IF there is one takeaway from Thursday’s gathering of more than 1,000 Shia Hazaras in Kabul, it is the call given by senior cleric Ayatollah Waezzada Behsudi to let bygones be bygones. “Let’s forgive each other,” he said. Ethnic Hazaras, who constitute around 9pc of Afghanistan’s population of roughly 38m, have known nothing but decades of persecution, discrimination and exploitation, both for sectarian and racial reasons. Their woes worsened after the collapse of the communist regime in Kabul when they, like others, were consumed by a fratricidal war. Factional fighting took a heavy toll on all sides but more so perhaps on the Hazaras, who bore the brunt of the Afghan Taliban’s brutality following heavy clashes in central Afghanistan, home to most of the ethnic community, during the hard-line militia’s march to its first victory in 1996. The 1998 execution of at least 2,000 Hazaras in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, according to Human Rights Watch, was a testament to the deep-rooted sectarian and racial divide. It was thus natural for the Hazaras to fear the return of the Taliban last August, although the militia had taken steps to try and allay their fears and apprehensions. Shortly before their takeover of the Afghan capital, senior Taliban figures had reached out to community elders in central Afghanistan to assure them of their protection amid media reports of executions and evictions. It is, therefore, a bold move by the Hazaras to reach out and pledge their support to the interim government. They have also sought assurances of protection against a far deadlier enemy — the Khorasan chapter of the IS. The militant IS has singled out the Hazaras, targeting them with suicide bombings, and killing and wounding hundreds in Kabul and beyond. Reports indicate that the Taliban have taken some steps to improve security and have gone after IS-K hideouts to reassure a weary and worried Kabul population. But anxiety remains as IS-K continues to carry out attacks, challenging the Taliban’s writ and its monopoly over violence.

Thursday’s congregation, which was also attended by Taliban leader Zabihullah Mujahid, may reassure Afghanistan’s western neighbour Iran as well — the latter country has time and again expressed concern over the treatment of the Shia community in Afghanistan. The Taliban need to live up to their word to provide protection to the population they now rule as well as form an inclusive government to give representation to all including the Hazaras.

Published in Dawn, November 27th, 2021

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