If there is one group of people who have had it bad since a long time, they are the minorities of Afghanistan. Even without the Taliban in power, these ethnic, religious and even cultural minorities have been easy targets for terror organizations and other groups harboring radical views. With the Taliban’s swift takeover of Afghanistan on August 15, 2021, this group of people were worried that the Taliban would once again target them like during their first reign in the 1990s. However, these individuals are not only afraid of what they had been witness to or heard about of the 90s era, scarred with the bruises of the past, they now had nothing to look forward to with the hardline, Islamist group seizing power. At the outset, the Taliban depicted themselves to have changed, to be different from their old self and be someone who respected minorities from all backgrounds. During the first days of the Taliban rule in Afghanistan, a spokesperson of the group had announced in his first press conference that all ethnic groups, religions and minorities can live in “peace” without any worry of persecution under the Taliban rule. But, what happened next, in practice was completely contrary to this claim. Schools, places of worship, and educational centers, there is no place belonging to a particular minority group which has not been the recipient of the wrath of attacks over the years. With the Taliban government’s neglect and failure to address their problems, such individuals now proclaim that they are stuck in a dilemma of leaving the country or staying back.
From Afghan Hazaras witnessing the bloodiest attacks at their mosques, schools, colleges and gatherings to places of worship of Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan being the targets of explosions. All minority groups have no safety net with the Taliban coming to power. The rise of this radical group to power has also led to the ISIS terror group becoming stronger day by day in Afghanistan. Such is its recent growth that it has been the main perpetrators of many horrific attacks against minorities over the past year, also challenging the Taliban’s claim of establishing security throughout the country. The presence of religious minorities and women has been increasingly diminished from the political and public sphere. The Taliban’s practices remain unchanged after two decades out of power. Based on the group’s strict religious interpretations, it has reintroduced and enforces harsh restrictions on all Afghans, including those with differing interpretations of Islam. In September 2021, the Taliban reinstated the Ministry for Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (MPVPV), which includes a notoriously violent hardline Islamist policing system, previously disbanded in 2001.
Hazaras and Shiites: Hazaras are Afghanistan’s third-largest ethnic group, after the Pashtuns and Tajiks, making up between 20 and 30 percent of Afghanistan’s population. With their presence mostly situated around the central provinces of the country, majority of the ethnic Hazaras are Shia Muslims who are considered a religious minority in this Sunni majority country. The Hazara Shia have faced attacks by both the Taliban and the ISIS-K over the recent decades and now under the Taliban rule as these groups consider them as heretics. Hazaras have remained the principal victims of IS-K attacks and Taliban atrocities and forced evictions even throughout the past year. The systematic persecution, killings, political and religious discrimination of the Hazaras have increased concerns about the genocidal nature of these crimes, a fact which has been voiced strongly by Hazara and non-Hazara activists. Campaigns for Hazara rights have been flooding social media, particularly Twitter, to gather support of people in order to stand against the genocidal killings of the Hazaras of Afghanistan. On April 21, 2022, Hazaras launched a twitter campaign under the #StopHazaraGenocide, which has been tweeted about 159,529 times and has garnered 315,598 responses and retweets. Hazara and non-Hazara activists from around 50 countries have been participating in this campaign to get the global attention to this crisis.
As per Reporterly’s findings, at least 132 Hazaras have been killed and almost 200 others of the community have been wounded from mid-August to the end of December 2021 under the Taliban rule at mosques, schools, on the roads, in the cars on their way home, and other Shiite dominated areas in the capital and other provinces. In another wave of killing in 2022, almost 200 Hazaras have been killed and more than 300 others have been wounded in different attacks by the Taliban or the IS-K. Here is a tabulation of such incident to give you a clearer picture:
Keep in mind that the above numbers do not include those killed and wounded in Balkhab, Sar-e-Pul province in clashes between Taliban and Maulawi Mahdi, a disgruntled Hazara commander of the group. The clashes started after Mahdi disagreed with the way in which the Taliban had been treating Hazaras and minorities and also raised the issue of zero representation of their community in the current Taliban government. The clashes started in the latter half of June and end recently in August when the Taliban finally managed to kill Mahdi.
Let’s deep dive into what happened in Balkhab: In June, the Taliban marched to Balkhab against Mahdi, their only Hazara commander, who criticized the group’s policies against the Hazaras. Ali and Maryam, two Balkhab residents in their interview with Reporterly said that the Taliban arrested, punished, and killed civilians in Balkhab during and after their attack in the district. Few days after the clashes began in the district, a list of people killed by the Taliban in Balkhab, Sar-e-Pul province, was shared with the media. According to the list, more than 50 civilians have been killed by the Taliban in retaliation of Mahdi’s ouster. The list added that 22 other bodies had also been found in different parts of some villages of Balkhab. These initial statistics were published only a few days after the Taliban war began in Balkhab, and what is certain is that the number of dead on this list has increased manifold with each passing day. It is pertinent to remember that the victims of the Balkhab war are not the only ones who were directly killed by the Taliban in this district, but also a large number of people who had fled to the mountains and neighboring provinces out of fear of being killed or captured by the Taliban. Many such families perished in the mountains out of hunger and homelessness.
According to the statistics of the United Nations, 27,000 people had been displaced from their homes as a result of the Balkhab war. In her interview with Reporterly, Maryam describes the night when the Taliban attacked Balkhab. “People were afraid of being killed or captured by the Taliban and hence, everyone was fleeing the district. However, they faced the biggest obstacle then, as all the entry and exit points of the district had been sealed and all communication routes and telephone and internet lines had been cut off by the Taliban. Many lost their lives during this attempt to escape the district and some have still not returned and continue to be displaced in the mountains or neighboring provinces, such as Bamiyan,” tells Maryam. Ali, an individual who himself had been displaced from Balkhab during the war, said that after entering the district, the Taliban started their door-to-door searches and usurped the property of those who were not present at their homes.
“Eighty percent of those who had been killed by the Taliban in Balkhab were civilians, who were not directly involved in the war and had been completely innocent. Most of them were individuals who could not escape from the district due to old age, weakness and inability,” adds Maryam. She described the situation of women and girls in this district as extremely difficult and anxious and said that people cannot stay at home at night because of the fear that the Taliban will capture their female family members. Earlier there had also been reports that the Taliban intended to capture and abuse young women in Balkhab in retaliation. However, according to some reports, the people of Balkhab are not immune to the revenge of the Taliban, even when in displacement. In July, 17 people who had been displaced due to the Balkhab war and had taken refuge in Balkh province due to the fear of the Taliban, had been arrested by officials of this group and their families were left in parts of Mazar-i-Sharif city, without informing the men of their family. From shopkeepers to drivers and farmers and workers- all innocent civilians who has no role in the Balkhab war had been targeted, only because of their minority status. In June, four people had been arbitrarily arrested by the Taliban in Bamiyan on the suspicion of being collaborators with commander Mahdi. Another issue that has made this displacement more difficult for the people of Balkhab is being away from their land and farming. According to Maryam, most of the people of Balkhab are agriculturists and as a result of the war, they have been forced to abandon their lands and move out of the district to save their lives. “If they are unable to collect the harvest of their lands, they will face food and economic problems at least for a year,” she claims.
Lack of trust in Taliban’s promise of “amnesty”: Although the Taliban had assured the public at the outset of their rule in 2021 that they will provide complete immunity to civil and military employees of the previous government, they have failed to gain their trust. This mistrust is more among military personnel and especially those who are ethnically related to Afghanistan’s minorities. This can be clearly seen in a conversation that Reporterly had with the wife of a former government police official. She narrates the ordeals her husband encountered as a former police officer in Paktia province, eastern Afghanistan. “It was August 15, when the Taliban attacked the police academy in Gardiz, the capital of Paktia, at first, my husband and his colleagues resisted and did not surrender, but then they had to flee to Khost. When they heard the sad news of the fall of Kabul and the escape of the president, they surrendered in Khost and handed over their weapons to the Taliban,” she said. This woman said that the Taliban had promised immunity to her husband and his colleagues and they were able to return to Kabul to their families. “My husband stayed in Kabul for two months, but the entire time, he was living in fear,” she adds. Explaining the psyche behind this anxiety, she says that people with even some knowledge about the Taliban and how it functions, know that the group cannot be trusted. It is pertinent to remember that the Taliban have arrested and killed many former soldiers, including those who returned to their duties or in some cases, the group has even arrested or killed the family members of former soldiers.
