Only now have Western nations woken up to the continued threat to Afghan minorities and women.
The Daesh-K (ISIS-K) attack at the Kabul airport on August 26 that killed 13 members of the US military, an act that critics of Biden deemed his “Benghazi” blunder, represented how America’s failure to address human security ended up harming its national security.
Human security refers to an approach to foreign policy that prioritises the protection of vulnerable groups, particularly during conflict, such as women, children, or refugees, versus the traditional notions of national security, which focus on protecting abstract notions of the nation, or sovereign territory and borders through military means.
From a human security perspective, the Hazaras of Afghanistan, an ethnic minority of Mongol-Turkic origin, have been particularly vulnerable throughout the nation’s history, and will continue to be so after the US and NATO withdrawal.
While Daesh-K has recently attracted the attention of Western policy makers, security analysts and media, for the Hazara minority, and particularly Hazara women, the terrorist group had been a persistent threat since January 2015, when it was established.
However, before the US withdrew, it hardly pressured the Afghan state to protect the Hazaras, as national security, which focussed on preventing Al Qaeda from re-emerging in Afghanistan, always drove American policy. In late August, America’s own forces suffered from its failure to prioritise Afghan human security versus its own national security.
A brief history of the Hazaras
The Hazaras and the discrimination they face was brought to light in Khaled Hosseini’s 2003 novel, The Kite Runner.
While the Hazara minority is reportedly descended from the armies of Genghis Khan in popular media, there is evidence that this Mongol-Turkic community settled in what today is Afghanistan before the 13th century. They would later adopt Shia Islam after the 16th century, following the conversion of Iran’s population to Shia Islam during the rule of the Turkic Safavid dynasty.
The Hazaras are concentrated in the Bamiyan province, and in cities such as Kabul and Mazar-e Sharif. There they have faced a long history of racism due to their Asiatic features, which make them easy to identify and kill.
In the 1890s, the Afghan ruler Abdurrahman Khan persecuted the Hazaras, resulting in refugees fleeing to Quetta, in today’s Pakistan. In the 1990s, exactly a century later, the Hazara would endure mass killings from the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The Afghan Taliban assassinated Abdul Ali-Mazari, the leader of the Hazara political party in 1995. Then it massacred close to 2,000 Hazaras in Mazar-e Sharif in 1998, followed by the destruction of the Buddha statues in 2001 — not purely for iconoclastic motivations, but, according to the Hazara, to deprive these Muslims their status as the protectors of this heritage.
The rise of Daesh-K
The emergence of Daesh-K in 2015 represents the confluence of both Afghanistan’s and Pakistan’s history of anti-Shia violence, particularly targeting the Hazara that live in both states.
Since its formation in 2015, Daesh-K has conducted hundreds of attacks against Afghan security forces, as well as Sufi and Sikh religious structures, but primarily target Shia civilians.
Lacking a human security policy, the US and the Afghan governments failed to prioritise protecting Hazara mosques, schools and even a maternity ward from Daesh-K attacks. Some of its most brazen attacks include a May 2020 massacre at a maternity hospital in a majority Shia Muslim district of Kabul, killing more than 20 people, including newborn infants and mothers.
A year later in May 2021 it launched an attack at a school in the same district, killing close to 80, mostly schoolgirls. The women and girls who are targeted represent the tragic intersectionality of gender and their minority Hazara status.
The US rarely pressured the Afghan state to protect the Hazaras, as it was primarily focussed on preventing the Taliban from attacking American interests. The Afghan government never prioritised their safety because it, too, consisted of politicians who would have discriminated against this community.
Taliban and the Hazaras
The Taliban has made efforts to reassure Hazaras that they would not face the same discrimination they had in the past. Regardless of these assurances, the Hazara, unfortunately, will continue to suffer from Daesh-K attacks, as the terrorist group aims to undermine Taliban rule.
The Taliban’s regime will only survive on international aid, and such aid should not only focus on protection of women, but protection of ethnic and sectarian minorities, such as the Hazara.
Taliban interlocutors such as Pakistan and Qatar should also pressure the Taliban to protect this community. Pakistan has its own sectarian tensions and Hazara community. Anti-Shia violence in Afghanistan often tends to spill over to Pakistan.
Ultimately, while the US/NATO withdrawal represents a setback for human security, it is now up to other nations, particularly Muslim nations, to adopt this agenda.
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