Tag Archives: hazara people

Afghan Fighters Loyal to ISIS Beheaded 7 Hostages, Officials Say

November 09, 2015 | New York Times

The bodies of Hazara civilians, reportedly killed by Islamic State militants in Zabul, Afghanistan, were brought to their hometown in Ghazni. CreditSayed Mustafa/European Pressphoto Agency 

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan militants claiming loyalty to the Islamic State were found to have beheaded seven ethnic Hazara civilians who had been abducted in the southern Afghan province of Zabul, officials said on Monday, as infighting among Taliban splinter factions intensified.

The Taliban had sent hundreds of extra fighters to the area to battle the Islamic State breakaways and another splinter group there, according to local and security officials. They said the bodies of the Hazaras were found on Saturday after the Taliban had pushed back the Islamic State militants and a group of allied former Taliban dissidents.

Rather than illustrating any major weakening of the Taliban, however, security officials say the splinter groups’ expansion has mostly raised the danger for Afghan civilians and pointed out the increased weakness of the Afghan government and its security forces. Even as the insurgent infighting has intensified, the main Taliban group has seized new territory from the government, particularly in the country’s north and south.

The beheaded Hazara hostages belonged to one of several groups of travelers captured by Islamic State militants more than a month ago and were being held in the Arghandab district in Zabul Province. After their bodies were discovered by the Taliban, local elders helped mediate their transfer to a hospital in government territory on Sunday, the officials said.

Two children were among the seven beheaded hostages, local officials said.

“Their throats had been cut with metal wire,” said Hajji Atta Jan, the head of the Zabul provincial council.

Afghanistan’s Hazara minority has long faced persecution, especially by the Taliban, and there has been an upswing in abductions and violence against them this year. At least 19 more Hazaras are thought to still be held by militants in Zabul, said Abdul Qayoum Sajjadi, a lawmaker who recently traveled to the province to try to broker the Hazaras’ release.

President Ashraf Ghani, describing the beheadings as “heartless killing of innocent individuals,” ordered his security officials to pursue the attackers. But it was clear that the order meant little on the ground; Afghan forces were nowhere in the vicinity of the district where the beheadings happened, officials said.

Family members of the victims, who were all from neighboring Ghazni Province and were abducted while they were traveling, said they planned to bring the bodies to Kabul to protest what they saw as the government’s lack of response to a problem that was becoming chronic.

Officials in Zabul Province said the local cell of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, had recently allied with another breakaway Taliban faction that is challenging the Taliban’s new supreme leader, Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour.

Just last week, the breakaway Taliban faction formally announced in a gathering in Farah Province that it did not accept Mullah Mansour as the successor to Mullah Muhammad Omar, whose death two years ago was revealed in July.

The group said it was rallying around a new leader, Mullah Muhammad Rasool, a former member of the Taliban movement’s ruling council. His deputy, Mullah Mansour Dadullah, has been operating out of the Khak-e-Afghan district in Zabul.

“The reason we split from Mansour’s self-proclaimed kingdom was that he is the real murderer of Mullah Omar and some high-ranking Taliban during the 14 years of struggle,” Mullah Rasool said in a phone interview. His faction believes that Mullah Omar did not die a natural death, as the group announced, but was killed by Mullah Mansour. “We will bring Mansour before justice soon.”

In response, Mullah Mansour sent as many as 450 fighters to crush the dissident Mullah Dadullah as well as the Islamic State elements in Zabul, according to Afghan security officials and local officials.

“Fighting between Mullah Mansour and Mullah Dadullah is ongoing in three districts of Zabul,” said Hajji Momand Nasratyar, the district governor of Arghandab. “Mansour is beating Dadullah and I.S. very hard — around 86 of I.S. and Dadullah’s men have been killed, and 26 of Mansour’s.”

The Taliban were also reported to have killed several of the Islamic State militants said to be responsible for the beheadings, according to a local official, though that account could not be confirmed more broadly.

Hajji Atta Jan, the Zabul provincial council chief, said the offensive by Mullah Mansour’s fighters was so intense that by late Monday at least three Islamic State commanders, all of them ethnic Uzbeks, had surrendered and were asking their fighters to do the same. The condition the Uzbek commanders had agreed on with Mullah Mansour, according to Mr. Jan, was that they would not be handed over to Pakistan, where they had been based before Pakistani military operations pushed them into Afghan territory.

