Hazara Afghans Were Targets of May Attack in Kabul08 Jun 2021
Eight-five people, the majority being young schoolgirls, were killed by a car bomb planted in the predominantly Hazara neighbourhood of Dasht-e-Barchi on May 8th 2021. The target of the attack was the Sayed-ul Shuhada school located in western Kabul, and eyewitnesses reported that the initial car bomb was followed by two more explosions, increasing the death toll further as schoolgirls tried to escape. No group has claimed responsibility for the bombing, with the Taliban – who have routinely targeted Hazaras in the past – suggesting it was in fact Islamic State (likely the IS-Khorasan Province branch) who were behind the violence.
Reports of the scene described blood-soaked clothes and shredded school supplies scattered on the road, with some of the girls’ bodies being so affected from the blast that they were unidentifiable. The girls, from working class families, saw education as a means out of the poverty and harsh reality of a war-torn Afghanistan still reeling from foreign occupation and rampant terrorist activity. Their school should have been a safe haven for them, but many lament the fact that Hazaras are unsafe no matter where they go. Kazim Ehsani, the Imam of Qamar-e-Bani Hashim mosque told the New York Times, “We get blown up on the street, in the mosque, in the hospital, at the wrestling club, everywhere…and yesterday when the attack happened, there wasn’t even one police officer”. The incessant attacks on their small population over the years has led to the Hazara community feeling neglected by the government, contributing to the rising sentiment that Hazaras should arm themselves for protection.
It’s not the first time that the Dasht-e-Barchi neighbourhood has been the target of violence. In May 2020, the district saw armed gunmen storm a maternity ward in an attack that killed 24, including two newborns. The maternity ward was opened by Médicins Sans Frontières in 2014 and had been fitted with an alarm system for situations such as these, a sign of the turbulent environment Afghans must navigate in their everyday lives. But it seems that little has changed in Kabul since the harrowing events of last year.
Who Are the Hazaras?
The Hazara population, a predominantly Shia Muslim group distinct in their culture, language and Asiatic appearance, are native to the Hazarajat region of Afghanistan and make up around 20% of population. The Minority Rights Group notes that Hazaras were once the predominant ethnic group in the country, up until the 1890s during which they became targets for murder, enslavement or forced exile under the rule of Emir Abdur Rahman Khan. During this period it’s estimated that around 60% of the Hazara population was eliminated, and in the years since, Hazaras have remained a target mainly from groups such as the Taliban and ISIS, who oppose their Shi’ite beliefs.
According to a 2020 British parliamentary report, the systematic killing of the Hazara population “amounts to a genocide”, with one of the most notable attacks being the Mazar-i-Sharif massacre of August 1998, in which 8,000 Hazaras were murdered. While many have fled their native Afghanistan to bordering Iran or Pakistan, their safety is still not guaranteed. Over 1300 Hazaras were killed in the Pakistani city of Quetta by Al-Qaeda in 2011, and January 2021 saw the kidnapping and murder of 11 Hazara miners in the same region.
A key recommendation in a document by the UN-OHCHR is the international acceptance of Hazara refugees who face persecution in their home country, a pertinent suggestion in light of the 2001 Tampa Affair where Australia refused entry to a ship of Hazara refugees, stranding them at sea. For Muslims around the globe, the amplification of Hazara and Afghan voices along with advocacy and solidarity with the people of Afghanistan are key for bringing the issue of Afghanistan back to the forefront of political conversation.
“How many more families [will] lose their loved ones? How many more attacks against this minority has to occur in this part of the city before something is done?” were the words of Hazara politician Ghulam Husain Naseri following the May 8th attacks. For a community so often targeted for their faith and culture, a safe future in Afghanistan seems increasingly out of reach.