FRANCE 24 Observer killed in Pakistan bomb blast
Issued on: Modified:
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 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.
“Bombings against Shiite pilgrim buses are becoming more frequent”
Ali Zulfiqar was a close friend of Basit and worked with him on some of his reports.
Basit had returned from a trip to Karbala, Iraq [a sacred city for Shiites as it is home to the shrine of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the prophet Muhammad] a week before his death. On Tuesday, he went to pick up friends had just completed the same journey. The road between the Iranian border and Quetta is not at all safe. Bombings on Shiite pilgrim buses that use this road have become more frequent over the past few years, especially on the part near the Afghan border. The Pakistani police is incapable of securing it. Therefore, Basit went to meet his friends at Mastung to help ensure their security.
He knew perfectly well what he was doing; he knew it was dangerous for him and his friends. We are deeply saddened by what happened, but Basit always told us that if he was killed, we mustn’t cry and we must continue his work, and that’s what we will do.
“He said he wanted to be a voice for the Hazaras and to spread the message of peace”
Naveed Haider was a friend who worked with Basit.
Basit was one of my closest friends. For him, photojournalism was a way to denounce the suffering of the Hazaras, to ask that their rights be respected, and to promote peace. During January, he made a pilgrimage to the Imam Hussein Shrine in Karbala. For him, the Imam was a role model: he saw in him a man who refused oppression and promoted peace among men. Basit was very well known and appreciated within Quetta’s Shiite community. He was also known by Shiites across Pakistan, as his photography work was well regarded.
When FRANCE 24 journalists contacted him in 2012, he suggested that I respond to the interview myself, but I preferred to let him do it because I knew he would describe the Hazaras’ situation better than anyone. One day, while talking about his collaboration with the FRANCE 24 Observers, he said to me: ‘I’m very happy. I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do: to share news about the situation in Quetta with the world, to be a voice for the Hazaras, and to spread the message of peace’.
Groups like al Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi are spreading terror in Quetta. They want to impose their own laws, their own way of thinking. For them, no one is free to think or act as they wish. It’s the complete opposite of Basit’s vision of the world. These terrorist groups target everyone that’s different from them; they don’t care whether you’re Shiite, Christian, Buddhist… In Quetta, Hazara Shiites and Sunnis live quite well side-by-side. There is no sectarianism; there is only terrorism.
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Corentin Bainier (@cbainier).