When news of the Taliban takeover of Kabul spread, few greeted it with as much fear as the Shiites Hazara. This religious minority, in a country with a Sunni majority, was one of the most persecuted groups the last time the Taliban ruled Afghanistan. Memories of the killings, torture and mass executions have not been erased.
Afghanistan, without international troops and with the Taliban in power, what future awaits it?
Evidence suggests that the Hazaras are once again a target for the Taliban. A recent Amnesty International report denounces that Taliban militiamen were responsible for the murder of nine hazaras committed in July in the village of Mundarakht. Six of the men were shot and three were tortured to death. One of them was strangled with his own handkerchief and had the muscles of his arm sliced.
Attacks like this have caused an exodus of Hazaras across the border into Pakistan. Activists say that as of Sunday, around 10,000 have arrived in the Pakistani city of Quetta in Baluchistan, where they live in mosques, wedding halls and rented rooms. Various hazaras count to The Guardian who have paid between 60 and 400 euros to traffickers to get across the border.
“A matter of life and death”
Among the refugees in Quetta is Sher Ali, a 24-year-old grocer who has escaped with his wife and baby. Ali arrived in Chaman last Thursday, on the Pakistani side of the border. The journey, through Taliban-controlled territory, lasted three days. They drove down roads destroyed by bomb hits and passed charred cars and destroyed bridges.
Ali decided to leave after witnessing the Taliban assassinate his 23-year-old friend Mohammad Hussain two weeks ago in Kabul. Hussain was passing through a Taliban security checkpoint on his motorcycle. He refused to stop and was shot with an assault rifle, according to his testimony.
“When I got to the scene, Hussain’s body was lying on the road in a pool of blood. They emptied the AK-47 with it,” says Ali. “That was the moment I decided to leave. For the Hazara Shiites, it is a matter of life and death: either you go and live, or you stay and die.”
Recently, chaotic scenes have occurred at the Chaman border crossing as thousands of Afghans have attempted to cross. Officially, only those with residency papers or traveling for medical treatment can enter Pakistan, but some of the Hazaras say smugglers bribe border authorities to allow Afghans to cross irregularly.
Ali says the rest of his family will be leaving for Pakistan in a few days. “We cannot live in the Afghanistan of the Taliban.”
Separated from their families
Mohammed Sharif Tahmasi, a 21-year-old computer science student from Gazni province, arrived in Chaman last Thursday with his two sisters and his brother. After making it across, they waited for other Hazara families on a muddy corner near the border fence to travel together to Quetta.
Tahmasi’s family had never been to Pakistan, but their parents gave them some money and told them to cross the border as soon as they could. “All Hazara parents are asking their children to leave Afghanistan to be safe,” says Tahmasi. “I don’t know how my parents and my other siblings are doing, but I hope my siblings are well and that they cross over soon.”
Her sister, Nahid Tahmasi, 15, a primary school student, says she did not want to abandon her parents but that, before leaving Ghazni, Taliban restrictions had already begun to be imposed on women.
“I feel terrible,” he says. “I can’t go to school and I miss my city and my friends. I miss my parents, I miss my school. When the Taliban took control of Gazni province, they banned girls from the parks They didn’t want the girls to study. We couldn’t wander down the street, or visit our neighbors, or dress as we wanted. ”
“The Taliban hate us”
Gulalai Haideri, a Hazara who worked as a teacher for the NGO Women for Afghan Women in Faryab province, arrived in Quetta last week. She is pregnant and sold her jewelry to pay for the trip and cross the border irregularly.
“We had been refused entry twice, so I begged the guards to let me in because I am pregnant and cannot live in Afghanistan. I am a woman, they are going to kill me,” she says. “They were merciful and allowed my family to enter.”
Haideri says that after his province fell to the insurgents, the Taliban have gone house to house looking for girls, orphans, divorcees and widows to marry off their fighters.
Mohammad Fahim Arvin, a 21-year-old Kabul Polytechnic University student, was told by his parents to go away and save his life. However, he expresses his sadness that he had to leave them behind.
“The Taliban hate us and they want us to join them and fight for them, but we can’t,” says Arvin. “It’s not my fault that I was born Hazara; it was God’s decision. It was not in my hands. Why do they want to kill us for being Hazaras?”
But even in Pakistan the Hazaras are not safe. Here they have also been persecuted for three decades by Sunni militia groups. Earlier this year, ten Hazara miners working in Baluchistan were killed by ISIS members. According to a 2019 report by the Pakistan National Commission for Human Rights, at least 509 Hazaras have been killed for their faith since 2013.
Many of Afghanistan’s Hazara community who arrive in Pakistan with little money and no contacts have had to rely on the kindness of the locals.
Syed Nadir is one of them. It hosts five Hazara families, including the Haideri family in Quetta, who had arrived a few days earlier. “I don’t know any of them, but all the Hazaras are going through one of their worst moments,” he says. “They are leaving their homes and we should take them in. All countries should do their part with the Hazaras and the Afghans.”
Translation of Julián Cnochaert