Persecution of Hazara people

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A girl, in Bamyan, holding a placard against Hazara genocide in Pakistan

The persecution of Hazara people refers to the discrimination of the Hazaras, who are primarily from the central highland region of Hazarajat in Afghanistan. Significant populations of the Hazara people are also found in Quetta, Pakistan and Mashad, Iran as part of the Hazara and Afghan diasporas. The persecution of Hazara people dates back to the 16th century, with Babur from Kabulistan.[1] It is reported that during the reign of Emir Abdur Rahman (1880–1901), thousands of Hazaras were killed, expelled and enslaved.[2] Syed Askar Mousavi, a contemporary Hazara writer, claims that half the population of Hazarajat was displaced, shipped to neighbouring Balochistan in British India[3] and Khorasan Province in Iran.[2] This led to Pashtuns and other groups occupying parts of Hazarajat. The Hazara people have also been the victims of massacres committed by the Taliban and al-Qaeda. As of 2014, conditions have not improved for the Hazaras in Afghanistan and thousands continue to be persecuted in neighboring Pakistan by Sunni extremist groups.[4]


Hazaras are historically the most restrained ethnic minority group in the state and have witnessed slight improvements in the circumstances even with the setup of modern Afghanistan. The discrimination against this ethnic group has continued for centuries, instigated by Pashtuns and other ethnic groups.[5] Syed Askar Mousavi, a contemporary Hazara writer, estimates that more than half of the entire population of Hazarajat was driven out of their villages, including many who were massacred. "It is difficult to verify such an estimate, but the memory of the conquest of the Hazārajāt by ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān Khan certainly remains vivid among the Hazāras themselves, and has heavily influenced their relations with the Afghan state throughout the 20th century."[2] The British from neighboring British India, who were heavily involved in Afghanistan, did not document such a large figure. Others claim that Hazaras began leaving their hometown of Hazarajat due to poverty and in search of employment mostly in the 20th century.[6] Most of these Hazaras immigrated to neighbouring Balochistan, where they were provided permanent settlement by the government of British India.[3] Others settled in and around Mashad, in the Khorasan Province of Iran.[6]

The Hazaras of Afghanistan faced severe political, social and economic tyranny and denial of basic civil rights.[5] In the late 19th century, the Hazaras along with their Shia counterpart Qizilbash sided with the invading British-led Indians against the Sunni Ethnic groups of Afghanistan. In 1933, Abdul Khaliq Hazara, a Hazara student assassinated Afghan King Nadir Khan.

Persecution and marginalization[edit]

Notably, after the Second Anglo-Afghan War, Shah Abdur conducted a campaign of repression in Hazarajat, but it was met with fierce opposition by Hazara tribal leaders. The first uprising was conducted in correlation with Shah Adbur's cousin, Mohammad Eshaq who sought to overthrow the Shah. This revolt of Hazara nationalists and anti-Shah partisans was brief, because Shah Adbur astutely used sectarian strife to divide the Hazara Shias and the Sunni partisans, thus allowing him to easily defeat his foes.[7]

The defeat of the Hazaras in their first revolt allowed Shah Adbur to impose taxes on Hazarajat for the first time, and they severely impeded the autonomy of Hazarajat, because numerous Pashtun soldiers and government officials were garrisoned in Hazarajat in order to ensure its compliance with the Pashtun-run state. Subsequently, the Pashtuns garrisoned in Hazarajat, treated the local Hazaras inferiorly and often committed arbitrary acts of cruelty and brutality against them. This caused great unrest and a deepening hatred between the Hazaras and their Pashtun rulers, causing the Hazaras to reach their tipping point in 1892. When a local Pashtun garrison searched the home of a Hazara chieftain for arms, but the pretext was false, the garrison subsequently tied the chieftain up and made him watch while they raped his wife.[7]

The outrage that followed allowed the Hazaras to unite once again in order to overthrow most of the local Pashtun garrisons in Hazarajat. This newfound zealous fever fermented fierce resistance against Shah Adbur and his forces. Witnessing the rising tide, Shah Adbur felt he had no choice but to wage a jihad against the Shia Hazaras, and under this casus belli Shah Adbur was able to muster around 150,000 troops.[7] The resulting conflict was brutal and led to a great loss of life on both sides. The Hazaras fought with vigour but the attrition they faced due to lack of rations, led to their demise at the uprising's epicenter of Oruzgan.[7] The aftermath of the uprising was a genocide at the hands of Shah Adbur, who wiped out more than half of the entire Hazara population, and caused a myriad of people to be driven out of their villages.[7] Prior to the genocide, Hazaras made up more than half of Afghanistan's total population. Although once the largest ethnicity, they were now a minority, constituting roughly 9% of Afghanistan's total population.[7] Accordingly, in order to stifle Hazara influence Shah Adbur fragmented Hazarajat and demarcated it so that it would encompass numerous other provinces, where the Hazara are now a minority.


