Though the Hazara community’s protest at Saturday’s bomb blast has ended, the very fact that the massacre took place would indicate that it could happen again. That it happened just a month after the last blasts, in an Alamdar Road snooker club, even though that led to the imposition of Governor’s Rule on the province, is worrisome.

The IGP and Intelligence Bureau Chief have been removed from their posts, and though alleged perpetrators have been arrested, it is not until they have been duly tried and punished that this would have any deterrent effect.

Indeed, considering the claim that the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi has made, of responsibility, it cannot be ruled out that mere earthly punishment might prove insufficient deterrence to killers convinced that this is how they will gain admission to Heaven. However, it must be apparent that the entire episode seemed connected to Iran as well as to Afghanistan.

The very first connection is through the victims, who belonged to the Hazara community. Hazaras in Pakistan are mainly focused on Quetta, which has about 650,000 of them. There are about a million in Iran, and about three to four million in Afghanistan. It will thus become clear that the Hazara people do not exclusively belong to Pakistan, but are significant minorities in Iran and Afghanistan.

Their origin is not clear, though the dominant theory is that they are of Mongol descent, whose ancestors settled around Bamiyan after the siege of that city by the Mongols in 1224. They speak a dialect of Persian named Hazargi after them, and thus are in a good position to exploit their position at the Pak-Iran border, as traders.

They are a reminder that Afghanistan was historically once the edge of Iran, until Ahmad Shah Abdali, by founding it, established it as a separate kingdom, which was then used by the British and the Russians as a buffer. Indeed, Quetta was taken by the British from Afghanistan after the first Afghan War. That is how that the province got its Pashtun areas, as well as its Hazaras.

The Hazarajat of Afghanistan, where they seem to come from, are not to be confused with the Hazara Division of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, nor are they to be confused with the residents of that area, who speak Hindko (which is a Punjabi dialect), and are often of Pashtun descent, like President Ayub Khan.

He was succeeded as Army Commander-in-Chief by an ethnic Hazara, not a Hazarwal, General Mohammad Musa. Musa later became the first (and so far only) Hazara to become a Governor, when he succeeded the Nawab of Kalabagh as Governor of West Pakistan. For descendants of Mongols, and even though they were recruited by Abdali, Hazaras are not known as a ‘martial race’, and apart from Musa, there is one Air Marshal among them. However, they are part of the fabric, the warp and weft, of Pakistani society.

In Pakistan, they are Shias, and their conversion is attributed both to the period of the Mongol II-Khans, and that of the Safavis of Persia. Whatever the case, they converted to Islam from paganism. Both the II-Khans and the Safavis being Shias, the conversion was inevitably to their sect. A minority in Afghanistan are Sunni, but those in Pakistan are Shia, and have been for a few hundred years.

Another factor has been the uprisings of the Hazara against the Barakzai monarchs of Afghanistan, which occurred after the first Afghan War. That meant an influx of Hazara refugees into Quetta. The 21st century thus saw a population that was urban, peaceable, and a religious minority easily identifiable ethnically. With the spread of the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi to Balochistan, they were, perhaps, inevitable targets.

Be that as it may, Quetta was already a hotbed of activity. There were two major developments there, which were preceded by two involving the USA. Then there was the background of the Baloch armed struggle. The Quetta blast coincided with the handover to a Chinese company of the management of Gwadar, after the Port of Singapore Authority, initially given the contract, opted out. Then came the Riko Diq mineral deposits decision, which upset the large mining companies. The USA was involved by its confrontation with Iran over its alleged nuclear programme.

Balochistan has been used in the occupation of Afghanistan, and the USA would want to use it in any invasion of Iran.

Also, the USA claims that Taliban chief Mullah Omar is in Quetta. All this in a province that is already destabilised by the war on terror, and already faces an armed uprising, missing persons aplenty and ethnic killings.

It is, perhaps, worth noting that the recent events did not involve the war on terror, but the allegation is that there is an attempt to influence domestic politics.

The PPP supporters are naturally taking aim at the Punjab government, by raking up its Law Minister’s links with sectarian activists, thus putting up the allegation that the PML-N is a pro-sectarian party. This is also meant to convince the USA that the PML-N, if it comes to office in the general election, will not be as reliable an ally in the war on terror as the PPP has been.

At the same time, there is also a sneaking suspicion that there is an attempt to put off the elections. It is possible that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) may wash its hands of Quetta because of the instability there, but unless it puts off elections there, as well as in one other province, Sindh being the likeliest, the attendant benefits to the President will not accrue.

If elections are postponed, the President (whose term expires this year) will be re-elected by the existing Assemblies. Of course, if these Assemblies are dissolved, the presidential election will have to await a general election, with the incumbent staying in office till then.

One of the important factors behind this has been the demand that there be an army operation against the terrorists. This has been taken to mean that the Hazara community lacks trust in civilian institutions.

It has also been taken to mean that there is a danger of the military taking over. That is not entirely unjustified, as the army has a previous history of takeovers. However, no one now wants an opposition suppressed, merely that the military perform its constitutionally prescribed role as the state’s armed might.

The provincial government is supposed to guarantee the lives and security of citizens. That they have been unable to do so for the Hazaras is particularly unfortunate, considering their experience of persecution and killing elsewhere (the uprisings in Afghanistan, the Iranian Revolution). While they have been killed because of their sect, their ethnicity makes them a target, and their creation of enclaves within Quetta seems to have afforded attackers the ease of targeting, rather than protection.

And while the PPP government was right to have imposed emergency on the province last month, it should remember that that alone was not the answer. Preventing further attacks was. That has not been done. Coming elections are not relevant. Saving lives is.

The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as executive editor of TheNation.Email: