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Ethnic Hazara demonstrators gather in a protest tent in Afghanistan's capital demanding action to rescue Hazaras kidnapped from a bus by masked men who many believe are influenced by Islamic State, in Kabul, March 19, 2015. — Reuters
Ethnic Hazara demonstrators gather in a protest tent in Afghanistan's capital demanding action to rescue Hazaras kidnapped from a bus by masked men who many believe are influenced by Islamic State, in Kabul, March 19, 2015. — Reuters
Ethnic Hazara demonstrators gather in a protest tent in Afghanistan's capital demanding action to rescue Hazaras kidnapped from a bus by masked men who many believe are influenced by Islamic State, in Kabul, March 19, 2015. — Reuters
Ethnic Hazara demonstrators gather in a protest tent in Afghanistan's capital demanding action to rescue Hazaras kidnapped from a bus by masked men who many believe are influenced by Islamic State, in Kabul, March 19, 2015. — Reuters
Ethnic Hazara demonstrators protest demanding action to rescue Hazaras kidnapped from a bus by masked men who many believe are influenced by Islamic State, in Ghazni, March 17, 2015. — Reuters/
Ethnic Hazara demonstrators protest demanding action to rescue Hazaras kidnapped from a bus by masked men who many believe are influenced by Islamic State, in Ghazni, March 17, 2015. — Reuters/
Ethnic Hazara demonstrators gather in a protest demanding action to rescue Hazaras kidnapped from a bus by masked men who many believe are influenced by Islamic State, in Ghazni March 17, 2015.  Even by Afghanistan's standards of often-shifting alliances, a recent meeting between ethnic Hazara elders and local commanders of the Taliban insurgents who have persecuted them for years was extraordinary. — Reuters
Ethnic Hazara demonstrators gather in a protest demanding action to rescue Hazaras kidnapped from a bus by masked men who many believe are influenced by Islamic State, in Ghazni March 17, 2015. Even by Afghanistan's standards of often-shifting alliances, a recent meeting between ethnic Hazara elders and local commanders of the Taliban insurgents who have persecuted them for years was extraordinary. — Reuters

KABUL: Even by Afghanistan's standards of often-shifting alliances, a recent meeting between ethnic Hazara elders and local commanders of the Taliban insurgents who have persecuted them for years was extraordinary.

The Hazaras - a largely Shia minority killed in the thousands during the Taliban's hard-line Sunni Islamist rule of the 1990s - came to their old enemies seeking protection against what they deemed an even greater threat: masked men operating in the area calling themselves “Daesh”, a term for the self-style Islamic State in the region.

In a sign of changing times, the Taliban commanders agreed to help, said Abdul Khaliq Yaqubi, one of the elders at the meeting held in the eastern province of Ghazni.

Read: Fear stalks Afghan minorities after rare attacks

The unusual pact is a window into deepening anxiety in Afghanistan over reports of Islamic State (IS) radicals gaining a foothold in a country already weary of more than a decade of war with the Taliban.

Back-to-back kidnappings within a month of two groups of Hazara travellers - by men widely rumoured, though far from proven, to claim fealty to IS - have many spooked.

The current threat IS poses in Afghanistan, observers say, is less about real military might than the opportunity for disparate insurgent groups, including defectors from an increasingly fractured Taliban, to band together under this global “brand” that controls swathes of Iraq and Syria.

The fear is especially keen among religious minorities like the Hazaras, who worry the influence of the fiercely anti-Shia IS could introduce a new dimension of sectarian strife to the war.

“Whether Daesh exists or not, the psychological impact of it is very dangerous in Ghazni, which is home to all ethnicities,” Ghazni's deputy governor Mohammad Ali Ahmadi told Reuters.

“This could easily stir up tensions.”

'Moving target'

Unlike in Iraq or Syria, IS controls no Afghan territory and operational links between local fighters and the group's leadership are murky.

But reports of self-proclaimed IS fighters have been growing since last summer.

Also read: Gunmen kidnap eight Hazaras in Afghanistan

In Kandahar, the Taliban's birthplace, armed clashes between alleged IS fighters and local Taliban have been reported.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's latest report on Afghanistan said a handful of Taliban commanders had declared allegiance to IS and were increasingly seeking funding or cooperation from the group.

But it added there was “no indication of widespread or systematic support” for Afghan fighters from IS leaders in the Middle East.

Some say IS's intolerant stance towards Shias, which the Sunni group does not regard as true Muslims, leaves them with less traction in Afghanistan, where large-scale sectarian violence has been relatively rare since the Taliban lost power.

The Afghan government told Reuters the group does pose a problem.

“The simple thing is that Daesh is here, and they do exist,” said Ajmal Abidy, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's spokesman.

Also read: 30 Hazaras abducted in Afghanistan: officials

The International Crisis Group (ICG) in Kabul cited reliable reports that small groups of self-described IS fighters were operating in six provinces, plus unconfirmed rumours of dozens of members operating in several others.

For now, whatever support IS has appears to reflect divisions within the larger, stronger Taliban insurgency, said Graeme Smith, an ICG analyst.

But, he added, “It's a moving target ... Just because it's not militarily significant today doesn't mean that can't change.”

Attacks breed fear

On March 15, gunmen stopped two cars in Ghazni's Jaghori district, a predominantly Hazara area, and kidnapped eight passengers.

