Hazaras are Dari-speaking people, thought to be of Turk-Mongol race, the country’s third-largest ethnic group which constitutes about 20% of the Afghan population.
As envisioned, the Taliban have totally neglected Hazaras (not unlike women) in its interim government. In its 33-member cabinet, which the Taliban call ‘inclusive’ due to the inclusion of three Taliban members of Tajik and Uzbek ethnicities, all are Pashtuns. But not a single Hazara, not even a token Sunni Hazara, is taken in.
Who are the Hazaras?
Hazaras are Dari-speaking people, thought to be of Turk-Mongol race, the country’s third-largest ethnic group which constitutes about 20% of the Afghan population. They, however, claim to be something around 25-30%. There has never been any ethnicity-based census in Afghanistan. So, it is all an estimate. A majority of them are Twelver Shia; the rest are Sunni and Ismaili.
Hazaras prior to the creation of contemporary Afghanistan
They have been dwelling in the central highlands of Afghanistan called Hazarajat (the land of Hazaras) for more than 2,000 years, according to some historians. Bamiyan, located along the historical Silk Road, has been considered their de facto capital throughout history, which is well-known for its giant statues of the Buddha, Salsal, the male one, 55 meters high and Shahmama, the female one, 38 meters high. The faces of the statues were dismantled long ago due to their characteristic looks, but the remaining parts were blown up and demolished by the Taliban in 2001.
Invasion of Hazarajat by Amir Abdul Rahman
Hazarajat was a semi-independent territory until the late 19th century. After taking the reins, the then Emir of Afghanistan Abdul Rahman Khan ordered the invasion of Hazarajat in the late 1880s. His army initially faced very tough resistance from Hazaras and suffered multiple defeats. He then asked Sunni clerics to issue a religious decree declaring them infidel, rebellious and worthy of being killed and waged jihad against them.
Their entire population was subjected to persecution after subjugation and incorporation of their lands. Historians, including the Emir’s official historian Faiz Muhammad Katib and later on historian Gholam Mohammad Ghobar, have described the detail of the brutal genocide of Hazaras at the hands of Emir’s army. It is estimated that 62% of their population was wiped out, the rest enslaved and subjugated to systematic discriminations afterward by successive Afghan kingdoms.
Although Amir Abdul Rahman’s grandson, Amanullah Khan, announced the abolition of slavery and granted general amnesty but the situation returned to its usual when Amanullah Khan himself faced rioting for being too modern and his kingdom was eventually terminated. Decades later, in 1933, a Hazara servant of the Charkhi family, Abdul Khaliq, assassinated king Nadir Shah during a ceremony at Kabul University. His son, Zahir Shah, retaliated with brutality against them, and life did not become easier for the community. The mistrust and systematic discriminations continued throughout his kingdom despite a relatively long period of overall instability.
The civil war and the Russian invasion of Afghanistan
With the abolition of the monarchy and the communist revolution in 1978, the Hazaras hoped life would become easier but it soon proved to be wishful thinking. Although a Hazara member of the communist regime, Sultan Ali Kisthmand, became the first-ever Hazara serving as a prime minister in the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan.
After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Hazaras, not unlike others, fought against the Russians and ultimately indulged in a catastrophic civil war. Shia Hazaras were divided into different factions. Similarly, the non-Hazaras formed the so-called group of 7, comprising seven Sunni mujahideen factions. The internal conflicts among rival Hazara factions continued until the formation of Hizb e Wahdat, the Unity Party, by the charismatic leader Abdul Ali Mazari, who came up, for the first time, with the slogan that ‘being Hazara should no more be a crime’.
His ethnic approach was disliked by Iran who had earlier supported various Shia factions on a sectarian basis. It got worse when he refused to surrender to Burhanuddin Rabbani’s government because the Hazaras were not given their due share in power. On the other hand, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Abdul Rasul Sayyaf’s forces attacked Kabul from multiple fronts. It all resulted in a horrific civil war in Kabul claiming thousands of lives.
Life under the Taliban
The birth of the Taliban proved to be another nightmare for the beleaguered Hazara people. As the Taliban approached Kabul while holding white flags and chanting peace, they lured Hizb-e-Wahdat leader Abdul Ali Mazari into a meeting with Taliban leader Mullah Omar to discuss peace but it turned out to be a trap as they tortured him to death and threw his dead body off a helicopter in Ghazni. His body was then transported to his hometown in Mazara e Sharif in a massive funeral procession.
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The Hazaras call him ‘Baba Mazari’, the Father, as respect. The Taliban continued its genocidal mayhem against the community throughout Hazarajat. After the invasion of Bamiyan, for instance, they blew up the giant statues of Buddhas despite the international community’s apparent efforts to prevent its destruction. They pursued their policy of ethnic cleansing by mercilessly massacring thousands of Hazaras in Bamiyan, Yakaolang, and later on in Mazar-e-Sharif and the rest of Hazarajat throughout its barbaric rule between 1998 to 2001.
