By Haleema Sharifi
Quetta is a beautiful city in the North of Balochistan close to the Durand line connecting Pakistan with Afghanistan’s Kandahar Province. It is considered the 6th largest city of Pakistan which is strategically important as it lies on the Bolan Pass route which has been the gateway to South Asia. Quetta city is a hub for handmade carpets, rugs, silk embroidery, and local handicrafts.
M.Zahir* is one of the popular handmade carpet experts who employed more than one hundred people, teaching and working along with them to produce and export carpets to neighboring countries. He spent 35 years of his life reviving and promoting the craft of handmade carpets. Zahir is a Qaleen (carpet) maker who both sketches the graphic designs and is aware of the color details of the carpet making. However, one of the many incidents in Hazarganji affected his family like the tens of other Hazara families from their normal livelihood which left the city in chaos.
It started as a normal Sunday afternoon for M. Zahir (49), as he was working on one of his graphs (carpet) when he received a call from one of his friends inquiring the whereabouts of his father that day as another group of Hazara fruit sellers were targeted in Hazarganji where his fruit seller father every once (sometimes twice) a week visited to bring vegetables and fruits to sell at their shop at Hazara town.
The Hazarganji is a local hub of vegetables and fruits in Quetta city from where the shopkeepers restock vegetables and fruits to sell at their shops in different places. The fruits and vegetable sellers from all over the places visit Hazarganji almost every week to buy vegetables. M. Zahir’s father too was on such an expedition in the November of 2012 when he along with four other commuters was ambushed and killed in their vehicle. Shortly after that, the Government began taking steps in the form of escorting the Hazara vegetable buyers by the Police or FC guards. Even then multiple bomb blasts have happened in the area even though the police checkpoints are a few kilometers away.
The socio-economic effect of the incident resulted in the form of joblessness i.e. a complete shutdown of Zahir ’s work and the people who worked with him, as he could no longer be the same person. The incident of Hazarganji affected the mental health of Zahir to the point that he could no longer socialize with people and live like a normal person albeit running his Qaleen (carpet) factory. As a consequence, the catastrophic incident caused a socio-economic downfall on tens of other locals who worked under his leadership but Muhammad was fighting a battle within i.e his mental health.
After incidents of the blasts and target killing in Quetta, the immediate effect has surfaced in the form of Dharna, however, what has been ignored and little put thought into is the psychological trauma that lingers for a lifetime. Many studies have highlighted the post-traumatic impacts of such incidents. On the report of the American Psychiatric Association, Post-traumatic stress disorder namely PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that occurs in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, or a terrorist act, and the reaction mostly involves depression, anxiety, sadness, horror, fear, anger, and helplessness. Therefore, the incidents such as the Hazarganji killing of the Hazara community members have consequently caused severe mental disorders in both adults and young adults. It is mainly because of the nature of these incidents as all of them have been sudden and unexpected.
Although usually the outcome of these incidents causes different reactions which differ person to person, and in the case of M. Zahir, he felt stressed and feared socializing, as he puts it, “After the Hazarganji incident I was so paranoid that seeing people laugh made me worried. I thought I was going insane”. Seeing the dead body of his father after eight hours of the straight hunt he finally found it lying in a far-flung side with four bullets on the head. The incident left him in so much shock and pain that he could no longer continue his work, although Qaleen designing, making, and teaching remained his passion for more than 20 years. Unable to cope with his mental health he consulted one of the few psychiatrists (Dr. Ghulam Rasool) and therefore remained on medication (antidepressant) for nearly three years due to his mental health after the sudden killing of his father.
M. Zahir is happy that he found the help and now he is back on track after years of fighting against anxiety and androphobia. However, there are hundreds of other people who are fighting this battle without any help. Many young Hazara boys who are the survivors of incidents such as the Alamdar road blast and the other incidents where the Hazara community has specifically been targeted have become drug addicts as there is little to no help or rehabilitation for them on the behalf of the government, hence many people have developed acute stress. Most of the people especially the elderly ones can be seen as depressed, irritable, and unable to concentrate on daily activities as the fear of being targeted for being Hazara still lingers on and to this day no one has been held accountable. The ongoing target killing is a daily stressor as it is not only a psychological problem but also a socio-economic problem. It must be understood that psychological problems are not isolated problems. The hopelessness, helplessness, and lack of interest in daily activities are the most common issues that can be identified.
*Note : The name of the interviewee has been changed for the protection of his identity.