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The Option of Self-Defense for Hazaras

Three weeks ago a wrestling center was targeted by double suicide bombers killing 26 wrestlers and injuring 91. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. It was the latest of the 97 attacks on the Hazara ethnic group in Afghanistan since 2001.

In the aftermath of the attack, the American scholar on Afghanistan Barnett Rubin tweeted:

“Massacre of Afghans is ongoing since 1978. The intentional targeting for murder by mass terrorism of one ethno-sectarian group outside of any military context is a new and horrifying addition to the horrors.”

Melissa Chiovenda, an American anthropologist who has studied the Hazara ethnic group, did not see the attack as a “new addition” to the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan. She tweeted:

“New if you look at a fairly recent time span. And geographical area, if you think of what has been happening in Quetta. So really, not new at all unless you have a very narrow lens of Hazara history and people!”

However, the Hazaras themselves would trace the history of their massacre to the 1890s, at the time when then Afghan King Abdur Rahaman, whom the British nicknamed the “Iron Amir”, killed and displaced 60% of their population.

The Hazaras have struggled to articulate their plight to the Afghan government and the international forces stationed in Afghanistan. The reaction to the mass killings of the Afghan Hazaras has been one of apathy, by both the Afghan government and its international backers. Not only government and foreign officials, but most non-Hazaras have been unwilling to recognize the targeted killings directed at ethno-religious group. Chiovenda pointed out this discrepancy after an attack on a Hazara school in mid-August. She wrote the following on her Facebook page:

“You know, many times non-Hazara Afghan friends have discussed with me their belief that Hazaras play the victim card too much. That they hurt themselves by overly stressing this aspect of their identity. But on a day like today…. really? Is it too much? Especially this being one of many such incidents? I get that everyone in Afghanistan suffers. But don’t tell me that education center wasn’t targeted exactly because it was in Barchi and full of Hazara youth. Don’t tell me.”

Tragically, the Hazara voices have been marginalized in the international media. They are either overshadowed by the larger narrative of the Shiite-Sunni struggle for supremacy in the Islamic world or lost beneath the generic term “Afghans killed”, undermining the racial and ethnic nature of these targeted killings. However, the sheer gruesomeness of the mass killings of Hazaras has led many to urge the government to adopt specific security measures to protect this minority group. Rubin proposes that the killings of Hazaras must be elevated on par with the reconciliation efforts with the Taliban to end the war. He tweeted:

“I propose that stopping the ongoing massacres of Afghan Shi’a/Hazaras be placed on the same level of urgency on the political agenda as elections and a political settlement with Taliban.”

There are signs that the Afghan government, under pressure due to public outrage seems to recognize the need to take additional security measures to protect Hazara peoples. The newly appointed Afghan National Security advisor, Hamdullah Mohib tweeted on September 6th:

“Our people have suffered tremendously and the specific targeting of #Hazaras will not be tolerated. While I extend my sympathies and condolences to the victims and families, I know what they want is action to end this cycle of vicious attacks.”

President Ghani has promised to take security measures equal to those in the green zoneof Kabul. But Hazaras are hardly falling for his promise, since his government so far has failed to deliver on his early promises. Thus, many have called for self-defense and taking up arms.

The self-defense proposal is the upshot an inaction on the side of a government led by a prejudiced president and his incompetent security team. Many Hazaras think that measures such as to safeguard the wellbeing and security of Hazaras should have been taken by now. The situation is beyond a crisis. All kinds of vicious and brutal attacks have been used against Harazas. Their places of worship have been attackedand turned to rubble. Their peaceful demonstrationsand protestors have been attacked to silence them and deprive them of their basic democratic rights and freedom of assembly. Hazara children – who represent the future of the country – have been mercilessly assaultedwith the aim of killing the hope of a young generation. Hazara passengers/travelersare constantly being threatened, kidnapped, ransomed and, murdered making freedom of movement a luxury.

If these brazen, grotesque, racially-motivated and sectarian attacks do not trigger government to action, then what can? If there are any Hazaras who are still under the false impression that the government might come to his or her rescue, they are living in a fool’s paradise. Issuing condemnations and condolences for lost lives has been the preferred policy of this paralyzed government in the face of atrocities against the Hazaras. Politically, Hazaras warrant additional protection because ISIS pursues an official agenda to go after Harazas – who follow Shiite branch of Islam. That is what ISIS has done throughout Middle East – killing non-Muslims and Shiites. Any responsible and responsive government would have dealt with the issue by now, but incompetence coupled with racism in Afghanistan has thus far prevented serious action.

By being indifferent to the ongoing attacks, the government of Ghani wants to send a clear message that the Hazaras are on their own. If this message had been understood by the Hazara leadership and elite early-on, we could have prevented further attacks. One should not expect too much from a government that has a hidden agenda of prejudice and purging Hazaras from government institutions and the security apparatus. This is a failed government that gives undue credit to its security officials, which allow terrorists to carry out their bloody attacks with free reign. Instead of taking concrete measures by appointing capable advisors and experts to improve security, Ghani resorts to needless populism and manufactured patriotism which gives more time and space to ISIS terrorists to plan another attack. Ghani should address the challenges of nepotism and corruption in the security sector.

After each attack, it is the duty of the government to plug security loopholes and to prevent future attacks. Each attack demonstrates that the current security strategy is not working, and thus needs re-evaluation and necessary changes in order to deal with the shortcomings. Instead, the status-quo is maintained to help ISIS terrorists take advantage of opportunities to create further mayhem. This failed government has never heard of moral responsibility. The concept seems to be new to it, considering that it rewards incompetence. Afghanistan’s top security officials should resign. But that is not in the script. There is no government responsibility at all. In the face of this incompetence, prejudice and negligence, Hazaras have no choice but to resort to self-defense.

Rustam Ali Seerat is an Afghan Research Scholar at South Asian University, India. He can be reached at rustamali_seerat@yahoo.com

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