Afghan Hazaras being killed at school, play, even at birth
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - Running errands in the mostly Hazara neighborhoods of western Kabul on your own can be dangerous. One day last week, Adila Khiari and her two daughters went out to buy new curtains. Soon after, her son heard that a minibus had been bombed - the fourth to be blown up in just 48 hours.
When his mother didn't answer the phone, he frantically searched hospitals in the Afghan capital. He found his sister Hosnia in critical condition with over 50% burns on her body. Then he found his mother and other sister, Mina, both dead. Three days later, on Sunday, Hosnia also died.
A total of 18 people were killed in the two-day bomb attacks on minivans in the Dasht-e-Barchi district of Kabul. It was the latest in a vicious campaign of violence against the Hazara minority community in Afghanistan - one that Hazaras fear will get worse after the final withdrawal of American and NATO forces this summer.
Hundreds of Afghans are killed or injured each month in violence related to the country's ongoing war. But Hazaras, who make up around 9% of the population of 36 million people, stand out simply because of their ethnicity - unlike other ethnic groups like Tajiks and Uzbeks and the Pashtun majority - and their religion. Most Hazaras are Shiite Muslims who are despised by Sunni radicals like the Islamic State and who are discriminated against by many in the Sunni-majority country.
After the Taliban collapsed 20 years ago, the Hazaras had hopes for a new democracy in Afghanistan. Long the poorest community in the country, they began to improve their lot and made progress in various fields including education and sports.
Now many Hazaras are taking up arms to protect themselves in an anticipated war for control between the many factions of Afghanistan.
On the grounds of the Nabi Rasool Akram Mosque, protected by sandbags stacked against the ornate doors and 10-foot-high walls, Qatradullah Broman was one of the Hazaras who attended Adila and Mina's funeral this week.
The government doesn't care about Hazaras and has failed to protect them, he said. “Anyone who can afford to go, goes. Those who can't stay here to die, ”said Broman. "I see a very dark future for our people."
Hazaras have much to fear.
Since it was founded in 2014 and 2015, a vicious ISIS group has declared war on the Afghan Shiites and assumed responsibility for many of the recent attacks on the Hazaras.
But Hazaras are also deeply suspicious of the government for failing to protect them. Some fear that pro-government warlords, who are also demonizing their community, are behind some of the attacks.
Former government adviser Torek Farhadi told the Associated Press that there was a “top-down” culture of “apology” for discriminating against Hazaras within the political leadership. "The government made a cynical calculation that the life of Hazara is cheap," he said.
According to Wadood Pedram, executive director of the Kabul-based organization Human Rights and Eradication of Violence, at least 1,200 Hazara have been killed and another 2,300 injured in attacks since 2015.
Hazaras have been hunted in schools, weddings, mosques, sports clubs, and even at birth.
Last year armed men attacked a maternity hospital in the predominantly Hazara districts of western Kabul. When the shooting ended, 24 people were dead, including newborn babies and their mothers. Last month, a triple bomb attack on Syed Al-Shahada school in the same area killed nearly 100 people, mostly Hazara school girls. When militants attacked a group of demining workers this week and shot at least 10 people dead, witnesses said they tried to pick Hazaras out of the workers to kill them.
Some of these attacks, deliberately targeting civilians, hospitals, and children, could lead to war crimes, said Patricia Gossman, assistant director of Human Rights Watch's Asia program.
Pedram's organization has asked the UN Commission on Human Rights to investigate the murder of Hazaras as a genocide or a crime against humanity. She and other human rights groups also helped the International Criminal Court in 2019 compile alleged war crimes cases in Afghanistan.
“The world doesn't talk about our death. The world is still. Are we not human? ”Said Mustafa Waheed, an elderly Hazara who wept at the funeral of Mina and her mother.
A black velvet cloth with gold inscribed verses from the Koran was draped over the two bodies. Family and friends carried them on wooden beds and then placed them in the graves. Mina's father fell down crying.
"The US can go into space, but they can't figure out who is doing it?" said Waheed. "You can see an ant moving out of space, but you can't see who is killing Hazaras?"
In the face of the murders, there is talk of arming Hazara youth to defend the community, especially in the districts that dominate the community in western Kabul. Some Hazaras say the May 8 attack on the Syed al-Shahada school was a turning point.
It is a significant turning point for a community that has shown such hopes for a new Afghanistan. After the fall of the Taliban, many Hazara militias gave up their weapons as part of a government disarmament program, although other factions hesitated.
"We used to think the pen and book were our best weapon, but now we realize that it is the weapon we need," said Ghulam Reza Berati, a prominent Hazara religious leader. The fathers of the girls killed in the school attack are said to be investing in weapons, said Berati, who helped bury many of the girls.
Sitting on the carpets of the Wali Asar mosque in West Kabul, Berati said Hazaras were disappointed with the democracy brought by the US-led coalition. Hazaras are largely excluded from prominent positions, he said.
The Hazaras are concerned about the ongoing attacks by the Islamic State Group and the possible return of the Taliban after the US withdrawal. But they also worry about the many heavily armed warlords who are part of the government. Some of them have perpetrated violence against Hazaras in the past, and Hazaras fear they will do so again if Afghanistan, once withdrawn, slips into a repeat of the brutal civil war between factions of the early 1990s.
A still prominent warlord in Kabul, Abdul Rasool Sayyaf, led a Pashtun militia that massacred Hazara civilians during a bitter battle with Hazara militias in 1993 in Kabul's mostly Hazara neighborhood of Afshar.
Rajab Ali Urzgani was one of the youngest Hazara commanders in his community during the Battle of Afshar and became something of a folk hero - at the time only 14 years old.
Now 41 and still known by his name Mangol, he returned to Afshar with the AP earlier this month to visit the site. He stopped to offer a prayer for the dead at a mass grave where nearly 80 men, women and children who were killed in the bloodshed are buried. A black Shiite banner flies at the entrance.
After leaving, Mangol had little hope of peace in Afghanistan.
"If the foreigners withdraw, the war will be 1000%," he said. "As in the past, the war will be with the different groups and we will defend our families and our dignity."
Associated Press Writer Tameem Akhgar contributed to this report.
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