All but one were quickly released, but the incident came just weeks after masked gunmen singled out around 30 Hazaras from two buses in Zabul province and took them hostage.

Despite an ongoing rescue operation by Afghan security forces, none of the hostages have been freed.

Last week, hundreds of Hazara protesters gathered in Ghazni's capital city to demand the hostages' release. Although no one has claimed responsibility for either attack, many Hazaras - short on answers and scared - blamed IS.

“Daesh is a very dangerous phenomenon,” said protester Ahmad Ali.

The general anxiety led to the Ghazni Hazara elders - from three villages in Jaghori district - to arrange their unusual meeting with the local Taliban commanders.

“The Taliban did not kidnap our Hazara brothers in the past, and we know they also fight this new group, Daesh,” said Hasan Reza Yousufi, a member of Ghazni's provincial council.

Yaqubi, one of the elders who attended the meeting, said the group had approached the militants seeking protection.

“The Taliban agreed to help,” he said.

At a crowded bus station on Kabul's outskirts, people lined up to buy tickets to make trips along the dangerous roads outside the city that have long seen Taliban attacks - and now, many fear, targeted kidnappings.

“Since the kidnapping of the passengers, we have less Hazara travellers,” said bus driver Mohammad Jan. “The ones who do travel seem very scared.”


Comments (24) Closed



shamain Mar 22, 2015 12:07pm

Until and unless shias are politically united and fight against forces who are trying to harm them they cannot be saved they shoul join with Iran and Indian shias who are equally concerned for safety of shias world over.

Byjan Mar 22, 2015 12:40pm

Why shall every masked man be taken as IS? Ordinary dacoits can use this name/tactic to create more fear.

asif Mar 22, 2015 12:43pm

Why cant people just follow what Islam really means, which is peace and tolerance for all.

Haider Rehman Mar 22, 2015 12:46pm

@shamain No. Unless MUSLIMS are united, sectarian violence will continue.

umer Mar 22, 2015 01:30pm

@shamain we Sunnis are equally concerned for our shia brothers n sisters. We need to understand that shia Sunni conflict actually ignited by politicians and anti-Islam forces. Otherwise in Pakistan we were living together peacefully over the centuries until recent incidents which are no doubt politically motivated by anti-Islam forces.

khri Mar 22, 2015 01:35pm

Good you are same nation and same blood just live hands in hands for the prosprous Afghanistan

Ramesh Mar 22, 2015 01:43pm

ISIS has made Taliban look like angels.

Ali (CA) Mar 22, 2015 01:44pm

@shamain - There is no Shia or Sunni etc but only Muslims. First thing we all should do is to forget about dividing ourselves based on history and just call ourselves Muslims. However, the meeting is a positive step toward peace.

Parvez Mar 22, 2015 02:04pm

Making a pact with the devil you know, against the devil you don't know.....doesn't sound like a good idea.

Exasperated Mar 22, 2015 02:14pm

Between the devil and the deep blue sea!

majid Mar 22, 2015 03:33pm

It seems that a showdown between ISIS & Talibans is imminent now ....... supporters of Mullah Omer are already annoyed with Baghdadi for abusing their spiritual leader....

Madhav Das Mar 22, 2015 04:07pm

The Hazaras should openly seek help from Ayotollah Ruhani the head of the Iranian Govt. They will pulverize the IS terrorists who are far from their strongholds in Iraq and Syria.

roarwali Mar 22, 2015 04:48pm

Hope they give them protection against nefarious IS. Would have preferred had Afghan government provided them the security.

Ali Mar 22, 2015 05:05pm

@umer Dear Umer, I totally agree with you, even in our hearts we want to be closer to our sunni brothers as we feel stronger being united ...... but so sad naive ones from sects dont seem to get it...it makes my heart cry when I see how others taking advantage of our lack of common sense...may Allah fill our hearts with love and affection for each other.

Last Word Mar 22, 2015 06:36pm

The request tantamount to a fish asking shark to save it from the fishing trawler.

RR Mar 22, 2015 07:34pm

@shamain you sound like enemy has succeeded. this attitude is worse than killings.

Syed Ganga Din Mar 22, 2015 08:43pm

Why don't they move or seek help from Iran?

Sonny Afridi Mar 22, 2015 09:01pm

Good they are cooperating for a good cause. Good to hear the former enemies now embracing eachother hopefully permanently

Sonny Afridi Mar 22, 2015 09:02pm

@shamain Pakistan has the highest number of Shiias after Iran. And neither indian not Iran are the authorities for Shiias. All Muslims of all sects must work closely as we are all brothers.

MUGHAL Mar 22, 2015 10:00pm

Shia and Sunni lived in Afghanistan even with Jews for centuries - the question is not why but who did it - Afghans are intelligent enough to understand their enemies

Zak Mar 22, 2015 10:22pm

@Ramesh and they say they are coming to India.

Bikram Singh Mar 22, 2015 10:27pm

Afghanistan has never been conquered. Only Afghans can sort themselves out. They are too tough for any nation to deal with.

IBN E ASHF AQUE Mar 22, 2015 10:47pm

The Hazaras of Afghanistan have done the right thing by joining fellow Afghan talibs if the Tajiks and the Panjsheri follow suit and agree on a framework with fellow Afghan talib that will be a good day for Afghanistan.

Shamain 2015 Mar 23, 2015 12:59am

Excellent step by hazaras