“We didn’t even sleep well at night and we were always afraid that the Taliban may come to our gates and arrest my husband just because he had served as an official in the previous government,” she said, adding, “These fears made us insecure and like thousands of others, I advised him to leave the country, cross the border illegally and go to Pakistan. He went there and tried to become a refugee in another country, but since all his identification and work documents had been left behind in Paktia when he fled, he could not get asylum in any country. So, after two months, he came back to Kabul and now we continuously, live with the same fears and nightmare.” This time, economic problems added to the woes of this family. The family of five, including three small children, has no source of income. “My husband has not worked for several months and we have no source of income. Although the Taliban has announced that these employees can return to their previous duties, but with reports of former soldier being killed almost everyday. my husband and his other colleagues could not trust the Taliban’s promises. Even those who have returned to their duties and continued to work, have not received their salaries or any financial assistance from this group after several months,” adds the wife, troubled by her circumstances. There have been reports about non-payment of salaries to employees of various offices by the Taliban, and employees in different provinces having had protested against the group for the same.
But, the greatest reason behind this family’s fear, has been that they belong to a minority group, Hazaras. “The Taliban do not accept any one other than their own tribe and ethnic group and will eventually drive us out,” she exclaims quoting her husband. The Taliban have been accused of establishing a “one-ethnic and one-party” government and have been physically purging and removing other ethnic groups from the government structure in Afghanistan. The group has previously arrested and disarmed a number of other non-Pashtun commanders, including Makhdoom Alem, the group’s Uzbek commander, and Qari Wakil, the Tajik Taliban commander. Similarly, there have been previous reports of dissatisfaction of another Taliban Uzbek commander from the group’s behavior, Salahuddin Ayoubi. We have already discussed the fate of the lone Hazara commander, Mahdi, in the earlier paragraphs. The wife also recounts the horrific journey her husband went through after he got fed up of waiting for some job opportunity. “He went to Iran this time in the hope of reaching a safer country with job opportunities, and from there, with a large group of other Afghans, he went to Turkey illegally. However, like thousands of other Afghans, he was arrested by the police and deported from there,” the wife said. Every year a large number of Afghans who try to go to Europe through Turkey are arrested and deported. Some of them die at the high seas or while fleeing. “We are aware of the difficulties and dangers of illegal immigration, but we have no other choice at this time. Although my husband has been deported once, he is currently waiting for another opportunity to take the same path again,” she concludes.
Cruelty of the nomads: The tension between nomads and villagers has always been one of the acute problems plaguing Hazara-dominated areas and every year is responsible for the increase in the number of victims of both sides. However, this strife has increased over the past year under the support of the Taliban.
- Afghan media, citing some sources, reported that the nomads, with the support of the Taliban, have usurped the lands of the Hazara people in the Faqir Shah area of the Jeghato district of the province.
- Local sources in Maidan Wardak also reported that the nomads have trampled the fields of villagers in this province with their cattle, and villager’s appeals to local Taliban authorities have had no action by the group against the nomads.
- Officials at the Directorate of Information and Culture of Ghazni have stated that the nomads, by breaking the protective wire wall of Tap-e-Sardar (an ancient museum in Ghazni province), have turned this site into a pasture for their animals. Sources added that although several outposts and military centers of the Taliban are located around this historic area, they do not prevent nomads from entering the site.
- Local sources from Malestan district of Ghazni province have reported that several armed nomads have severely beaten up two farmers in Kandali village of this district in June. According to sources, these nomads have the direct support of the Taliban in this district.
