Sunday, June 23, 2024

The Hazara Community in Afghanistan: Resilience and Challenges

Afghanistan is a diverse nation, lacking a majority ethnic group, with Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, and Uzbek being among the largest ethnicities. Within this melting pot of cultures and traditions, the Hazaras stand out as a distinctive ethnic group with a history marked by resilience and hardship. While official statistics are not readily available for any ethnic groups in Afghanistan, it is estimated that Hazaras make up over 20 percent of the population. The Hazaras are primarily Ithna Ashari Shia Muslims, though there is also a notable presence of Ismaili Shia and Sunni Muslims among their community. Linguistically, they speak a unique dialect of ‘Dari’ Persian, enriched with Turkic and Mongolian vocabulary.

Hazaras primarily reside in the central region known as ‘Hazarajat,’ characterized by high-altitude agricultural lands situated at least 1800 meters above sea level. Significant Hazara populations can also be found in major cities such as Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif, Herat, and Ghazni. Moreover, a significant number of Sunni and Ismaili Hazaras are located in the northern provinces, including Takhar, Badakhshan, Baghlan and Kunduz, and Badghis in the western region. Due to the persistent conflict spanning over four decades in the country, a significant number of Hazaras have sought refuge in neighboring and Western countries. Presently, an estimated half a million reside in Europe, North America, and Australia.

Post-2001 intervention in Afghanistan brought relative progress for Hazaras in social development, women’s rights, and democratic participation. Despite their pro-democratic stance, Hazara voices against ongoing atrocities and systematic discrimination remain unheard. Presently, under the Taliban, they face a silent genocide, undergoing gradual annihilation socially, culturally, and economically.

Throughout their history, Hazaras have confronted numerous challenges, including genocides and massacres aimed at ethnic cleansing. One of the darkest chapters unfolded during Amir Abdul Rahman’s state-building campaigns (1880-1900), involving brutal oppression and mass killings. A religious fatwa was even issued, calling for a widespread holy Jihad against the Hazaras, resulting in the massacre of over 60 percent of their population and the sale of tens of thousands into slavery. Forced migration reshaped Hazarajat’s geography, and many Hazaras concealed their identity in government records to survive.

After the 1978 coup in Afghanistan, the Hazara people liberated their Hazarajat districts from the pro-Soviet government. This allowed them to escape the oppression of Nomad-Kochi forces supported by the central government, who destroyed plantations, plundered property, and inflicted harm. The Hazaras also successfully eliminated the unjust imposition of heavy taxes without corresponding services during this time. Despite achieving a degree of freedom and political participation in this era, the rise of the Taliban in 1994 ushered in a new era of oppression, marked by numerous massacres. The 1990s saw nearly ten mass killings, including the tragic Afshar-Kabul Massacre in 1993 and the Mazar-e Sharif Massacre in 1998, leading to thousands of Hazara casualties.

In the aftermath of the international intervention in Afghanistan in 2001, the Hazara community has demonstrated remarkable resilience, determination, and progress. Historically marginalized and faced with formidable challenges, they have made significant strides in various aspects of Afghan society, offering inspiration and hope for a brighter future.

Foremost among their achievements is their commitment to peace and stability. Hazaras were among the first to embrace the peace process, voluntarily surrendering their weapons to promote stability. Their unwavering support for the Afghan government and international military forces resulted in minimal attacks within Hazarajat. Remarkably, Hazarajat remained free of poppy cultivation, in stark contrast to other regions plagued by opium production.

Hazarajat, the heartland of the Hazara community, has maintained relative safety and stability despite Afghanistan’s turbulent backdrop. However, it is crucial to note that since 2008, countrywide roads have become increasingly unsafe for Hazaras.

A significant achievement has been the empowerment of Hazara women. Despite traditional gender norms, Hazara women have broken through barriers, gaining notable freedom and assuming prominent societal roles. Milestones include the first female minister in the 2001 Interim Government, the first female governor, and the first female mayor in modern Afghan history.

The Hazara community’s active civic engagement is commendable, with strong involvement in various elections. Their commitment to democratic ideals, human rights, and women’s rights is reinforced by the support of religious leaders, tribal heads, and elders.
In the realms of education and social progress, Hazaras have seized opportunities in the post-2001 era. Despite limited government and international aid in Hazara regions, families have borne the economic burden to ensure educational access, recognizing it as an investment in their future.

Hazarajat’s relative security, when compared to more volatile southern provinces, has provided a safe environment for progress and development. Hazaras abroad have played a crucial role in supporting their community’s educational and social progress, with widespread acknowledgment of the importance of education.

Notably, a significant number of Hazara women have taken on roles in the military and police, challenging traditional gender norms and contributing to the nation’s security. Hazaras have also actively engaged in various sports, achieving milestones such as Rohullah Nikpa, Afghanistan’s inaugural Olympic medalist in Karate. Bamiyan, a Hazara-majority region, has become a national hub for skiing, hosting numerous national and international competitions.

