Hazaras and Shias: Violence, Discrimination, and Exclusion Under the Taliban Commentary
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Hazaras and Shias: Violence, Discrimination, and Exclusion Under the Taliban

The resurgence of the Taliban poses renewed threats to the Hazaras, characterized by escalated violence, discrimination, and isolation. The Taliban’s early governance involved the abolition of the Shia Personal Status Law, the removal of Ja’fari jurisprudence from the education system, and the dismissal of Shia judges. Notably, the Taliban’s cabinet and supreme court lack Hazara or Shia representation. Moreover, recent statements from Taliban officials further undermine the Shia population’s recognition as Afghan citizens, despite their significant demographic presence.

 The Taliban’s current policies, imbued with violence and discrimination, threaten not only the Hazaras and Shias but also the broader stability of Afghanistan. These actions risk precipitating a severe ethnic and religious conflict, potentially obliterating the nation’s structural, legal, and infrastructural achievements, and plunging Afghanistan into a state of profound disorder, bereft of any semblance of legal governance. 

After the resurgence of the Taliban, the Hazaras and Shia of Afghanistan have faced violence, systematic discrimination and exclusion. The targeting of Hazaras has intensified, and many attacks go unprosecuted. For instance, on September 30, 2022, a suicide bombing at the Kaaj Educational Center in the Dasht Barchi district of West Kabul resulted in the death of 35 young Hazara students, with more than 82 others injured. To date, no entity has claimed responsibility for this atrocity. Additionally, two other devastating bomb explosions at Abdul Rahim Shahid High School and Mumtaz Educational Center in the Dasht Barchi District of Kabul claimed the lives of at least six individuals and injured nearly 20 others, the majority of whom were Shi’a Hazaras.

The community has lost all legal protection under the Taliban regime and is actively targeted by the authorities and institutions charged with protecting them. On December 17, 2023, Neda Mohammad Nadim, acting as the Minister of Higher Education for the Taliban in Kunar province, publicly denied the presence of any sectarian diversity within Afghanistan. He asserted that the only sect acknowledged by the nation is that of Imam Abu Hanifa, to which, he claimed, all Afghans subscribe.

Taliban leaders, in their official capacity, have broadened the scope of their doctrinal policies, imposing bans that extend beyond educational syllabi to encompass the restriction of literature associated with other religious minorities. The report issued by the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) elucidates that the governing body of the Taliban has officially asserted adherence exclusively to the Sunni Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence for their legal and administrative framework.

The imposition of bans on Shias’ religious jurisprudence not only undermines these long-standing traditions but also effectively strips these communities of their fundamental rights and cultural identity. Such actions have far-reaching implications, eroding the very essence of their existence and heritage within Afghanistan.

Moreover, in the composition of its interim government, the Taliban administration has conspicuously omitted representation of the Hazara community, a decision that parallels the exclusion of women from governance roles. The 33-member cabinet, which the Taliban have described as ‘inclusive’, comprises predominantly Pashtun members, including three individuals of Tajik and Uzbek heritage. However, it is noteworthy that the cabinet lacks the presence of any Hazara representatives, eschewing even the nominal inclusion of a Sunni Hazara.

The stark absence of Shia or Hazara leadership within Afghanistan’s governance is conspicuous; none preside over any of the 18 ministries, numerous independent directorates, 34 provincial administrations, security commands, or army corps. The judiciary is similarly bereft of Hazara or Shia representation. Amongst the 346 districts, a paltry number are under Hazara administration, and none of the directorates at the capital or provincial level are headed by individuals from these communities. Such pervasive discrimination erodes national unity and social fabric, portending grave consequences for the country’s future.

After taking over Kabul, the Taliban immediately initiated actions to suppress religious plurality. Their first notable move in this direction was to annul the Personal Status Law for Afghan Shias, a statute that had been established and sanctioned under the constitution of the previous administration.

Personal status laws are critical in the governance of societal order, particularly in relation to family-related legal issue such as marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance. The Taliban’s revocation of the Shia Personal Status Law is an act that reflects an indifference to the tenets of religious liberty, culminating in the disenfranchisement of the Shia community within Afghanistan. This condition is aggravated by the requirement that all individuals must now conform to Sunni legal principles for their civil and personal legal cases, thereby enforcing a uniform legal structure upon a religiously heterogeneous populace.

Under current circumstances, the Hazara and Shia populations experience a reality which is starkly different from their lives before the Taliban resumed power. After the promulgation of the 2004 constitution which enshrined equality of all citizens and recognized the Ja’fari jurisprudence, Hazaras assumed a spectrum of roles within the framework of the republic. During the republic’s two-decade tenure, individuals of Shia faith and Hazara descent ascended to prominent positions within the national hierarchy for the inaugural instance.

