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Hazara: A community historically oppressed in Afghanistans

The Hazaras of Afghanistan have long faced persecution from the Taliban and Islamic State, for their ethnicity and religious beliefs.

Taliban fighters patrol in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, August 19, 2021. (AP/PTI Photo)

The Taliban have vandalised and blown up a statue of Shia militia leader Abdul Ali Mazari in Bamiyan, the unofficial capital of the Hazara ethnic group in Afghanistan. Mazari, widely known as a champion of the Hazaras, was executed by the Taliban in 1995.

The Hazaras of Afghanistan have long faced persecution from the Taliban and Islamic State, for their ethnicity and religious beliefs.

So, who are the Hazaras?

The group is largely found in the mountainous region of Hazarajat in central Afghanistan. They are believed to be descendants of Genghis Khan and his army that overran the region during the 13th century.

Around 1773, Hazarajat was annexed and made part of the Afghan empire under Ahmad Shah Durrani. The Sunni Muslim majority under the Pashtun ruler resulted in marginilisation of the Shia Hazara community, which was forced to leave fertile lowlands in central Afghanistan in the 18th and 19th centuries and settle in the dry, mountainous landscape.

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They have been a target of the Taliban because they are primarily Shia; Afghanistan is predominantly Sunni. Their distincive features and the dialect they use, Hazaragi, also set them apart.

The Hazaras account for 10-12% of Afghanistan’s 38 million population. They once had larger numbers, which have come down primarily due to oppression leading to escape, and violence including targeted massacres. In the mid-19th century, more than half their population was either killed or forced into exile by the Pashtun King Amir Abdul Rahman, who ordered mass execution of Shias after he invaded their homeland in central Afghanistan. Many have fled to Iran and Pakistan.

What kind of oppression have they faced in recent times?

During the civil war of the 1990s, thousands of Hazaras were massacred. Taliban commander Maulawai Mohammed Hanif is reported to have once said, “Hazaras are not Muslims, you can kill them.” In 1998, thousands were executed in Mazar-e-Sharif.

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Even after the US ended the Taliban’s rule in 2001, Hazaras have continued to face violence from Taliban as well as ISIS militants, who have targeted their mosques, schools and hospitals. In May this year, explosions rocked the Hazara-dominated neighbourhood of Dasht-e-Barchi in Kabul, killing over 60. A car bomb was detonated in front of a school and two more bombs exploded. Officials said most of those killed were young girls.

While the 2004 Afghanistan Constitution granted them equal rights and they were well-represented in the administration, areas such as Bamiyan are among the country’s most backward.

What have the Taliban said about ethnic minorities this time?

The Taliban have been putting up a more moderate front, and promised not to exact revenge on their old enemies and activists.

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In an interview to NPR, Suhail Shaheen, Taliban spokesman in Qatar, said, “Now we have a policy that we do not have any kind of discrimination against the Shia people. They are Afghans. They can live in this country peacefully and they can contribute to the reconstruction, prosperity and development of the country.”

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First published on: 19-08-2021 at 10:19:10 pm
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