Increased security aims to quell sectarian onslaught against Quetta's Hazaras
QUETTA -- Crowded into "ghettos" surrounded by armed checkpoints, Pakistan's Shia Hazara minority say they are being slaughtered by sectarian militants in Quetta.
For years, hundreds of thousands of the Shia community's members have been hemmed into two separate enclaves cordoned off by numerous checkpoints and hundreds of armed guards designed to protect the minority from violent militants.
"It's like a prison here," said Bostan Ali, a Hazara activist, about conditions inside the enclaves.
The Shia community's presence is particularly strong in Quetta, where sectarian violence, suicide bombings and banditry are common.
Hazaras are technically free to roam around Quetta at will, but few do, fearing attacks.
To further protect the group, day traders and market vendors are also given armed escorts when they leave their neighbourhoods, while on-going military operations are said to be targeting militants in the restive province.
Just last month, a bombing claimed by the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) at a vegetable market left 21 dead and 47 more wounded -- with the majority of the victims identified as Hazara.
That attack was just the latest in a long series of assaults targeting the group, including back-to-back bombings in early 2013 that killed nearly 200 of its members. The situation across the border in Afghanistan is equally if not more dangerous, with Hazara mosques, schools, and community events regularly attacked by insurgents
Heavy security measures
The Hazaras have proven to be particularly vulnerable with their distinct Central Asian features making them easy targets for Sunni militants who consider them heretics.
At the entrance to Hazara town -- one of the two enclaves in Quetta -- a grim scene plays out every day as Hazara men squeeze into the backs of a long line of trucks headed in the city to buy food from the markets.
Once there, they are flanked by soldiers as they buy supplies before heading back to their homes in a heavily armed convoy.
Authorities insist the measures are a necessity.
In the last five years, 500 Hazaras have been killed and another 627 wounded in Quetta alone, according to a Pakistani security source familiar with the situation who asked not to be named.
In addition to the heavy security presence already in place, authorities have plans to begin installing surveillance cameras at markets to improve the situation.