Afghanistan’s ethnic minorities receive threats, fear persecution under Taliban rule
- Many young Tajik and Hazara Afghans want to leave the country, after the minorities were targeted by the Taliban in the past
- A Tajik lawyer said he received a written threat, and was attacked by criminals released from jails after the Taliban took over
Since the Taliban takeover of the country, she said she has been threatened with dire consequences if she steps out of her home. She believes this is both because of her ethnic origin and for being a woman. As a result, she and her family have applied for asylum in both the US and Canada, hoping the video editing training she received from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) two years ago will be her ticket to escape Taliban rule.
“I received threats from the Taliban because I take photographs of women who are victims of war in Afghanistan,” said the 26-year-old single mother, who is the sole breadwinner for her family of seven, which includes her parents and three sisters.
“Since the Taliban is not allowing me to work, I will never be able to earn my livelihood here. I need to save my family and myself. I need to leave the country.”
Besides asking working women to stay home until proper systems are in place to ensure their safety, the Taliban last week said it would no longer allow Afghans to leave the country.
Yet many young Afghans, especially from the Tajik and Hazara ethnic minority communities, want to leave the country of 39 million, either after receiving threats or fearing persecution from the Taliban.
Tajiks are largely Sunni Muslims and Hazaras are Shia, but both were targeted by the Taliban for their ethnicity and religious beliefs in the past.
Media reports in Afghanistan said Taliban forces were not only stopping young Afghan women from going to universities or to work, but threatening young men too. And despite suave Taliban representatives speaking in English with the international media, English-speaking men in Afghanistan allege they are being targeted too.
Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen was contacted twice for comment but did not answer his phone.
Eighteen-year-old Bashir Ahmad, an English-speaking Tajik in Kunduz, 335km from Kabul, said Taliban members in his hometown have been forcing youths like him to join them. He feels especially vulnerable because of his association with a US agency, the Lincoln Learning Center, where he taught English for six months before the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted teaching.
“I deleted all text messages in English from my phone, and I don’t speak in English any more,” said Ahmad, who is also seeking asylum in the US or Canada.
Earlier in August, his family home burnt down and his father’s leg was seriously injured in collateral damage during fighting between the Afghan army and Taliban. His family of seven fled to Kabul fearing for their lives but they returned to Kunduz and started repairing their home after the Taliban took control of the capital a fortnight ago.
“We cannot step out of our house but I still hope someone will take us out of the country,” said Ahmad, who does not have a passport.
Lawyer Jan Mohammad Nazari, 30, a Tajik living in Baghlan province, fought legal cases on behalf of the erstwhile Afghan government against criminals allegedly supported by the Taliban. Last week, he was attacked by five men who were recently released from jails after the Taliban took over, he said. Nazari is now recovering from a bullet injury after he was shot in his right foot.
In June, he received a written threat from the Taliban, sent by the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’s Military Commission High Council, which said he will “lose” his life if he does not stop working with the former government’s national directorate of security or national army. A copy of the threat was seen by This Week In Asia.
Nazari is seeking asylum in the US and Canada. In his application to the US, he wrote: “I have my wife, a seven-month-old infant and a five-year-old son and all our lives are in danger … Please save our lives.”
But like Ahmad, he does not have a passport – although his wife does, and he is hoping this will help them. He is also battling to find out which countries are offering asylum.
“There is no information on which country will take us, but it’s true that we cannot live here any more,” Nazari said, adding that travelling to Kabul is also difficult.
Besides Tajiks like Nazari, the 4 million-strong ethnic Hazara minority is also fearful after facing persecution under the Taliban in the 1990s.
A 28-year-old Hazara midwife in Kabul, who did not want to give her name, said a relative in Canada is trying to evacuate her but “going to the airport looks more difficult than going out of the country” after Thursday’s suicide attack outside the airport.
“But do we have a choice?” she asked. “What is the guarantee that we will be safe here?”
In April, the Taliban released a video in which Shia cleric Mawlawi Mahdi Mujahid, a rare Hazara Taliban member, urged his fellow Hazaras to fight the “invaders led by America”. But international human rights body Amnesty International said last week that nine Hazara men were killed by Taliban fighters in Ghazni province in July after they took control of the area, indicating their safety is not certain.
SH, the photojournalist, was married to a Hazara and fears for the security of her toddler son, who is Hazara – historically the most discriminated ethnic minority group in Afghanistan, according to Minority Rights Group International.
Her younger sisters – a bank official, a Kabul University medical student and a high school pupil – are all confined to their home due to the threats.
The medical student is an ardent fan of Korean pop star Jeon Jung-kook.
“I cannot live without music but I am forbidden to listen to it. The Taliban will kill me if I listen to music,” she said.
“I feel I am not alive any more.”