Persecution of Hazara people

The persecution of Hazara people refers to discrimination against 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 the Hazara people dates back to the 16th century, to the reign Babur who was 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. Conditions have improved for the Hazaras in Afghanistan in the post-Taliban era. However, Hazaras who live in the Southern provinces of Afghanistan continue to face unofficial discrimination at the hands of Pashtuns.[4] Moreover, Hazaras in Afghanistan are still subjected to attacks by the Taliban and the latest attack was committed on Hazara's home land in Malistan.[5] Hazaras in Balochistan continue to face attacks from militant groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. In recent years, the security situation has also improved for Hazaras in Balochistan. However, the improved protection that has resulted from the placement of walls and checkpoints around their city has also made their lives difficult.[6]


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.[7] 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 homeland of Hazarajat due to poverty and in search of employment mostly in the 20th century.[8] 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.[8]

The Hazaras of Afghanistan faced severe political, social and economic tyranny and denial of basic civil rights.[7] 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

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.

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.

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. 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.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. 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. 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.

Improvements and recognition

Despite the "democratic" 1964 constitution that contained universal suffrage, political and social rights for minorities were still not guaranteed. That decade the first Hazara minister was appointed by the King. Under the first communist Khalq government, Hazaras were persecuted again, a particular episode being the Chindawol uprising in 1979 when hundreds of Hazaras went missing. Their persecution was not kept secret - for instance Abdullah Amin, brother of Hafizullah Amin, expressed anti-Hazara comments during a public speech that year. Following the Soviet Union's intervention and creation of the Parcham government under Babrak Karmal, Hazara rights had improved and the party's constitution declared all races and ethnicities in Afghanistan as being equal. During the 1980s, Hazaras became more prominent in the army and the ruling communist party, and one Hazara politician, Sultan Ali Keshtmand, would serve as Prime Minister for most of the decade. The Hazaras were split over the Soviet-Afghan War - most of the urban population supported and fought for the communist regime in Kabul, where they were now officially equal, but most of the rural Hazara population rejected the reforms and resisted.[9]

Post-communist era

The Hazara Hezb-e Wahdat militia and party joined the new mujahideen government of the Islamic State of Afghanistan, and some members held government posts. However they would soon be discriminated against and would be excluded from the administration. At the same time, violent ethnic conflict broke out between Hezb-e Wahdat and the Saudi-backed Sunni Wahhabi Ittihad-i Islami militia led by Abdul Rasul Sayyaf.[9]


In February 1993, a two-day military operation was conducted by the Islamic State of Afghanistan government and its allied Ittihad-i Islami militia. 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 Hazaras. 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.[10][11] Dozens of women were abducted during the operation as well.[12]


Following the 1997 massacre of 3,000 Taliban prisoners by Abdul Malik Pahlawan in Mazar-i-Sharif[13] (which the Hazaras did not commit[14] ) thousands of Hazara men and boys were massacred by other Taliban members in the same city in August 1998.[15] The slaughter has been credited to a number of factors—ethnic difference, suspicion of Hazara loyalty to Shia Iran, anger at the loss of life suffered in an earlier unsuccessful Taliban takeover of Mazarwas—including takfir by the Taliban of the Shia Hazaras.[16] After the attack, Mullah Niazi, the commander of the attack and the new governor of Mazar, declared from several mosques in the city in separate speeches:

Last year you rebelled against us and killed us. From all your homes you shot at us. Now we are here to deal with you. (...)
Hazaras are not Muslim, they are Shia. They are kofr [infidels]. The Hazaras killed our force here, and now we have to kill Hazaras. (...)
If you do not show your loyalty, we will burn your houses, and we will kill you. You either accept to be Muslims or leave Afghanistan. (...)
[W]herever you [Hazaras] go we will catch you. If you go up, we will pull you down by your feet; if you hide below, we will pull you up by your hair. (...)
If anyone is hiding Hazaras in his house he too will be taken away. What [Hizb-i] Wahdat and the Hazaras did to the Talibs, we did many as they killed, we killed more.[17]

At 10 am on 8 August 1998, the Taliban entered the city and for the next two days drove their pickup trucks "up and down the narrow streets of Mazar-i-Sharif shooting to the left and right and killing everything that moved—shop owners, cart pullers, women and children shoppers and even goats and donkeys."[18] More than 8,000 noncombatants were reported killed in Mazar-i-Sharif and later in Bamiyan.[19] In addition, the Taliban were criticized for forbidding anyone from burying the corpses for the first six days (contrary to the injunctions of Islam, which demands immediate burial) while the remains rotted in the summer heat and were eaten by dogs.[20] In these killings 2,000[21][14] to 5,000,[14] or perhaps up to 20,000[22] Hazara were systematically executed across the city.[14][22] The Taliban went door to door of Hazara households searching for combat age males,[14] shooting them and slitting their throats right in front of their families.[14] Hazaras were shoved into trailers were they suffocated to death or died of heat strokes,[21][14] and were later dumped into piles in the middle of the desert.[14] The Taliban randomly shot anti-aircraft weapons at civilians into the middle of the city;[14] causing drivers to swerve out of control and run people over.[14] 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. There were also reports of Hazara women being abducted as sex slaves.[21]

Members of Pakistan's ISI claimed the killings were only done after trials,[14] however the Taliban had Pakistani fighters alongside them during their siege of the city.[14]

Robatak Pass

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 Baghlan 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.[23][24]


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.[24][25]


Hazaras claimed that the Taliban executed 15,000[26] of their people in Bamiyan; the United Nation investigated three mass graves allegedly containing the victims in 2002.[26]

Post-Taliban era

There has been a significant improvement in the status and treatment of Hazaras in Afghanistan since the Karzai administration came to power.[27] The new 2004 Afghan constitution now recognizes them as one of the country's ethnic minorities, and they now have the full right to Afghan citizenship. Hazaras were well represented in Karzai's government,[28] and in 2010 Afghan parliamentary election, Hazaras won around 25 per cent of the seats.[29] As of 2007, Hazaras have also pursued higher education, enrolled in the army, and many have top government positions.[30] For example, Muhammad 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.[31]

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.[32] 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.[29] 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.[33] 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.[32] 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.

Khas Urozgan

In June 2010, at least nine Hazara men were killed in an ambush in Khas Urozgan District. The Taliban took responsibility for the attack.[34]


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.[35] The victims were four men, two women, and a 9-year-old girl.[36]

Dehmazang bombings

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.[37] The attackers were reportedly from the local affiliate of the so-called Islamic State, known as the "Khurasan Province" (IS-Khurasan).[38]

Ashura attacks

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.[39] 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.


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.[40] 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.[41] 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.[42][43]

The Al-Qaeda affiliated Pakistani Sunni Muslim extremist militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, has claimed responsibility for most of these attacks.[44][45][46][47][48][49][50][51]

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.[52][53] Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq, the political leader of the Hazara in Afghanistan, has also expressed solidarity with the Hazara community in Quetta.[54][55] 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.[56][57][58][59][60][61] EU parliamentarian Rita Borsellino has urged the international community to address the plight of Hazara people in Quetta.[62] 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[42][63]

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.[64][65]

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.[66]


In response, many members and leaders of Lashkar-e Jhangvi (LeJ) have been killed in military operations conducted by the army and the police.[67][68][69][70][71]

See also


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