The US-led NATO presence
The removal of the Taliban’s brutal emirate was warmly welcomed by Hazaras. Their armed militias and resistance forces surrendered voluntarily to the newly established government under Hamid Karzai’s leadership. The Hazaras were, for the first time in the country’s history, given a reasonable representation in the cabinet, 5 ministries out of a total 27, including a vice president post.
They began to thrive and left no stone unturned to make the best use of the historic opportunities. Schools, including girls’ schools, mushroomed across Hazarajat in no time. As a relatively less conservative community, the number of girls attending school exceeded boys in some Hazara-populated districts. Dr Sima Samar, who later won Alternative Nobel Prize, became the first minister of women’s affairs and later chairperson of the widely respected Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHC).
The first-ever female governor in the country’s history was also a Hazara woman, Dr Habiba Sarabi, who served as governor of Bamiyan from 2005 to 2013. A Hazara athlete, Rohullah Nekpai, secured the country’s first-ever gold medal at the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008.
It was, however, not an entirely golden period. Mass-kidnappings, targeted killings and attacks on Hazara people continued right under the nose of US-led ISAF forces. In 2015, for instance, the terrorists stopped passenger buses in Zabul, identified and separated Hazara passengers and then summarily executed them by slitting their throats, including a minor girl.
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To get their voice heard in a civilized manner, the Enlightenment Movement, a non-violent grassroots movement largely lead by young Hazaras, organised the country’s largest and most peaceful demonstration in Kabul in 2016 to protest ex-president Ashraf Ghani’s decision to divert TUTAP power project, funded by Asian Development Bank, away from Hazarajat. Massive explosions reaped through the demonstrations leaving behind over a hundred dead and hundreds permanently maimed and injured. Maternity hospital in the Hazara-populated area of West Kabul was attacked last year and a girls’ school as late as May 2021, to name a few.
The Return of the Taliban
Nobody in their wildest dreams could have anticipated the return of the Taliban to absolute power again. The people of Afghanistan were rightfully tired of the war and would not oppose any peaceful settlement with the Taliban under the democratic constitution and a guarantee that the achievements of the past two decades would be protected. But, for whatever reasons, the Taliban succeeded in taking over Afghanistan militarily. And reestablished its Islamist emirate through much-anticipated all-male and all-Taliban cabinet without any consideration whatsoever to international communities’ demands of inclusion.
Despite its spokesperson’s repeated assurances of inclusiveness and amnesty, the Taliban have already proved by action that they have not changed at all. Appointment of a number of UN-sanctioned Taliban members, such as Sirajuddin Haqqani, who has a USD 10 million bounty on his head, to its interim cabinet is actually a clear message to the world, particularly the West, that the regime has no intention to go soft.
When it comes to Hazaras, the Taliban has already massacred Hazara civilians in Malistan district of Ghanzi and Daikundi province where they summarily executed a group of former soldiers after they had laid down their weapons. While the Taliban might have shown some restraint vis-à-vis foreign journalists, its soldiers abducted Hazara reporters of widely circulated Daily Etilaat from the streets of West Kabul as they were covering women’s demonstration.
They were unlawfully detained, whipped, tortured, humiliated and threatened to not report anything unpleasant about the Taliban. One of Afghanistan’s largest newspapers has reported that people with links to the Taliban have forcefully displaced Hazara families in Daikundi province, occupied their houses, grabbed their lands and looted their properties. The Taliban’s central leadership has so far paid no heed to the residents’ plea to intervene.
It is obvious by now that the Taliban are not going to give even a token representation to the historically beleaguered community in their government. It is utmost certain for now that the near future looks bleak for the persecuted community of Afghanistan, the Hazaras. The Taliban do not represent the people of Afghanistan, not even the country’s Pashtuns. The people of Afghanistan, nonetheless, are still in a state of shock and disbelief. It will take some time for them to reorganise and stand up against the Taliban.
It is evident from the current indications that chances for the Taliban to get some sort of international recognition look distant. If the Taliban fail to compromise, become an isolated pariah regime and the country’s economy collapses, the national uprising called by Ahmad Massoud of the National Resistance Front will soon spread across the country. While it is true that the people of Afghanistan are tired of war, it is also correct that they will never tolerate a tyrant and extremist regime that would try to impose their extremist version of Sharia on an absolute majority of Afghans who do not subscribe to their ideology. The history of that unfortunate country has proven that the only thing constant in that country is a change of regime, every while and then. And the Taliban are by no means an exception.
(Dr Saleem Javed is a doctor and a human rights activist based in Gothenburg)