A Tale of Two Pakistans: National Identity and the Hazaras


The Hazara community has been the target of negative political rhetoric and active violence since the end of the 19th century. Originally from the mountainous region of Hazarajat in the heart of Afghanistan, war, instability, and the urge to control this strategically located area, a branch of Hindu Kush, created diaspora communities outside Afghanistan. The composition of the communities is mostly people of Pakistani and Iranian descent.

Although the majority of Hazaras are practicing Shi’as, there are also small Ismaili and Sunni communities. Hazaras are believed to belong to the Turkic-Mongolian ethnic family group represented by their language, the Dari dialect derived from Persian, and their physical appearance, resembling that of Central Asian peoples.

In Pakistan, Hazara people are the most numerous in Quetta, the capital city of the Balochistan province, tangential to Southern Afghanistan. Tensions have risen during the last month with an outburst of violence on the 30th of April, the fourth that occurred in a short period of time. The causes are a mix of two variables worth considering: terrorist groups in constant battle with Shi’a worshippers and the failure of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan to protect the right of its minorities due to nescience and actively turning a blind eye, a direct result of the creation of a homogeneous national identity and political decentralization.

Pakistani nationalism has served as a leading cause of the insufficient protection of minorities. When Muhammad Ali Jinnah the Governor-General and the President of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan in 1947, his vision was inclusive of the people living under the flag of the partitioned land. However, as it has happened for many other children of decolonization, the aim of the central government has been to create a homogeneous identity, praising orthodox Muslim rules over the rest in the course of history, and naming Islam, Sunni Islam, as the ultimate characteristic of the Land of the Spiritually Pure, which is what “Pakistan” stands for.

Secondly, it is the evolution of the Two-Nation theory that represented the intellectual basis for the partition of British India into two (later three) different entities in which religion appears as the defining cause. Muslims and non-Muslims were two different nations, understood as in the West,  and hence needed two different States. The idea of Pakistan as the homeland of Indian Muslims (and not of all Muslims, as it does not aspire to become an Islamic State) leaves many other communities– originally from abroad– out of this equation. Pakistan’s “blasphemy laws,” which are not exclusive to the country as over 70 others still have them, target religious minorities, pursue national identity uniformity, and combat terrorist groups. Human Rights Watch reported that at the end of 2017, 19 people still remained on death row for such accusations.

Amidst the ongoing attempt to build the Pakistani character lies the variable of terrorism in Balochistan. Separatist armed groups, the national Army movements, and the Taliban, along with the presence of ISIS, have found a viable getaway from the Middle East in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. These issues have been the cause of the pandemonium experienced by the local population. They have claimed responsibility for the majority of the attacks against the Hazaras. Even though the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) recognizes that terrorism present in the country has declined 16% during 2017, violence in the Balochistan province continues to be on the rise; as such, terrorism is likely to prevail as ISIS terror continues.

Pakistan is constantly adjusting to the volatile political dynamics of the country where stability has been made synonymous with homogeneity. If Pakistan fails in creating an inclusive national identity by disregarding minorities in the hopes of a homogenous community in religious and ethnic terms, the Hazaras will continue to live unprotected. Moreover, the presence of terrorist groups has created a prelude for ethnic and religious violence. As the state sponsors a correct interpretation of Islam via blasphemy laws, tensions will rise in an already divided society. How can security be brought to Hazaras when there is such utter confusion?

Andrea G. Rodriguez is an international security analyst. She holds a B.A. in International Relations from the Complutense University of Madrid. She has been part of several mobility programs, including at Charles University in Prague, where she studied Geopolitics and International Security, and at the National Taiwan University, where she focused on Asian security issues.

Photo Credit: Hazara News

The article was originally published on PoliticalInsights.org. Please note that opinions expressed in this article are solely those of our contributors, not of Political Insights of Afghan Affair, which take no institutional positions.