law, and all are weakened, including any minority community, by a Government’s failure to address the rule of law and human rights. That is why our policy is so determinedly aimed at the rights of communities across the board, whether it be those under pressure in Pakistan, Christian communities across the middle east, or individual communities such as the Hazara in Balochistan.
Question put and agreed to.