Taliban Savagery in Ghazni Indicates Group’s Evolution

On May 17, media reported that the Taliban shot dead five people – three civilians and two national police personnel – and then torched the bodies. The brutal incident took place in Qiyaq village of Jaghato district in Ghazni province. Provincial officials said the civilians were residents of Malistan district and that the two policemen were from Rashidan district. No further details were released.

The incident and the accompanying photographs provoked widespread reactions on social media.
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Some compared it to World War II-era genocide: “What Hitler did in Germany and ISIL did in Syria, now the Taliban are doing in Afghanistan.”  However, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, who is chair of the Supreme National Reconciliation Council with the Taliban, reacted, in what is being called, a rather tame manner on his Facebook: “We are saddened to learn that the civilians were killed and several others were injured in a brutal attack in Jaghatoy district and a number of our compatriots in a separate terrorist attack in Ghazni province.”

What Actually Happened in The Taliban Attack?

There were actually four victims – three local policemen and their civilian driver. Reporterly reached out to a reliable source in the Ghazni security circle, who answered on condition of anonymity. The source revealed the policemen had been waiting in Qiyaq for the driver to bring the car. They were enroute to Ghazni city. As the car drove through the area, Taliban members ambushed the vehicle and killed all four who were onboard. A farmer who witnessed the incident said the Taliban then took the bodies out of the car, doused them in fuel and set them alight.

All those killed were from the Hazara community, sources revealed. The Hazara people have long been the target of the Taliban’s wrath, be the suicide bombings or mass shootings, along with other ethnic minorities whom the Afghan government has failed to protect. Why would the burning of four Hazaras in Ghazni draw comparison to World War II-era Europe?

A Precedent of Burning Victims

Global history has seen few tragedies that could rival the magnitude of the Holocaust in Europe. The systematic, state-sponsored mass murder of millions of Jewish people and other ethnic races who were deemed unsuitable for Adolf Hitler’s supremacist worldview.

The word Holocaust is derived from the Greek holokauston which is a translation of the Hebrew word ‘olah, which means a burnt sacrifice offered to God. It came to be used globally because the ultimate goal of the Nazi extermination camps was to burn the bodies of the victims in a crematoria or open fire. Therefore, now whenever a similar level of savagery is seen, where a group of people are targeted and burned to death due to their religion, race and nationality, it draws parallels to the actions of the Nazi government.

Post-World War II, arson was not as common among other extremist groups until the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) emerged in Syria and Iraq, establishing a caliphate in 2014. ISIL resurrected the practice of burning its victims. In early 2015, the group released a video in which they set fire to a captured Jordanian Air Force pilot named, Muath al-Kasasbeh. In the video, Kasasbeh can be seen inside an iron cage, wearing an orange jumpsuit, before an ISIL militant set alight a gasoline trail leading to the cage. Kasasbeh was burnt alive.

ISIL justified their action by quoting Islamic history. ISIL Strategist Abu Bakr Naji authored “Management of Savagery: The Most Critical Stage Through Which the Islamic Nation will Pass” (2004) as a guide for extremist groups to establish a new Islamic caliphate. In his chapters, he advises them to use violence and generate mass fear. The use of savage and symbolic violence is encouraged as a military solution in order to create opportunities for the expansion of the group. “The most abominable of the levels of savagery” is preferred to “stability under the order of unbelief,” Naji explains.

What the Taliban Learnt and Used

Following Naji’s approach of mass production of fear and symbolic violence, ISIL showed jihadists around the world dreams of the “Promised Land.”  Many analysts see the spread of fundamentalism as one of the factors behind ISIL’s early victories. Their use of symbolic brutality could be mass produced by the group across and mass production by the group in Syria and Iraq. What followed was fear on the battlefield and the conquest of new territories.

The Taliban’s actions are now following and adapting ISIL’s approach. The Taliban is a completely grassroot level group with poor knowledge of military tactics, and unlike ISIL, they have always often imitated the other terrorist groups’ methods of violence. During the time of their Islamic Emirate, they followed the sharia and al-Qaeda’s military model. Now, they have better mentors, so to say – ISIL. The torching of four Hazaras in Ghazni is reminiscent of ISIL’s actions, Naji’s teachings and Hilter’s genocide.

The Taliban seems to have found advanced ideological teachers as the new generation of attacks has brought their savagery to the forefront. While the group has changed tactics, there has been no change in the Afghan government’s military strategy in handling the fresh spate of violence. The fundamental question now is, can anything be learnt from the Ghazni incident? By the government? Or the security forces? Because if we put it aside as a one-time regretful incident, we might end up normalising such brutal behaviour to the extent that charred dead bodies do not even make it to the front page of the news.

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