An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on May 10, 2013, as part of a short series of profiles of women candidates contesting the National Assembly electiosn on a general seat.
Islamabad – In several cities across Pakistan, political parties and candidates have faced threats and deadly attacks from militants on the basis of political ideology. But, in Quetta, Dr Ruqayya Saeed Hashmi has battled a different kind of threat throughout her election campaign.
She is a Shia Hazara politician, contesting elections for NA-259 from the platform of Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), in a city where over 150 Hazaras were killed just in 2013 in sectarian violence.
Hashmi had stayed behind-the-scenes when the Hazara community sat in protest for four straight days with the dead bodies of their relatives by their side, after two suicide bombers killed nearly 100 people on Alamdar Road in Quetta on January 10,.
But despite the imposition of governor’s rule to provide better security to Quetta’s Hazara population, terror struck a Shia Hazara neighbourhood in the city again on February 16, killing at least 67.
In the protests which followed this attack, Hashmi said she was on the frontlines, outraged and vocal.
Hashmi, 62, thinks her presence at the protests have made her a target for sectarian groups such as the banned Laskhar-e Jhangvi which claimed responsibility for the January and February attacks on the Hazara.
She and her political workers have received death threats. Her campaign activities have been confined to a limited area but she has braved through the campaign period by going door-to-door to ask for votes.
Residents want to vote but they also have apprehensions about Election Day violence, she said.
“It is a strange situation,” she said. “Candidates are mobilizing people to vote but then there are threats of violence which have caused some fear among the voters.”
Nevertheless, she is optimistic that the voter turn out percentage in Quetta city will be above national average.
Security for the Hazara community is among Hashmi’s top priorities. If elected, she wants to bring about legislation, through mutual political consensus, to ensure the safety of the Hazaras.
“I will try to gather the support of all political parties on human grounds for safety and security of the people of Quetta city, especially for the Hazara community,” she said.
Hashmi, a Quetta native, has twice been a member of the Balochistan Assembly on the reserved seats for women. She is also proud of the eight years she served as an Army doctor in Quetta and often self-identifies as a soldier.
She has also been an activist from her student days.
Hashmi was a member of the National Students Federation during her time at the Dow University of Health Sciences in Karachi. She retained her connection with politics when she married into the Hashmi family, which has been involved with politics from the pre-partition days.
Her husband, Saeed Ahmed Hashmi, has been elected to the Balochistan Assembly from Quetta in the past and is contesting again this year.
The Hazara community has around 30,000 votes, according to Hashmi.
“The community is organised,” she said, adding that the Hazara area have historically had a high voter turnout. “The Hazara men and women recognize the importance of their vote.”
But the community’s vote might be divided between Hashmi and the Hazara Democratic Party’s Abdul Khaliq Hazara.
Hashmi said the Majlis Wahdat Muslimeen has withdrawn its candidate from NA-259 in her support and she has done enough “social work” in her constituency to be confident of a victory.
“No other contestant will give me a tough time,” she said, her voice laced with resolve and a hint of pride. “I will give every candidate a tough time because I am a woman, a doctor, a soldier and because I belong to the brave Hazara community.”
If she doesn’t win, there is always plan B: she is number 1 on PML-Q’s list of reserved women candidates for the Balochistan Assembly.