Taliban violence reaches new peak after Hazara murders
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Since the death of the Taliban’s leader Mullah Omar, the group has split into several splinter factions, all trying to outdo each other in a mind-numbing orgy of violence. The latest bloody incident took place last Sunday, when a faction that had sworn allegiance to the Islamic State group murdered seven ethnic Hazaras, including two women and a child. This tragedy sparked major protests in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul on Wednesday.
Some of Sunday’s victims had already been held by the militants since August. Two men, two women and a child had been travelling on a bus between Jaghori and Ghazni, in eastern Afghanistan, when they were kidnapped at a checkpoint. Two other men were taken captive a month ago at another checkpoint between the same towns. All seven of the victims were ethnic Hazaras, a minority group regularly targeted by Sunni extremists on the grounds of their religion.
"Members of the Taliban rarely kill women. The situation is getting more and more violent"Mohammad Radmanesh is an ethnic Hazara activist from Jaghori. He says that tensions between two of the Taliban's splinter groups explain these killings.
"After the annoucement of Mullah Omar's death last July [Editor's note: Mullah Omar actually died in April 2013], Akhtar Mansour was appointed as his successor. But splits emerged and another Mullah - Mullah Dadullah - also claimed leadership of the group. His views are more extreme and he's sworn allegiance to the Islamic State group. His faction is responsible for the kidnapping and murder of the seven Hazaras.
It's not the first time Hazaras have been targeted in this region. Travelling on roads in eastern Afghanistan is like journeying through hell. There are many checkpoints controlled by the Taliban, and when they stop buses they often make the Hazaras get off, whilst letting the other passengers continue on their journey. They're killed just because they're Hazaras – Shiite Muslims with different cultural and ethnic backgrounds.
'The Afghan government didn't do anything to get them released'
Those responsible for this horrible crime are members of the Taliban who follow Mullah Dadullah. But one mustn't forget that during their months in captivity, the Afghan government didn't do anything to get them released.
Last month, in unclear circumstances, a Hazara militia responded by taken hostage a group of ethnic Pashtuns in order to negotiate a swap with the Taliban. Given that Pashtuns are on very good terms with the government, officials dispatched emissaries in order to kickstart negotiations between local Pashtun and Hazara tribal leaders. But the Pashtun chiefs insisted that they had nothing to do with Mullah Dadullah's ultra-radical faction [Editor's note: according to a local newspaper, the murderers were ethnic Uzbeks]. As a result, the Hazaras released the Pashtun hostages. Despite that, the next day Dadullah's Taliban followers murdered their seven captives.
"Mullah Akhtar's Taliban followers have allied themselves with the Hazaras"
Mullah Akhtar, for his part, has an agreement with the Hazaras on the basis that they share a common enemy. Thanks to that agreement, his fighters can be treated in hospitals run by Hazaras in central and eastern Afghanistan.
After the seven hostages were executed, Mullah Akhtar's fighters claimed to have killed seven men who were purportedly behind the murder of the Hazara captives. It's as if they were trying to go on a charm offensive for ethnic Hazaras. But according to my local sources, the seven were just followers of Dadullah, and not necessarily the killers.
Even in Afghanistan, violence rarely reaches this level. When the Taliban were in power [1996-2001], women were never forced to get out of cars and buses at checkpoints or taken hostage. It was considered dishonorable to capture a woman, but now..."
With tensions running high and protesters spilling onto the streets, the Afghan government responded by condemning the killing of the Hazaras. Officials have also declared that their funerals can take place in Kabul, though the exact date has yet to be determined.
Ethnic Hazaras have been persecuted in Afghanistan and Pakistan for decades. During the bloodshed that marked Afghanistan's civil war, about 10,000 Hazaras were massacred in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif by members of the Taliban. They suffered severely under the Taliban's five-year rule, and have continued to face persecution since 2001. As a result of their plight, Afghanistan's Hazaras now constitute one of the biggest groups of refugees seeking asylum in both Europe and Australia. Thirty Afghan lawmakers recently asked Australia to stop forcibly deporting Hazara asylum seekers, arguing that it wasn't safe to send them back.
A funeral cortege carries the bodies of the seven murdered Hazaras to Kabul.