Dark days ahead for the Hazaras in Afghanistan

Dark days ahead for the Hazaras in Afghanistan

Short Url

Almost nine months since sweeping into power, the Taliban have proven incapable of governing. A humanitarian disaster looms across much of the country. Daesh’s branch in Afghanistan continues to launch successful terrorist attacks. The Taliban’s relationship with Pakistan is tense. Girls are still banned from the classroom. Infighting among the different factions inside the Taliban movement has all but paralyzed governing.

While most Afghans are suffering, one minority group is facing some of the strongest persecution: The Hazaras. Since the collapse of the internationally recognized Afghan government last year, attacks on the Hazaras have increased — and both the Taliban and Daesh are responsible. For example, a mosque used by Hazaras in Mazar-e-Sharif was this month attacked by Daesh, leaving 12 dead and another 58 wounded.

The Hazaras are a Shiite minority living in the central mountainous region of Afghanistan, in an area referred to as Hazarajat. Estimates vary, but it is thought that they could make up as much as 20 percent of Afghanistan’s population. This makes them the third-largest ethnic group after Pashtuns and Tajiks. While the Hazaras might be relatively unknown to many in the outside world, the heart of their homeland in central Afghanistan, Bamiyan Province, made international news in 2001, when the Taliban blew up the two famous statues of Buddha there.

The exact origin of the Hazaras in Afghanistan is a matter of debate, but it is believed they are descendants of Genghis Khan’s army, which swept through the region in the 1220s. At this time, most of the local population of what is now the Hazarajat region were either killed or forcibly removed, with the area repopulated with soldiers from the Mongol army.

The Hazaras were not mentioned in any historical record for more than 300 years, until Babur — a descendant of Timor and founder of the Mughal Empire — wrote about them in “Baburnama,” which was published 1590. It is thought that the Hazaras converted to Shiite Islam when ruled by the Safavid Dynasty in the 1500s. They are now the only significant ethnic group in Afghanistan that does not observe Sunni Islam. Consequently, they have been the subject of persecution by extremists for decades.

Many Hazaras feel abandoned by the international community, as well as by Iran

Luke Coffey

The Hazaras served as one of the major power brokers during Afghanistan’s civil war in the 1990s. When the Taliban captured Kabul in 1996, the Hazaras joined forces with the newly created Northern Alliance alongside ethnic Tajik and Uzbek forces. The war in the 1990s was bloody for everyone and the Hazaras were no exception. When the Taliban captured the northern stronghold of Mazar-e-Sharif in 1998, they went door to door targeting Hazaras.

These targeted attacks against the Hazaras by the Taliban eventually spread to other regions of Afghanistan, in particular Bamiyan Province. At this time, thousands were killed by the Taliban. Many were shot at point-blank range in their homes or had their throats cut in front of relatives. Many more were killed after being packed into shipping containers and left for days in the sweltering Afghan heat with no water or food.

During the fighting in the 1990s, Iran was a strong supporter of the Hazaras. Flights from Iran arrived weekly, carrying food, medicine and weapons to regions in Afghanistan the Hazaras had under their control. At the time, the government in Tehran had little tolerance for the Taliban movement. Backing the Shiites in Afghanistan was seen as an obligation by the mullahs in Tehran. Iran paid a price for this. As part of the Taliban’s pogrom in Mazar-e-Sharif after capturing the city in 1998, eight Iranian diplomats were murdered inside the Iranian consulate. This incident almost brought the two sides into direct conflict.

Today, the situation remains bleak for the Hazaras. With the Taliban back in power, there have been numerous cases of Hazaras being removed from their homes and threatened with forced marriages and targeted killings.

Iran’s role in the current situation is different from the 1990s. In recent months, Tehran has made sympathetic statements about the Taliban and has all but welcomed their return to power. In recent years, the Iranians have even armed certain elements of the Taliban to help them kill and maim US and international forces. Clearly, any ideological struggle that existed between Iran and the Taliban in the 1990s becomes less of a priority when sharing a common enemy: The US.

Many Hazaras feel abandoned by the international community, as well as by Iran. With the world’s focus now on Ukraine, Afghanistan has all but fallen off the international agenda.

There are dark days ahead for the Hazaras. Regrettably, the international community seems reluctant to do anything to help them.

• Luke Coffey is the director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy at the Heritage Foundation. Twitter: @LukeDCoffey

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point of view