Furthermore, Hazaras have been at the forefront of civil society as advocates for human rights, organizing numerous peaceful protests in Kabul, other cities, and even internationally. This includes the two largest protests in Afghan history, Junbish-e-Tabasum and Junbish-e-Roshanai.

Despite Hazarajat’s relative safety, Hazaras continue to face targeted killings in major cities and on main roads throughout the country. They endure suicide bombings in public areas, including mosques, schools, sports facilities, maternity hospitals, and during their protests. Between 2002 and 2022, 294 attacks resulted in 2,228 fatalities and 2,837 injuries.

Despite the presence of the international community and the symbolic presence of Hazaras in the pre-Taliban government, systematic discrimination against this society was practiced in various areas such as employment, social services, and economic development.

With the resurgence of the Taliban, the Hazara community has encountered renewed challenges, including a rise in killings, forced displacement, summary executions, and a significant decrease in their representation in government positions. Notably, all Hazara judges have been dismissed from their roles. Most of the time, international aid has been redirected away from their region, and Hazara employment within international organizations has declined.

Since the Taliban assumed control of Kabul, there have been over 25 explosive attacks, with three occurring in just the past month. Distressing incidents of systematic murder, such as the tragic event in Uruzgan Khas District in Uruzgan, where 17 Hazara civilians were brutally killed, paint a grim picture. Recent bombings, including the Pol-e-Khomri Shia mosque bombing on October 13, resulting in 96 dead and wounded, the blast at a sports club in West Kabul on October 26, claiming the lives of four Hazara men and injuring 11, and an explosive attack on a civilian bus in West Kabul on November 7 resulting in dozens of deaths and injuries, underscore the severe consequences of the promotion of hatred targeting the Hazara community.

Reports are widespread regarding the Taliban coercing residents of certain villages to abandon their lands and homes. This forced displacement often occurs through judicial or government orders, frequently stemming from claims by Taliban supporters or individuals sympathetic to the Taliban’s cause. One such example is the situation of residents from Poshtae Ghorghory village in Bamiyan’s Panjab district, whom the Taliban governor detained to pressure them into relinquishing their lands to Pashtun nomads, the Kuchis. UNAMA has confirmed this case, along with others, such as the forced displacement of seven hundred families from two villages, Kendyr and Tagab, in Gizab district, Daikundi province, following the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul in 2021.

In addition, informal reports suggest that individuals with close ties to the Taliban are leading a systematic and deliberate effort to displace Hazaras and destroy their livelihoods, often using fabricated documents to seize Hazara lands across the Hazarajat, resulting in the displacement of thousands of Hazara families. In many areas, particularly in the Qarghanato, Shibarto, and Pasroya areas of Bamiyan, the Taliban has imposed restrictions on access to pasture lands.

The Taliban imposes various taxes on Hazaras living in rural areas, including government levies carried over from the former government, religious taxes like Zakat (inconsistent with Shia jurisprudence), and an arbitrary one-tenth of every income, along with arbitrary blood money, compensation records, and atonement imposed on Hazaras.

The international community has acknowledged the dire situation facing the Hazaras, with a British Parliament report in September 2022 warning of a significant risk of Hazara genocide. Dr. Gregory Stanton, President of Genocide Watch, has declared that the Taliban has committed and is committing genocide against Hazaras.

In summary, the Hazara community’s achievements in post-2001 Afghanistan are a testament to their resilience and unwavering commitment to progress, education, and human rights. Under the current rule of the Taliban, ongoing atrocities against the Hazara community amount to genocide, as defined by the Convention. Immediate action is essential to address these continuing atrocities and prevent further suffering.

Author profile
Dr. Tahir Shaaran

Dr. Tahir Shaaran is a science and human rights activist who currently serves as a visiting fellow at the Physics Department of the University of Toronto. He has held positions, including Director General of the Afghanistan Atomic Energy-High Commission, and conducted research at renowned institutions such as the Max-Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Germany, CEA-Commissariat à l'énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives in Paris, the Institute of Photonic Sciences in Barcelona, Spain, and UCL-University London-UK.

In 2011, Tahir earned his PhD in Theoretical Atomic Physics from UCL. Beyond his academic pursuits, he has significantly impacted the Hazara community by co-founding and leading the World Hazara Council, an international non-profit organization, from 2013 to 2016. With his dedicated efforts for over a decade, he has tirelessly advocated for the rights of ethnic minorities and Hazaras globally. During his stay in Afghanistan from 2018 to 2021, Dr. Shaaran visited numerous remote schools, delivering motivational speeches and offering valuable guidance, leaving a lasting impact.


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