- After the nomads invaded Sheikh Ali district of Parwan province, and used the people’s fields as pastures for their cattle, there was a conflict between the local people and the nomads, as a result of which 20 people got injured. The local residents said that the nomads intentionally allow their cattle to graze the fields of the villagers, by utilizing the name and military equipment of the Taliban.
- Local residents of Sheberghan city of Jowzjan reported that armed nomads supported by the local Taliban had tried to usurp their lands. These local residents said that the local Taliban authorities do not address their problems.
- Some residents of Khawat, Yakhshi and Mirbcha villages, belonging to Nahor district of Ghazni province, also complained about the oppression by the nomads in cooperation with the Taliban and said that the nomads in Nahor district of Ghazni claimed ownership of people’s houses and fired bullets at local residents.
- A number of local residents in Badakhshan province had reported this spring that the Taliban had ordered them to give the pastures of this province to farmers from Kunduz province.
- Residents of Jaghori district of Ghazni province reported that nomads invaded people’s agricultural lands and used them as pastures for their cattle, and when people tried to stop them, they accused people of killing a four-year-old girl. The local people said that the claim of the nomads is a lie and they have made this excuse in collusion with the Taliban.
- It should be noted that there are also reports that in some areas, the Taliban have asked nomads to stop invading on other people’s lands, and as a result there was a conflict between the Taliban and the nomads. One of the Taliban members was beaten up by the nomads in Nahor district of Ghazni province.
In 2022, the de facto Taliban administration removed Ashura and Nowruz as national public holidays from the Afghan calendar but have allowed minority communities to publicly commemorate these holidays without punishment. Furthermore, the Taliban declared August 15 as a national holiday in the country to mark the first anniversary of the victory of the Afghan jihad [holy war] against the American military and its allies’ occupation.
Another ethnic minority group under threat- Kyrgyz: The Kyrgyz, one of the ethnic minorities of Afghanistan, who live in the foothills of the Pamir mountains of Badakhshan province. Their abode is known as the last point in the northeast of this country, at an altitude of more than 4,000 meters above the sea level, which is known as the roof of the world. This community already lives in harsh climatic conditions and far from the facilities of modern life. The promises of governments throughout various historical periods to improve the living conditions of these native citizens of the country have not worked to the point where the number of people from this community is depleting with each passing year. In the spring of last year, 44 Afghan Kyrgyz citizens left their residence after obtaining Kyrgyzstan citizenship. Before this, 106 residents of Pamirs had left their native life in the Pamir mountains for Kyrgyzstan by getting Kyrgyz citizenship. It seems that under the Taliban government, no attention has been paid to this ethnic minority group, and the last remnants of this group will leave Afghanistan soon. Recently, the Minister of Labor, Social Security and Immigration of Kyrgyzstan said in a press conference that they plan to transfer 400 Kyrgyz families from Pamir of Afghanistan to this country. According to Sputnik, Kyrgyz Minister of Labor, Social Security and Immigration Kodaibergen Bazarbayev stated that the total number of these families reaches 1,500 people and they will leave Afghanistan by 2024. Although the Taliban have not helped improve the living conditions of the Afghan Kyrgyz during their one year of rule in Afghanistan, even now when this ethnic minority group is on the verge of vanishing from the country, they have remained silent.
Sikhs, Hindus, and last Jews of Afghanistan: Religious minorities, especially Sikhs, Hindus and Jews in Afghanistan, have always been attacked and threatened by extremist groups and even neglected by the ruling governments and ordinary people, mostly because they only make up a tiny speck of the population in this already war-ravaged nation. These cases include not treating these minorities properly – some Sikhs and Hindus had refused to send their children to public schools because other students harassed their wards, although only a few private school options were available to them due to the decreasing sizes of the two communities and their members’ declining economic circumstances. There are also threats that have been directed at this religious minority by extremist groups. Sikhs in Afghanistan have been repeatedly attacked and threatened at their places of worship, workplaces, and residential areas. The Gurudwaras of Sikhs have been attacked often, and prominent Sikh personalities have been abducted, tortured and killed several times.
