Basit Ali in from on the Imam Hussein mosque in Kerbala, Iraq.
Basit Ali, our main Observer in the city of Quetta in western Pakistan, was killed on Tuesday when a bomb struck a bus of Shiite pilgrims returning from Karbala, Iraq.
Ali, who regularly sent us images from the region, witnessed the terrible reality of a city torn apart by terrorism by Baloch nationalists as well as Sunni extremists who attack the mainly Shiite Hazara people.
Basit Ali ran a cosmetics store in a Shiite neighbourhood in Quetta. However, he was, above all, passionate about photography. He captured the daily hardships of the Hazaras in Quetta and posted the photos on a Facebook page
. He also took photos of the aftermath of terrorist attacks the city has suffered during the past decade, and closely followed the news in his region, an extremely dangerous place that few journalists dare to go today. His friends say he was very active in the Hazara community, and offered material and psychological help to the victims of terrorists attacks and their families.
The Observers team had been working with Basit since 2012. He regularly sent us photos and never failed to alert us to news from Quetta. He had the courage to tell us what he saw without the cover of anonymity. We worked together on two articles, one on daily life in Quetta
, another on the persecution of Hazaras
, which we followed up by interviewing Basit via Skype for the Observers TV show (watch it here
). He had survived several bombings, and had lost several friends in these attacks. This summer, he noted that in Quetta, “the Hazara cemetery keeps growing; there have been so many deaths from suicide attacks and explosions.”
There are two conflicts raging in Quetta and in the Balochistan region, the historical boundaries of which stretch beyond the Iranian border. One conflict involves the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), which seeks independence; the other involves Sunni extremists, in particular Lashkar-e-Jhangvi
(LeJ), a militant group with links to al Qaeda. These extremists are behind attacks against the minority Shiite Hazara community, whom they consider “impure”. Hazara Shiites try to keep to their own neighbourhoods, since leaving them means risking their lives. On Tuesday, 22 people including Basit were killed in a bus explosion in the district of Mastoun, 55 kilometres south of Quetta. The following day, Shiites in Quetta organised a sit-in with the victims’ coffins to call for an end to the violence.
The Hazara community's sit-in on Wednesday in Quetta. Photo by Naveed Haider.