Despite Mullah Mansour’s swift action against dissent, the announcement of the breakaway faction seems to have rekindled doubts over his leadership that most thought had been quelled by his delivering the Taliban their biggest victory in 14 years, the capture of the northern city of Kunduz in September.

Still, the dissent has not deterred Taliban fighters from making deep inroads against the government in the south as well, where intense fighting has continued in Helmand Province. The Taliban have made gains in the districts of Nad Ali and Greshk, according to Muhammad Karim Attal, the head of the Helmand provincial council.

The Taliban have also overrun police and army bases in the Marja district, one of the centers of President Obama’s 2010 troop surge, and were closing in on the district governor’s compound. Airstrikes had to be called in on Saturday to break the siege of security forces there, officials said.

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/10/world/asia/afghan-fighters-loyal-to-isis-beheaded-7-hostages-officials-say.html?ref=world

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Two Hazaras shot dead in Quetta

November 08, 2015 | DAWN

QUETTA: Armed assailants on Saturday evening killed two members of the Hazara community in the provincial capital.

“Armed assailants opened fire at a vehicle on Spini road and killed two members of the Hazara community,” said a police official.

The police official added that one person died at the spot of the attack while the other succumbed to his injuries while undergoing treatment.

“The two individuals belonged to the Hazara community and were residents of Hazara Town,” stated the police official.

The unknown assailants managed to flee the spot of the incident.

A contingent of police and Frontier Corps (FC) personnel reached the site of the incident and commenced initial investigation.

“It was act of target killing,” stated the police official.

There was no claim of responsibility for the incident.

In a separate incident, two bodies were recovered from Khuzdar district in the province.

“The dead bodies were found in Naal tehsil of Khuzdar district,” said a Levies official.

He added that the identity of the victims could not be immediately ascertained and both had received multiple bullet injuries.

Balochistan has been experiencing incident violence and targeted killings since more than a decade. The largest province of the country by area, is home to a low-level insurgency by ethnic Baloch separatists. Al Qaeda-linked militants also operate in the region.

The province shares borders with Afghanistan and Iran.

Source: http://www.dawn.com/news/1218131/two-hazaras-shot-dead-in-quetta-two-bodies-recovered-in-khuzdar

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Afghan asylum seeker feared dead after self-immolation during video call

October 19, 2015 | the guardian

Khodayar Amini, who is feared dead, told refugee advocates he feared he would be returned to detention because police and immigration department staff wanted to interview him. Photograph: Refugee Rights Action Network

Khodayar Amini, who is feared dead, told refugee advocates he feared he would be returned to detention because police and immigration department staff wanted to interview him. Photograph: Refugee Rights Action Network

An Afghan asylum seeker living in Australia on a bridging visa is feared dead after he self-immolated during a video call with refugee advocates.

Khodayar Amini, a Hazara Afghan aged 30, told staff at the Refugee Rights Action Network his fear of being sent back to detention, combined with his uncertain visa status and the threat of being returned to Afghanistan, was “killing him”.

At about 11.30am on Sunday, Amini made a video call to advocates Sarah Ross and Michelle Bui, and told them he feared he would be returned to detention because police and immigration department staff wanted to interview him.
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Amini, who was believed to be living in the eastern states, then threatened to take his own life before self-immolating on camera. During the call, he urged Ross and Bui to go to the media to share his plight.

“We tried to talk him out of it, I have received suicide intervention training so I used that,” Ross told Guardian Australia.

“He had been released from the Yongah Hill detention centre in Western Australia on a bridging visa, but he said immigration and police were looking for him, so he had been living out of his car and hiding in bushland.

“He had previously told us that most of his family had been killed by the Taliban in Afghanistan, and he was uncertain about his future and scared of going back to detention or being sent to Afghanistan.

“He told us it was killing him.”

Ross said she immediately called emergency services, and that the phone call with Amini cut-out. She and Bui later received a call from police, who told them a body that seemed to match Amini’s description had been found in Victorian bushland in Dandenong.

Police told them they could not confirm the body was Amini’s, and a coronial inquest would be carried out.

A spokesman from Victoria police confirmed to Guardian Australia emergency services had responded to a grass fire in Dandenong on Sunday. Once the fire was extinguished, a body was found, the spokesman said.
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“The death is not being treated as suspicious,” he said.