Charan Singh Khalsa, a former spokesperson for the Afghan Sikhs community, confirms the above claims in an interview with Reporterly. “After every attack that took place on the Sikhs of Afghanistan, some of these people left the country and mostly went to India. He says that since 2016, the number of Sikhs in Afghanistan has decreased greatly, reaching between 200 to 300 families. These remaining people also left the country in small and large groups after every the recent security incidents,” he said. He mentions the killing of one Afghan Sikh in Kunduz in 2017; the kidnapping of another one in Mazar in the same year; the 2018 suicide attack in Jalalabad, which killed 14 Sikhs and injured seven others; the murder of another Sikh in 2019, whose body was missing for two months, and also the explosion at a Sikh temple in Kabul in 2020, in which 25 more Sikhs in Afghanistan were killed. He added that the attacks continued during the Taliban era and has not stopped.
- On June 18, 2022, IS-K attacked the last temple of Afghanistan’s small Sikh community, killing a worshiper and a Taliban security force and wounding seven others. The attack led to the issuance of emergency visas for this minority group by India and a large number of them left Afghanistan in two groups on June 24 and June 30, 2022.
- Again on July 27, 2022, a bomb exploded near the main gate of Gurdwara Kart-e-Parwan in Kabul. According to Khalsa, one person was killed and three others were injured in this incident, and the “four-hundred-year-old historic Gurudwara” was destroyed. 30 of the remaining Sikh people including children and infants were evacuated from Afghanistan on August 3, 2022 as religious persecution escalates in Taliban ruled Afghanstan.
The attack once again challenges the Taliban regime’s claim to have addressed the Afghan minority’s security concern, and caused mass migration of Sikhs of this country. Khalsa added that since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August last year, 95 Sikh families have left the country, and currently only five or six families and a number of single individuals remain in the country. The same is the story of Jews. Zebulon Simontov, 62, and Tova Moradi, 83, the last of Afghanistan’s Jews, each left Afghanistan in September and October, 2021, for fear of their lives under the Taliban rule. Both of them left the country due to security threats and lack of trust in the Taliban’s ability to provide them security.
Attack on Sufis and dervishes: Taliban has been against any kind of free-thought and any person who is against their radical their of Islam which is evident in the way that Sufis and dervishes have been targeted by the IS-K group under the Taliban rule. Sufis, who are mostly Sunni Muslims include a number of Shiites, have adopted the way of Sufism. It is a mixture of philosophy and religion.
Although the Sufis consider themselves to be committed to all parts of Islam, the followers of Salafi-Jihadist thinking consider their method heresy and do not consider them as Muslims, this is the reason why Afghan Shiites have also been attacked by extremist groups. Here are some examples of attacks against this group:
- On April 22, 2022, a bomb attack on a Sunni mosque in the city of Kunduz left 33 killed and 43 others injured, including children.
- A powerful explosion killed 66 worshippers after Friday prayers at a Kabul mosque, and wounded 78 others during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Take note: Even the US Commission on International Religious Freedom said that the freedom to practice one’s faith “does not exist in Afghanistan anymore” one year after the return to power of the radical Islamist Taliban. It added that the Taliban has brutally suppressed any forms of religion that do not correspond with their radical view of Islam. As a result, the country’s culture has been gutted and thousands who can’t escape the Islamist regime daily live in fear for their lives and their futures, the report said.
Zoom out: The attacks on religious minorities in Afghanistan shows that the Taliban’s claim of providing security is in no way a defensible claim and that this group is unable to provide security to the minorities. Following the Taliban’s seizure of the country, over 120,000 Afghans, including religious minorities, were
evacuated to the United States and ally countries. Additionally, many others fled to neighboring countries, such as Pakistan, Turkey, Iran, and India, where they
continue to face uncertainty and discrimination. Also, considering the way the Taliban views religious and ethnic minorities, it is only fair to say that the group will not make any effort to ensure the security of these minorities. It should be noted that there are many other religious and ethnic minorities in Afghanistan, and the cases mentioned in this article are groups that have been directly targeted by IS-K or the Taliban. It goes without saying that Tajiks and Uzbeks of Afghanistan are too attacked and the radical groups have tried to eliminate them.