'No more hope': Afghan Hazaras live in fear under Taliban rule

By Michel MOUTOT
Many Hazaras live in fear of discrimination and persecution under the Taliban. ©AFP

Bamiyan (Afghanistan) (AFP) - A black and white Taliban flag flies over the blown-up statue of a revered Hazara chief at the entrance to Bamiyan in central Afghanistan.

Since the radical Islamists swept to power seven weeks ago they have repeatedly promised a more moderate, inclusive brand of rule than during their last stint, when minorities were brutally persecuted.

But members of the Hazara community here don't believe them.

"Everyone is terrified," says Najwa, a 26-year-old local journalist now out of work.

"It is impossible to believe them.For the Hazaras, and especially for us women, there is no more hope."

She and other Hazaras fled into the mountains when they first heard the Taliban were coming, but a week later they returned.

As a member of the Bamiyan Film Academy, Najwa could have been evacuated to France like many of her peers but, hidden in the wilderness, she missed a vital call.

"And now it is too late," she says.

'Abductions, murders'

Afghanistan's new rulers have declared a general amnesty and promised reform.

But fears abound that they will repeat the brutal repression of minorities and women seen during their former reign from 1996 to 2001.

"We know that there have been abductions, murders," Najwa says.

The Hazara, who make up as much as a fifth of Afghanistan's around 38 million people, have been persecuted in the country for centuries.

They have suffered massacres during the rule of several Afghan governments in recent decades, but especially under the Taliban -- Sunni hardliners who see the mainly Shiite ethnic minority as heretics.

The Islamists have carried out several mass killings of Hazaras, including in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif in 1998, where Human Rights Watch says at least 2,000 mainly Hazara civilians were executed.

While nothing on that scale has been reported since the Taliban takeover on August 15, an Amnesty International investigation published this week found Taliban forces had killed 13 Hazaras, including nine surrendering former government soldiers, in Daykundi province on August 30, in what "appear to be war crimes". 

'Not enemies'

But Musa Nasrat, Bamiyan's acting governor and new chief of police, insists Hazaras have nothing to fear.

"It is true that in the beginning, people were afraid," he tells AFP, claiming that all those who initially fled had returned.

"We told them: 'Return to your normal life.We are here to protect you'," he says, insisting that "we are not enemies of the Shiites."

The Taliban's enemy, he says, was "the corrupt government" of ousted president Ashraf Ghani.

But now, "we have won.Peace will rein."

In a bid to reassure the Hazaras, the new rulers have made a Shiite, Mahdi Mujahid, the intelligence chief in Bamiyan province.

"My community has nothing to fear," he said, in his first statement on the job.

But more than words will be needed to calm the community's fears.

"We cannot trust them," says Abdul Danesh Yar, a 33-year-old private school principal.

"Our country's history is full of massacres and deportations of Hazaras."

Yar, like so many others here, says he feels betrayed by the United States and its allies over their hasty withdrawal in August after 20 years of fighting.

"We believed in their values, and they abandoned us," he says, adding that he would leave if he could, "for the future of my children."

The Taliban, he argues, "will never change."   

'No one believes them'

The Taliban's return to power has been a particular shock in Bamiyan, home to the famous giant, ancient Buddha statues that the Islamist group dynamited when it was last in power two decades ago.

The provincial capital was among the cities that received the most international assistance in the two decades that followed the Taliban's ouster.

Women here outnumbered men at the university, and they did sports like cycling and volleyball. 

Bamiyan also boasted the first woman governor in the country, Habiba Sarabi, who ruled here from 2005 to 2013.Today she lives in exile in Turkey.

"For now, they have not done bad things," says Abdulhaq Shafad, a 41-year-old local poet and member of a newly-created committee aimed at "solving problems" with the Taliban.

But he warns that the situation could quickly deteriorate if countries begin recognising the Taliban leadership.

"The future is unpredictable," he warns.

At the entrance to the city, Rajabali Sahebzadah's potato fields are a stone's throw from the ruins of the statue commemorating Abdul Ali Mazari, a Hazara leader and prominent anti-Taliban fighter anointed as a martyr long after he died in Taliban captivity in 1995.

It was blown up three days after the former insurgents seized control of Afghanistan, leaving a scattering of white rubble.

The Taliban have denied destroying the statue, the 25-year-old farmer says."No one believes them."

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