By Elah Cohen
As the Taliban have rapidly ascended to power in Afghanistan, the international community have remained stunned at the sheer rate at which the Afghan government has collapsed. With the country’s reigns firmly held in the hands of the Taliban, many questions about the future of female rights and minority groups within the country are ambiguous. One such example is the Hazara minority group. Many international organisations have expressed concern over this minority group and their uncertain fates; whose existence has been defined by persecution for centuries.
The Hazara community are estimated to form just under 10% of the total Afghan population, with the group primarily living in the ethno-religious region of Hazarajat in Central Afghanistan. What is particularly prominent about the group is that aside from being descendants of Genghis Khan from the thirteenth century, the group adhere to Shia Islam in a predominantly Sunni Afghanistan. In fact, their following of the Shia faith and distinct ethnic features have made them easy targets from militant groups such as the Taliban and Daesh. However, this systemic marginalisation, and treatment as second-class citizens, was not invented by extremists, instead traces it roots back through history.
After Emir Abdul Rahman in the late nineteenth century set upon epic campaigns to expand his empire beyond Kabul, certain Hazaras protested. Bloody retaliation followed against the Hazaras, where Pashtun men were ordered to murder thousands of Hazara men and force the survivors into an even more miserable state of existence. The world has changed unimaginably since the nineteenth century, yet very little has changed since the reign of Emir Rahman for the Hazaras.
Similarly, to how the Sunni Uzbeks and Tajiks were united alongside the Pashtuns by the hatred against the Hazara, so too have the Jihadist groups of the Taliban and Daesh – carrying out frequent attacks and pogroms against them. Only a few months ago, the Taliban massacred nine out of forty Hazara men in Ghazni Province, as part of their gradual takeover of the state. This contrasts sharply to top Taliban leaders and spokespersons attempting to garner legitimacy through adopting an image of a more magnanimous regime. It is in fact testament to the new regime’s efficiency in cutting Wi-fi and patrolling of social media that the act is coming to light so many months later.
Western media has tended to attribute terror attacks as a symptom of “rural” Afghanistan, seemingly reluctant to admit the fragile peace bought by the US-led NATO coalition. Celebrated Afghan author Khaled Hosseini also created controversy for exhibiting a similar sentiment. Such simplistic views gloss over the inherent truth that the Hazara community face systemic persecution in all areas of the country – the portrayal of cities such as Kabul, as utopic, is harmful and untrue to the current situation experienced by this minority group.
A mixed-gender school in Dasht-e-Barchi, Kabul, was bombed this past May, resulting in the deaths of over ninety Hazara students. The attack signified more than religious intolerance – with bombs timed to strike in accordance with the school girls’ timetables, it was a horrific example of gendered violence. For context, and to gain a deeper insight into the despair of the Hazara community, this massacre came just a year after an earlier suicide bombing tragically targeted a school, in the same Hazara-concentrated area of Kabul.
Moreover, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) reported an attack in May last year upon a maternity ward in Dasht-e-Barchi. The atrocious act against women and children left twenty-four dead, and was reportedly committed by an off-shoot of Daesh named ISIS-K. It prompted the decision for MSF to withdraw from the area. Dr Isabelle Defourny, director of operations for MSF, reflected upon the cruel act of murdering women in the act of giving birth stating: ‘There is an unbearable symbolic meaning in this act of violence’.
The Taliban’s utilisation of social media in identifying dissident individuals has effectively banished the human aspect shown in reporting. Nameless victims and figures make it easy to forget the devastation of the humanitarian crisis, thus making the BBC’s recent interview with an anonymous female Hazara university student especially poignant.In the emotive interview, she details how her future and aspirations have been torn apart by the Taliban’s ascendancy to power. She mentions living in a constant state of fear over the Taliban knocking on her door – stating her shocking intent to commit suicide as preferable to abduction by militant fighters. All her academic accreditations including awards and university papers were burned and social media profiles deleted to ensure her safety – the most tangible remnants of a previous life which now threatens her new existence.
The Hazara’s future is in the hands of the new Taliban regime. As leading states are left puzzled over how the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan reshuffles the international hierarchy, certain countries such as Iran and China are eager to enter beneficial trade deals. The Taliban’s demand for oil has created a lucrative deal with Iran, which offsets Iranian losses sustained by Western imposed sanctions.
Such trade relations can only bring further devastation, by lending greater credibility and legitimacy to the Taliban’s brutal oppression of the Hazara. A brief glance at the news will demonstrate articles concerning the Hazara are falling down the agenda. Yet, as previously illustrated, there have been no shortage of humanitarian crises to comment on. It is sadly in-keeping with most of the Hazara’s history that their struggle has remain unheard. This, coupled with external recognition of the Taliban by states such as Iran, render the future of the Hazara increasingly perilous.