Intensifying persecution of Hazaras in Afghanistan

Hazaras speak a dialect of Dari (Farsi) called Hazaragi and the vast majority follow the Shia sect (Twelver Imami) of Islam.

4 mins read
Two school girls watch through a window [Photo: Wikimedia]

As reported on June 11, the Taliban instructed the Hazara residents of Nowabad, located in the 6th Security District of Ghazni city, the provincial capital of Ghazni, to submit their land ownership documents to the group. The Taliban issued eviction orders, claiming the area had been “usurped” by the residents.

On March 6, 2023, the Taliban forced the Hazara residents of Pusht-e Asmidan village in Al Badr District, Sar-e Pul Province, to leave their homes and evacuate the village. They also imposed a fine of AFN 36 million on the residents of this village, as most of them are from the Hazara community.

Taliban established a “Commission for Prevention of Usurpation and Recovery of Government Lands” in 2023. This Commission, in various provinces, registers government lands under the name of “Emirate Lands”. Earlier, in October 2021, the Taliban forcibly expelled hundreds of Hazara families from provinces of Helmand, Balkh, Daikundi, Uruzgan, and Kandahar.

In addition to forced evictions, Hazaras have been targets of violent attacks. According to partial data collated by Institute for Conflict Management, at least 113 Hazaras have been killed and 25 injured, in 11 incidents since August 15, 2021 (data till June 16, 2024).

Some of the recent incidents include:

On April 29, 2024, a gunman stormed the Shia-Hazara Imam Zaman Mosque in the Guzara District of Herat Province and opened fire on worshippers killing six, including a child.

On April 21, 2024, IS-KP claimed responsibility for a magnetic IED attack targeting a bus carrying mostly Hazara civilians near a security checkpoint in Kabul, killing one and injuring 10.

On January 11, 2024, two people were killed and 12 wounded in a grenade explosion outside a commercial center in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighbourhood, a Hazara enclave in Kabul city.

On 6 January, 2024, a minibus with civilians was attacked by the IS-KP in the Dasht-e-Barchi areas of Kabul, killing five people and injuring 15.

According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) report, Human Rights Situation in Afghanistan, released on January 22, 2024, targeted attacks against Hazaras persist in various parts of Afghanistan. In the months of October and November 2023, at least 5 separate attacks against Hazaras were planned and carried out. UNAMA’s Annual Report, 2023, however, is silent on the wider persecution of Hazaras in Afghanistan.

In addition to physical violence leading to death and severe injuries, Hazaras are also subjected to multiple forms of discrimination and restrictions, affecting a broad-spectrum of human rights. According to the Freedom House’s Country Report on Afghanistan, dated June 5, 2024:

“The emirate authorities imposed multiple restrictions on the 2023 commemoration of the month of mourning, Muharram. Mourners were told to avoid public displays of religious symbols and rituals, and mourning ceremonies were only to be held in select places of worship designated by the Taliban. Shias widely defied these restrictions, resulting in clashes with the authorities.”

After their return to power in August 2021, the Taliban soon resumed their anti-Hazara campaign. On August 18, 2021, the Taliban blew up the statue of Hazara leader Abdul Ali Mazari in Bamiyan province. Mazari had been killed by the Taliban in 1995, during their first regime. In December 2022, the United Nations called on the de facto Taliban authorities to respect the rights of minorities, specifically mentioning places of worship and education facilities, and singled out the Hazaras as a community ‘facing heightened risk’.

There are no official estimates of how large the Hazara population is, as a national census of the population has never been undertaken. Estimates suggest that the Hazara community has diminished significantly due to oppression and torture. They are variously estimated to comprise between 4 per cent and 10 per cent of the population.

Hazaras speak a dialect of Dari (Farsi) called Hazaragi and the vast majority follow the Shia sect (Twelver Imami) of Islam. A significant number are also followers of the Ismaili sect. A large number of Hazaras live in Hazarajat (or Hazarestan), the ‘land of the Hazara’, situated in the rugged central mountainous core of Afghanistan, in the Bamiyan province and in cities such as Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif. Small concentrations are also found in the Badakhshan, Jowzjan and Badghis provinces. Ismaili Hazaras, a smaller religiously differentiated group of Hazaras, live in the Hindu Kush Mountain region.

Hazara women suffer from the selective Taliban policy of identifying ‘bad hijab‘. On January 11, 2023, the UNAMA expressed concern about the “arbitrary arrests and detentions of women and girls” over hijab. UNAMA documented the arrest of women in Kabul and Daikundi provinces and was “looking into allegations of ill-treatment and incommunicado detention, and that religious and ethnic minority communities appear to be disproportionately impacted by the enforcement operations.” The release process of these women reportedly required a mahram (male guardian) to sign a letter guaranteeing future compliance or else face punishment. The Taliban’s restrictions have far-reaching implications, especially on the mental health of Hazara women who are already dealing with the trauma of long-term conflict and targeted attacks.

The Ministry of Higher Education under the Taliban also published a decree in 2023, ordering the removal of all books belonging to the Shia sect or written by Shias, Salafis and the political opponents of the Taliban, deemed different from the Hanafi jurisprudence. The group also banned marriages between Shias and Sunnis. The formation of the provincial Ulema Councils in various provinces also had no Shia or female members.

There have also been attacks on Hazara schools. For instance, on 30 September 2022, an attack at the Kaaj Education Centre in Dasht-e-Barchi killed more than 60 Hazara students and injured over 100, mostly female.

In repeated acts of desperation, Hazaras have migrated to the neighbouring countries of Pakistan and Iran over the years. They have also migrated to countries such as Australia and the United Kingdom in search of a peaceful, secure and better life. A May 18, 2024, report indicates that, since the Taliban took power in Afghanistan in August 2021, Hazaras have fled their home country to seek asylum in Indonesia as well. As of February, 2023 there were some 12,710 registered refugees with the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) in Indonesia, just more than half from Afghanistan, and most of these, Hazaras. The Hazaras have started a refugee learning centre – Cisarua Refugee Learning Centre (CRLC) – at Cisarua, Bogor Regency, south of Jakarta. There are at least seven such refugee-led learning centres in Bogor, which serve some 1,800 children, as well as three in Jakarta and one in the Thai capital, Bangkok.

The Hazara people are experiencing persecution and violence in Afghanistan at the hands of political rulers and as well as terrorist organization, particularly the Islamic State, Khorasan Province. The Freedom House Country Report 2024 noted, for instance, “ISKP has continued its campaign of violence against the Hazara community. Mass casualty attacks against Hazaras included improvised explosive devices (IEDs) at a Shia mosque in Pol-e-Khomri in October 2023, at a west Kabul sports club the same month, and a commuter bus in west Kabul in November.

The Hazaras are not only a religious, but also an ethnic minority in a country currently obsessed with Sunni-Pashtun dogma. With a deeply regressive and militant religious-ideological group currently in power in the country, they have been viciously persecuted, with little, if any, recourse for justice. As the Taliban hardens its purported ‘Islamic regulations’, which see the Hazaras as a deviant group, such persecution can only worsen.

Sanchita Bhattacharya

Sanchita Bhattacharya is a Research Fellow at Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi, India

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