March 05, 2012

Quitting Quetta: Abductions spark exodus of Balochistan’s Hindus

Offici­als say kidnap­pings for ransom have increa­sed during the last four years.

By Gulraiz Khan

Published: March 4, 2012

Officials say kidnappings for ransom have increased during the last four years.
KARACHI:

Over 50 members of the Hindu community across Balochistan have been kidnapped in the last four years, compared to seven instances of kidnapping during former president Pervez Musharraf’s nine years, said Basant Lal Gulshan, the human rights and minorities affairs minister for Balochistan.

“Among those are two assistants from my own pharmacy, abducted two days ago,” the minister said.

The alarming rise in kidnapping of Hindus across the province was confirmed by Balochistan Chief Secretary Ahmed Bakhsh Lehri while speaking to The Express Tribune.

Out of a total of 72 people kidnapped in the past few months, 24 were Hindus, Lehri said.

Of them, 21 have been either released or recovered through the efforts of the community itself, he added.

The chief secretary admitted that the incidence of kidnapping has increased under the present government, compared to the Musharraf era.

Over the edge

Why this particular community though?

Because it is perceived to be financially well-off but weak, said Gulshan.

Settled Hindus are mostly traders and businessmen, and the community comprises two-thirds of the province’s total minorities’ population of 300,000, he said.

Most of them live in Baloch-settled districts of Sibi, Nasirabad, and Bhag and Dhadar in Bolan district, added Lehri. He put the total community’s number at 45,000 though.

Most of the kidnappings, however, take place in Kalat which is home to a major Hindu temple dedicated to goddess Kali, said the chief secretary.

Those abducted are then taken to neighbouring Khuzdar, a tribal district bordering Sindh, which has limited police presence, he said. The district has Levies force but they are too ill-equipped to confront kidnappers, he added.

Contrary to popular perception, the abductors are not separatists, the chief secretary maintained. These are common criminals, mostly unemployed men, who demand a high ransom for the Hindus, he added.

The constant targeting has pushed the community, quite literally, over the edge.

Around 50 Hindu families have moved from Quetta to Karachi in the last two months, said Gulshan, adding that more than 150 families across the province have moved out in the last few years. Most of them went to India on a visit visa, but have not returned, he added.

The exodus may still be reversible. Most have left their business behind under caretakers or managers, and not sold them off, Gulshan said.

Targeting others

Hindus are not the only targeted minority on their way out though.

Zoroastrians, almost negligible in the first place, no longer live in the province, said Tahir Hussain, vice chairperson for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s Balochistan chapter.

The community had its share of targeting. Faridoon Abadan, a former provincial minister for minorities and owner of Quetta Distillery Ltd, was kidnapped over 10 years ago and is yet to be recovered.

His wife, Nilofer, was the first woman to be kidnapped in the province last February, but returned home after paying Rs30 million in ransom. The family is now moving out.

The targeting does not stop at religious minorities. After several high-profile targeted attacks, the Hazara community is quitting the province as well.

“Around 16,000 people from the Hazara or Persian-speaking community left Quetta last year,” Hussain said.

Their plight gained national prominence when a ferry, carrying asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan, capsized off the coast of Indonesia. Around 55 young men from the Hazara community from Quetta were among those who drowned.

(With additional input from Qaiser Butt in Islamabad)

Published in The Express Tribune, March 4th, 2012.

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