As news of Kabul’s fall to the Taliban spread through Afghanistan, few received the news with as much fear as the Hazara Shiites. The religious minority in this Sunni-majority country were among the most persecuted groups when the Taliban last ruled Afghanistan, and memories of the killings, torture and mass executions have not faded.
There are signs that the Hazaras have once again become the Taliban’s target. A recent Amnesty report found that Taliban militants were responsible for the killing of nine Hazaras in July, in the village of Mundarakht. Six of the men were shot and three were tortured to death, including one man who was strangled with his own scarf and had his arm muscles severed.
Attacks like these have sparked a mass exodus of Hazara across the border with Pakistan, and activists say some 10,000 have reached the Pakistani city of Quetta in Baluchistan, where they live in mosques and wedding halls and rent rooms. Several hazaras told The Guardian that they had paid the smugglers £ 50 to £ 350 to cross the border.
Among those who took refuge in Quetta was Sher Ali, 24, a merchant, who had escaped with his wife and baby. Ali arrived in Chaman on the Pakistani side of the border on Thursday. The journey, through Taliban-controlled territory, had taken three days. They had driven on roads decimated by bomb blasts, passing burned cars and destroyed bridges.
Ali had decided to leave after seeing his friend Mohammad Hussain, 23, shot to death by the Taliban 10 days ago in Kabul. Hussain had been passing through a Taliban security check on a motorcycle. He refused to stop and was shot with an assault rifle.
“When I went to the scene, Hussain’s body was lying on the road in a pool of blood. They emptied his AK-47, ”Ali said. “It was the moment when I decided to leave. It’s like a life and death situation for Hazara Shia; whether to go and live, or stay and die. “
In recent days, there have been chaotic scenes at the Chaman border crossing, as tens of thousands of Afghans have tried to cross. Only those with Pakistani residency documents or people traveling to Pakistan for medical treatment can officially enter, but some of the Hazaras said smugglers would bribe authorities at the border to allow Afghans to cross illegally.
Ali said that the remaining members of his family would be leaving for Pakistan in a few days. “We cannot live in the Afghanistan of the Taliban,” he said.
Mohammed Sharif Tahmasi, 21, a computer science student from Ghazni province, arrived in Chaman along with his two sisters and brother on Thursday. After crossing the border, they waited in a muddy corner near the border fence for more Hazara families to show up so they could travel together to Quetta.
Tahmasi’s family has never been to Pakistan, but their parents gave the children some money and instructed them to cross the border urgently as soon as they could.
“All Hazara parents ask their children to leave Afghanistan and be safe,” Tahmasi said. “I don’t know how my parents and the other siblings are doing, but I hope my siblings are well and will cross over soon.”
Sharif’s sister Nahid Tahmasi, 15, a primary school student, said she did not want to abandon her parents but, before leaving Ghazni, Taliban restrictions on women had already started to apply.
“I feel terrible,” he said. “I can’t go to school and I miss my city and my friends. I miss my parents. I miss my school. When the Taliban took control of Ghazni province, they banned girls from parks and public schools. They did not want the girls to study. We couldn’t wander outside, visit our neighbors, and dress however we want. “
Gulalai Haideri, a Hazara who worked as a teacher at the NGO Women for Afghan Women, in Faryab province, arrived in Quetta five days ago. She is pregnant and sold her jewelry to pay for the trip and to smuggle across the border.
“We were turned away twice to enter, but then I begged the guards to allow me to enter because I am pregnant and cannot live in Afghanistan. I am a woman, they will kill me, ”he said. “They had mercy and let my family in.”
Haideri said that after his province fell to insurgents, the Taliban had been going door to door to find single girls, orphaned girls, divorced women and widows to marry their fighters.
His parents told Mohammad Fahim Arvin, 21, a student at Kabul Polytechnic University, to go away and save his life. But she spoke of her sadness at having to leave her parents behind.
“The Taliban hate us and they want us to join them and fight for them, but we can’t,” Arvin said. “It is not my fault that I was born as Hazara; it was God’s decision. It was not in my hands. Why do they do it [Taliban] Do you want to kill us for being Hazara?
However, even in Pakistan, the Hazaras are not in safe territory. Here, too, they have been persecuted for three decades by Sunni militant groups. Earlier this year, 10 Hazara miners working in Balochistan were executed by members of the Islamic State. According to a 2019 report by Pakistan’s National Human Rights Commission, at least 509 Hazara have been killed for their faith since 2013.
Many of the Hazara community from Afghanistan who come to Pakistan with little money and no connections have had to rely on the kindness of the local community.
Syed Nadir was among those hosting five Hazara families, including the Haideri family in Quetta, who had arrived in recent days.
“I don’t know any of them, but all of the Hazara are going through one of the worst times,” he said. “They are leaving their homes and we should take them in. All countries should do their part for the Hazaras and the Afghans. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism