Reportage. Reporting from Afghanistan, minority Hazaras are protesting injustices but on the run for doing so. ‘They said I was doing things against Islam’ — for sending their daughters to school.

Taliban resume persecution of Hazaras, who plead for international pressure

“They took everything from us: the house, the land, the cattle, the crops. Why? Because we are Hazara.” We meet Mohammad (“no last name, they’re looking for me”) along with two other people in a popular restaurant in Dasht-e-Barchi, the southwestern district of Kabul, where the Hazaras live, the Shiite minority with dramatic memories of the first Emirate.

In a secluded room on the second floor, we find Ali and Rahmatullah. They represent three of the five families who managed to make it to Kabul. “Seven others are in Kandahar. But 450 displaced families remain there, in tents, with winter coming.”

They are the families from four villages in Lora Shew, a valley in Gizab district, an area on the border between the Uruzgan and Daykundi provinces. They are Hazara families who have been driven out of their homes. Mohammad, 35 years old, has been appointed by the elders of his village as spokesman. He is educated. He worked for a civil society organization. He is tasked with talking to the media and demanding justice.

“We’ve been living there for 40 to 50 years. But in the first Emirate, in 1996, they also kicked us out. We came back in 2001. Now they are kicking us out again.” It was September 23 when he had to leave home. “They came in pickup trucks, there were about 150 of them, many Taliban and many local Pashtuns, with weapons, including heavy armament.”

It was the final act of a longer process: a summons to the district government headquarters, then arrests. “They put four of our representatives in jail for 20 days. They only released them when we left our homes.” “They prevented us from taking photos or video footage.” What remains are photos of some of the departing families. Mohammad shows us some of them: overloaded jeeps, carpets, tools, bags of food. Each family has lost its house and land. Whether large or small, land is an indispensable resource.

Mohammad is denouncing this situation, but he says he is afraid. “They have beaten me before,” he says, showing a picture of himself on his phone, his face bloodied. “They said I was doing things against Islam, like a foreigner; sending my daughters to school, working in an NGO, social activism. They don’t like us. They are from one side of the river, an area that has been unstable in these 20 years, while we are on the other side, in Ghizab, where there were the activities of the PRT”—the Provincial Reconstruction Teams with which foreign troops wanted to conquer the “hearts and minds” of Afghans, mixing the humanitarian and military domains.

“In the past, the Taliban asked us to help them move weapons, but we refused,” says Mohammad, who arrived on September 26 in Kabul and now changes home every week. “They know I’m telling the truth. We talked to the media and Unama,” the UN mission in Kabul.

Ali also arrived in the capital at the end of September, but via a different route. He comes from Tagabdar, wearing an electric blue jacket over traditional dress. Twenty-three years old, he is a farmer but has studied some pharmacy.

“After the Taliban took power, the governor sent us a letter saying, ‘Leave within nine days or we will rape your wives and daughters’.” The elders who went to protest were told, “We are everything here: government, court.” Three days in jail. Then the Taliban showed up in the village: ‘You have three hours to leave everything.’”

He wonders how this is possible, and what the international community is doing. He asks that foreigners pressure the Taliban government to convince them to return the homes and property of displaced Hazara families. “They are living in tents. They have no money to go elsewhere. Humanitarian aid isn’t coming. And if it does arrive, the Pashtuns will take it, rest assured.”

On a mission to demand justice, they went to Kabul to meet with Mullah Nooruddin Torabi, an old-guard Taliban, former head of the Ministry of Prevention of Vice, now head of a Grievance Commission: “We asked for a trial according to Sharia law, but he called us liars.” Reassuring statements from the leadership in the capital are one thing; the practices of the ruling Taliban in the provinces are another.

“They’re going at it hard.” At stake, he says, is particularly fertile land, “where one can cultivate and produce well,” but also a community conflict: “The Pashtun want to colonize our lands.” Ali also recalls the killing of 13 people, including a little girl, in Khidir district on August 30.

Rahmatullah tells us that in other areas, residents received official letters from the Taliban provincial government: “If you don’t leave, the responsibility is yours.” But the news got out and there was enough pressure to prevent eviction. “We will come back in the spring,” they told him. For Mohammad, returning home now is impossible: “They told us that if we try, they will kill us.”

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