The revival of the Islamist forces in Afghanistan and the resultant persecution of the minority Hazaras is a blot on the international human rights organisations
Even as the much-vaunted Taliban-Afghan Government’s peace talks, brokered by the US, are yet to be finalised, the two sides have again locked horns, thus further jeopardising the environment for a lasting peace sought by the people, particularly the marginalised Hazaras. The Afghan Government has intensified its counter-terror operations against the Taliban following the two deadly attacks on May 12, one of which killed many innocents in a Kabul hospital.
In this saga of devastation, the anxiety of the Shia Hazaras is unique. The society and culture of the Hazaras bear quite significant traits unlike the other communities of Afghanistan. Poetry and music are integral part of their life. These poems and musical traditions have passed from generation to generations. Hence they form more of a folkloric part of their larger life. These cultural traditions are not in sync with the radical Islamism followed by the Taliban.
Therefore the Hazaras are facing continued persecution from the ethnic Pashtuns. Many of them are either fleeing from Afghanistan to the Western countries or to nearby safe places. But still a majority of the Hazaras is battling for survival in their homeland.
The Hazara people are spread out across the rugged central mountains in Afghanistan since the 13th century. This region is known as the “land of the Hazaras”, i.e. “Hajarajat or Hazarestan”. Some of them are living in the Badakhshan Mountains of the Badakhshan Province of Afghanistan. Interestingly, this province, the farthest in the North-East is situated between Tajikistan and Northern Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan Province.
There are contesting claims about the exact number of the Hazaras in Afghanistan. One of the recent surveys shows that they constitute nine per cent of the total population of the country. But another report claims that they are one of the largest ethnic minorities, forming 20 per cent of the total inhabitants of Afghanistan. Before the 19th century, the Hazaras used to be the largest ethnic group, counting for more than 67 per cent of the country’s population. But between 1880 and 1883, as a result of the Hazara uprisings against the Afghan King Abdur Rahman Khan, almost 60 per cent of them were killed and many of them fled to nearby Quetta region of Pakistan. He also distributed the lands of the Hazaras among the Pashtun villagers. Today many of them live on the peripheral areas of the country bordering Pakistan and Iran. Another small group of the Hazaras known as the Ismaili Hazaras live in the Hindu Kush mountains.
The Hazaras speak languages of Asiatic origin and their physical features are akin to the people of the continent. They use a dialect of Dari (Parsi) popularly called Hazaragi, also known as Khorasani Persian. These unique features set them apart from the predominant ethnic Pashtun population of Afghanistan. Most important aspect of the Hazaras is that they are mostly Shia Muslims unlike the majority of the Afghans who follow the Sunni sect of Islam. However, a significant group of the Hazaras is believers of Ismaili sect.
Considered as heretics by the radicals, the Hazaras have become easy targets of the Sunni Islamists such as the Taliban and the Islamic State (ISIS). Even in nearby Pakistan, they are facing constant attacks from the Sunni groups. Pakistan-based terror organisations such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi have accepted the responsibility of eliminating the Hazaras from its country.
When the Taliban came to power in 1996, its Government declared jehad on the Shia Hazaras. During their entire rule from 1996-2001, the Shia Hazaras had to undergo severe repression and persecution. Today, they are prime target of the ISIS which is losing its strongholds in the West Asian region.
Now, if the Taliban come back to power, the Hazaras will once again face threat to their life. Many of them fear that they will face mass massacre. The Taliban are trying to broad-base their organisation by appointing Hazara leaders into their fold, but this is just an eyewash. The centuries-old hatred against the community would not die down so easily. Probably, the Taliban will draw out their radical agenda after the US troops drawdown.
The mass persecution of the Hazaras must be stopped. It is the responsibility of the international organisations and the Government of Afghanistan to guarantee them a safe life in their homeland. The systematic discrimination against the Hazaras in their homeland by the Islamic radicals is a blot on the internationa human rights organisations.
(The young writer is a rights activist)