Notably, the office of the Second Vice-President was consistently occupied by a Shia individual of Hazara lineage throughout the tenure of the republic. The legislative assembly, comprising over fifty representatives in the House and an additional fifteen in the Senate, included members of the Shia and Hazara communities. Judicial representation was similarly inclusive, with appointments of Shia jurists to the Supreme Court bench and the cultivation of a robust cadre of Shia judges who advanced through the judiciary. Although appointments to the leadership of key sectoral ministries, including those of Defense, Interior, National Security, Finance, and Foreign Affairs were limited, the substantial contributions of these communities within the legislative, judicial, and executive domains were undeniably significant.

For the past two and a half years, the Taliban have fundamentally altered that socio-political equilibrium. The regime’s ill-treatment of Hazaras and Shias in addition to the communities’ increased level of vulnerability to other threats due to the loss of their power and representation have put them in an unprecedentedly precarious situation.

In September 2022, the Hazara Inquiry, spearheaded by British parliamentarians and experts, disclosed its findings on the dire circumstances of the Hazara in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. The report highlighted that in the first half of 2022 alone, the Hazara community suffered numerous fatalities and injuries due to targeted killings, including suicide bombings at mosques, schools, and educational institutions. Lord Alton of Liverpool, a member of the Hazara Inquiry and patron of the Coalition for Genocide Response, warned of a serious and escalating risk of genocide against the Hazara. Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, also a member of the Hazara Inquiry, underscored the urgency of addressing the escalating violence against the Hazara community and the imperative to prevent their potential annihilation by the Taliban and IS-K.

According to the U.S. Department of State 2022 Report on International Religious Freedom, since the Taliban’s ascension to power in August 2021, attacks, discrimination, and maltreatment against minorities in Afghanistan have surged, with human rights violations reaching unprecedented levels.

The Taliban’s treatment of the Hazaras and Shia starkly contravenes international human rights statutes, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, to which Afghanistan is a party. Furthermore, Islamic teachings, which fundamentally eschew racial discrimination, advocate for unity under Islam, a tenet exemplified during the era of the Prophet Muhammad.

The Taliban’s administration has manifestly breached provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as evidenced by their treatment of the Hazara and Shia populations. Specifically, Article 18 of the Covenant enshrines the freedom of religion, encompassing the right to adopt a belief and the liberty to express religion or belief through worship, observance, practice, and teaching, both privately and in the public sphere. Furthermore, Article 24 underscores the imperative of protecting every child from discrimination, while Article 26 advocates for equality before the law regardless of racial, sexual, or religious identity.

Article 18(1): Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.

Similarly, the Taliban’s behavior also violates the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and the Convention against Torture, among many international treaties the country is a party to.

The Taliban have shown thus far little regard for international norms and legal principles. So, it is not surprising that their behavior violates multiple international treaties. What might help understand the extent of the group’s ill-treatment of Hazaras and Shias is to see how such practices fare against Islamic principles and best practices. Islamic jurisprudence delineates a system, encompassing not merely Islamic religious minorities but all individuals, governing the equitable treatment of religious minorities. This system is historically anchored in the notion of “dhimmi” or “protected persons.” Islamic pedagogy advocates for egalitarianism amongst humanity, all of whom are regarded as the progeny of Adam. The Qur’an (49:13) enjoins all nations and tribes to seek understanding and harmony rather than to harbor animosity. The enactment of Islamic tenets, such as trustworthiness (Al-Amin), is imperative for the establishment of the rights and duties of minorities within Islamic communities.

The Islamic tenet unequivocally proscribing racial discrimination derives its authority from both the Qur’an and the Prophet’s teachings. A central Qur’anic verse underpinning the ethos of equality and the repudiation of racial discrimination is found within Surah Al-Hujurat (49:13): “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.”

Furthermore, Prophet Muhammad asserted in his valedictory sermon: “All mankind is from Adam and Eve. An Arab possesses no preeminence over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab over an Arab; a white person over a black person, nor a black person over a white person; none holds superiority except through piety and meritorious deeds.”

In essence, this verse elucidates that all humans are descendants of a common progenitor, fashioned from a singular pair (Adam and Eve), and their segmentation into nations and tribes serves for the purposes of mutual recognition, not hierarchical superiority. According to Islamic teaching, the criterion of nobility before the divine is not contingent upon race or ethnicity but is predicated upon piety and virtuous conduct.

Fundamentally, the Taliban’s policies toward the Hazara and Shia are antithetical to the tenets of human rights and core Islamic values. As these policies unfold sequentially, it becomes evident that the discrimination is neither random nor sporadic; it is deliberate and methodically orchestrated. The current political, administrative, and judicial paradigms under Taliban governance ostensibly offer no avenue for Hazara and Shia integration. The perpetuation of such exclusionary policies is likely to precipitate adverse outcomes, such as ethno-religious conflict, transforming Afghanistan into a lawless state devoid of any structured legal system. 

Tawab Danish is a visiting scholar at Cornell University’s School of Law. He was previously an assistant professor of law at Parwan University in Afghanistan.

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