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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Afghanistan’s Hazaras fear uncertain future

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KABUL: Members of the Hazara community offer prayer outside a mosque on the outskirts of Kabul. —AFP KABUL: Hundreds of Hazara worshippers overflowed from a mosque on the outskirts of the Afghan capital on Friday, touching their foreheads to the ground as they took part in the most important prayer of the week. Long persecuted by both the Taleban and Islamic State for their Shiite faith, members of the ethnic minority group say they feel less threatened since the Taleban seized power on August 15. “Previously, during Friday prayers we’d be afraid of attacks from terrorist groups, especially IS,” Mahdi Hassanzadah said. “For now the threat is reduced.”

But after holding top positions in previous US-backed governments, they fear the future consequences of being shut out of the Taleban’s new acting administration – made up of hardline militants of the group’s old guard. “It is largely made up of a single ethnicity,” Hassanzadah said, referring to the Pashtuns who dominate the Taleban and are Afghanistan’s biggest group. “We don’t see any participation of the Hazaras, which is a huge concern,” he said.

‘Anxiety and worry’

The Hazara make up the bulk of the country’s Shiite minority, and it is feared the Taleban – hardliners from the Sunni branch of Islam – may again turn on them, just as they did during their last regime in the late 1990s. They have suffered some of Afghanistan’s most violent assaults, with rallies bombed, hospitals targeted and commuters ambushed. In May, Islamic State suicide bombers targeted a school just 1.6 kilometers away from the mosque, killing more than 80 girl students.

In the Hazara neighborhood, there were visibly fewer Taleban fighters on the streets and manning checkpoints, AFP journalists saw. But like many others in the capital, taking home a salary was their most pressing concern, as food prices soar. “The people who used to work for the government have all become unemployed. There’s a lot of anxiety and worry,” worshipper Suleiman told AFP outside the mosque. “It’s not like the Taleban are killing us, but it is better to die than to live suffocated like this.”

Many government services are no longer functioning, while the international community, which has long propped up the aid-dependent economy, hesitates over funding Afghanistan. “We haven’t seen anything bad from the Taleban but there is no work for people, what are we supposed to do about our hunger?” Suleiman said. Comprising between 10 and 20 percent of the country’s 38 million people, Hazaras have been marginalized for their faith in a country riven by deep divisions.

By some estimates, nearly half of their population was massacred in the late 19th century, with many later enslaved during the conquest of their traditional homeland by Pashtuns. After leading the prayers, Imam Abdul Qadir Alemi told AFP inside the mosque he still hoped the Taleban’s acting government would later become representative of the people in the country. “There is no doubt that the people of Afghanistan want an inclusive government in which all ethnicities, followers of all faiths and different segments of society are represented.”—AFP

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