In February 1993, a two-day military operation was conducted by the Islamic State of Afghanistan government and the Saudi-backed Sunni Wahhabi Ittihad-i Islami militia led by Abdul Rasul Sayyaf. At that time Ittihad-i Islami was allied with the government of Burhanuddin Rabbani. The military operation was conducted in order to seize control of the Afshar district in west Kabul where the Shia Hezb-e Wahdat militia (which was allied to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Sunni Hezb-i Islami and backed by Pakistan) was based and from where it was shelling civilian areas in northern Kabul. The operation also intended to capture Wahdat leader Abdul Ali Mazari. The Afshar district, situated on the slopes of Mount Afshar west of Kabul, is a densely populated district. The area is predominantly inhabited by Shia Hazara people. The Afshar military operation escalated into what became known as the Afshar massacre when the Saudi backed Wahhabi militia of Ittihad-e-Islami went on a rampage through Afshar, killing, raping, looting and burning houses. Two out of nine Islamic State sub-commanders, Anwar Dangar (later joined the Taliban) and Mullah Izzat, were also reported as leading troops that carried out abuses. The Islamic State government in collaboration with the then enemy militia of Hezb-e Wahdat as well as in cooperation with Afshar civilians established a commission to investigate the crimes that had taken place in Afshar. The commission found that around 70 people died during the street fighting and between 700 and 750 people were abducted and never returned by Abdul Rasul Sayyaf's men. These abducted victims were most likely killed or died in captivity.[8][9] Dozens of women were abducted during the operation as well.[10]


Following the 1997 massacre of 3,000 Taliban prisoners by Abdul Malik Pahlawan in Mazar-i-Sharif[11] thousands of Hazara men and boys were massacred by other Taliban members in the same city in August 1998.[12] Human rights organizations reported that the dead were lying on the streets for weeks before the Taliban allowed their burial due to stench and fear of epidemics.

Robatak Pass[edit]

The pass connecting the settlements of Tashkurgan and Pule Khumri is known as Robatak Pass. A mass murder was carried out there by Taliban in May 2000 in which 31 people were reported dead. Twenty-six of the victims were Ismaili Hazara from Baghalan province. Their remains were found to the northeast of the pass, in a neighborhood known as Hazara Mazari, on the border between Baghlan and Samngan provinces. The victims were detained four months before their execution by Taliban troops between January 5 and January 14, 2000.[13][14]


In January 2001 the Taliban committed a mass execution of Hazara people in Yakawlang District of Bamyan province, Afghanistan. This started on January 8 and lasted for four days; it took the lives of 170 men. Taliban apprehended about 300 people, including employees of local humanitarian organizations. They were grouped to various assemblage points where they were shot dead in public view. Around 73 women, children and elderly were taking shelter in a local mosque when Taliban fired rockets at the mosque.[14][15]

Khas Urozgan[edit]

In June 2010, at least nine Hazara men were killed in an ambush in Khas Urozgan District. The Taliban took responsibility for the attack.[16]


In November 2015, Afghan militants claiming loyalty to the Islamic State beheaded seven ethnic Hazara civilians who had been abducted in the southern Afghan province of Zabul. Their throats were cut with metal wire.[17] The victims were four men, two women, and a 9-year-old girl.[18]

Dehmazang bombings[edit]

On July 23, 2016 two Islamic State suicide bombers blow themselves during the peaceful protest 'Junbish Roshnaye' in Kabul killing 160 and wounded over 200 people.[19] The attackers were reportedly from the local affiliate of the so-called Islamic State, known as the "Khurasan Province" (IS-Khurasan).[20]

Ashura attacks[edit]

18 people were killed and 54 were injured in July 2016 at Kabul's landmark Sakhi Shrine by a gunman wearing an Afghan National Security Forces uniform. The attack took place on the eve of Ashura, the Shia mourning day. Responsibility for the attack was claimed by the Islamic State, or ISIS.[21] The next morning, an improvised electronic device(IED) killed at least 15 Hazara people in the Balkh province of northern Afghanistan. ISIS claimed responsibility for this attack as well. These attacks show the growing threat of the IS to the Hazara people.

Post-Taliban era[edit]

There has been a significant improvement in the status and treatment of Hazaras in Afghanistan. The new Afghan constitution now recognizes them as one of the country's ethnic minorities, and they now have the full right to Afghan citizenship. In Afghanistan's recent parliamentary election, Hazaras won around 25 per cent of the seats.[22] Hazara have also pursued higher education, enrolled in the army, and many have top government positions.[23] For example, Mohammad Mohaqiq, a Hazara from the Hizb-i-Wahdat party, ran in the 2004 presidential election in Afghanistan, and Karim Khalili became the Vice President of Afghanistan. Since ousting the Taliban in late 2001, billions of dollars have been poured into Afghanistan for several large-scale reconstruction projects that took place from August 2012. For example, there have been more than 5000 kilometers of road pavement completed across Afghanistan, of which little was done in central Afghanistan Hazarajat. On the other hand, the Band-e Amir in the Bamyan Province became the first national park of Afghanistan. The road from Kabul to Bamyan was also built, along with new police stations, government institutions, hospitals, and schools in the Bamyan Province, Daykundi Province, and others. The first ski resort of Afghanistan was also established in the Bamyan Province.[24]

There is still a large degree of discrimination against Hazaras, however. A new danger in the form of ISIS has become especially prominent in recent years, and they have carried out abductions, extortions and violent killings against Hazaras.[25] The rising power of warlords, who the Hazara people perceive as a direct threat, has also been a matter of concern. There have been ethnic tensions and violent clashes with nomadic Kuchis over land access issues.[22] Taliban fighters continue to abduct and execute Hazaras travelling in vehicles. Furthermore, anti-Hazara sentiments became stronger when the former director of the National Directorate of Security, Amrullah Saleh, accused Iran of interfering in Afghan affairs through Shias.[26] Hazara activists still believe that the government does not serve their people's security needs sufficiently. Parts of central Afghanistan, like the unofficial Hazara capital Bamiyan, are among the country's poorest and often lack even basic necessities like water and electricity.[25] Hazara people held a protest in March 2016 against the government's decision to move a proposed power line project out of Bamiyan, seeing it as another form of ethnic discrimination.


The history of Hazara people in Pakistan dates back to the 1840s, when Hazara tribesmen from Hazarajat began migration to colonial India because of persecution by Pashtuns and Tajiks. Many Hazaras were enlisted in the British Indian Army during the first Anglo-Afghan War (1838-1840). The mass-migration and permanent settlements started in the 1890s when Emir Abdul Rahman Khan started persecuting the Hazaras of Afghanistan.[27] The majority of Hazara are Shi'a Muslims with a sizable Sunni minority. Pakistan is home to an estimated 20% Shia Muslim population. Sectarian violence in Pakistan started in 1980s.


In 2011 the persecution of Hazaras in Quetta has left at least 1300 dead and more than 1500 wounded. The victims include high-profile community members, laborers, women and children.[28] One third of the victims are children. The major attacks included assassinations of Hussain Ali Yousafi, Olympia Abrar Hussain, bombing of a Hazara mosque, Ashura massacre, Quds Day bombing, Play ground massacre, Mastung massacre, January 2013 Quetta bombings, February 2013 Quetta bombing, Hazara Pilgrims carnage, Akhtarabad massacre & other terrorist attacks on Hazara People in Quetta.[29][30]

The Al-Qaeda affiliated Pakistani Sunni Muslim extremist militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, has claimed responsibility for most of these attacks.[31][32][33][34][35][36][37][38]

In response to these killings, worldwide demonstrations were held to condemn the persecution of Hazaras in Quetta. The Hazara diaspora all over the world, namely in Australia, Western Europe, North America as well as the Hazara in Afghanistan, have protested against these killings and against the silence of international community.[39][40] Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq, the political leader of the Hazara in Afghanistan, has also expressed solidarity with the Hazara community in Quetta.[41][42] The persecutions have been documented by the United Nations, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Asian Human Rights Commission, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.[43][44][45][46][47][48] EU parliamentarian Rita Borsellino has urged the international community to address the plight of Hazara people in Quetta.[49] The members of British Parliament, Alistair Burt, Mark Lancaster, Alan Johnson, and Iain Stewart asked the government to pressure Pakistani authorities concerning the absence of justice for Hazara community in Pakistan[29][50]

As a consequence of the attacks there has been a recent exodus of Hazaras trying to flee the violence. They are headed mainly to Australia & other Western Countries, where thousands of them have taken shelter and successfully relocated after obtaining refugee status. To get there, they complete an illegal and treacherous journey across Southeast Asia through air, land and sea that has already left hundreds of them dead.[51][52]

The most recent attack occurred on October 10, 2017, when two unidentified attackers on a motorcycle opened fire on a van heading for a nearby vegetable market, killing the driver and four others, continuing the trend of attacks against Hazaras in Quetta. This series of bombings, attacks and assassinations have forced them to retreat to two heavily protected enclaves on either side of the city: Marriabad and Hazara Town.[53]


So far Hundreds of Hazara individuals have been killed in Karachi, but none of the killers has never been brought to Justice. Among the dead were social workers & intellectuals.[54] In Karachi terrorists shot dead Agha Abbas, owner of famous fruit juice outlet Agha Juice.[55] Sindh police announced the arrest of Akram Lahori, chief of a banned religious group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (lej) along with his four accomplices, for their alleged involvement in sectarian killings, including the murder of Agha Abbas.


In response, many members and leaders of Lashkar-e Jhangvi (LeJ) have been killed in military operations conducted by the army and the police.[56][57][58][59][60]

In fiction[edit]

The main character in Khaled Hosseini's novel The Kite Runner is Amir, a Pashtun boy who has a Hazara friend, Hassan, in 1970s Afghanistan. They are bullied by an older Pashtun who expresses scorn for the Hazara people and rapes Hassan.

In the book In The Sea There Are Crocodiles, Eniatollah Akbari, a Hazara boy, details his journey to escape persecution in Afghanistan.


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