The night before receiving Amini’s call, Bui received a message from him that read: “My crime was that I was a refugee.”

“They [immigration] tortured me for 37 months and during all these times, they treated me in the most cruel and inhumane way, they violated my basic human right and took away my human dignity,” Amini wrote.

“I ask you to stand up for the rights of refugees and stop people being killed just because they have become refugees.”

Amini had no known family members in Australia.

Guardian Australia has contacted the office of the immigration minister, Peter Dutton, and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, for comment.

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In a statement, the Refugee Rights Action Network said Amini had been traumatised by the deaths of his friends including Nasim Najafi, who died at the Yongah Hill detention centre in July, and Ahmad Ali Jaffari, who died in the Villawood detention centre in 2013.

“We believe Khodayar’s experience and length of detention directly contributed to the deterioration of his mental health,” the statement said.

“The Refugee Rights Action Network further believes that Khodayar’s state of mind was symptomatic of the conditions surrounding his visa, which kept him in a constant state of limbo and fear of re-detainment and deportation.”

The Hazaras are mostly from the Shiite Muslim minority in Afghanistan and several thousand members of the community now live in Australia. Last October, the Australian government began forcibly deporting Hazara asylum seekers who had been living in the community, a controversial decision given violence against the ethnic minority in Afghanistan is escalating.
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It led the Refugee Council of Australia to write to the immigration department to plea for a moratorium on all returns of Afghan asylum seekers.

According to a report from the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, many asylum-seekers living in the community on bridging visas are unable to work as a condition of their visa, and as a result can find themselves living in a state of destitution.

“With limited options available for volunteering, asylum-seekers are increasingly socially isolated,” the report said.

“While residing in the community is thought to be better than being in held detention, the mental health impacts of living in such uncertainty over a prolonged period and in a state of destitution presented as detrimental and debilitating.”

Last year, Tamil asylum seeker Leo Seemanpillai, who had been living in Geelong on a bridging visa, died after self-immolating.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/oct/19/afghan-asylum-seeker-feared-dead-after-self-immolation-during-video-call

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After suffering under the Taliban, an Afghan minority faces new threats

April 10, 2015 | washingtonpost

Esmail Kayhan, 20, an ethnic Hazara holds the portrait of his father, Mohammad Jomah Amini, at their family home in Kabul. (Sudarsan Raghavan/The Washington Post)

Inside the two seized buses, terrified passengers prayed to remain in their seats. The masked gunmen had collected their identification cards and snatched their cellphones, survivors would later recall. Next, they separated males from females and Sunni Muslims from Shiite Muslims. Finally, they ordered the Shiite males — all ethnic Hazaras — off the buses.

The kidnappers then vanished into the harsh terrain of southern Zabul province with 31 men and boys, sparking concerns of a potential fresh wave of sectarian tensions in Afghanistan.

Six weeks later, their families remain in an emotional limbo.

“We don’t know what our sin is,” said Namatullah Noori, 40, after recounting what his mother, one of the surviving passengers, had told him. “From one side, they are targeting us. And from the other side, the government is not helping us.”

His 65-year-old father is among the abducted men.

In recent weeks, concerns have mounted across the nation overthe emergence of the Islamic State, the Iraq- and Syria-based Sunni movement that has violently targeted Shiites and other religious and ethnic groups. Now the events that unfolded on the buses, corroborated by Afghan officials and victims’ relatives, are fanning those fears. In interviews, Afghan officials and Hazara leaders said they suspect that a rogue Taliban faction that has sworn allegiance to the Islamic State is behind the abductions in Zabul.

For the nation’s minority Hazaras, the kidnappings, along with other recent attacks, are grim reminders of the persecution they endured under the rule of the mainly ethnic Pashtun and Sunni Taliban, which viewed Shiites as apostates. Since the abductions in late February, there have been at least three more mass kidnappings of Hazaras in three other provinces, according to Afghan officials and Hazara.net, a nonprofit Web site focused on the community’s rights and culture.

“Historically, we have struggled a lot to be accepted as normal citizens,” said Hayatullah Meheryar, 30, a Hazara activist. “But now these assaults show they want to restrict our development that we’ve achieved in the past 13 years.”

Opportunity to attack

Throughout the 20th century, successive Pashtun-led regimes in Afghanistan targeted the Hazaras, the country’s third-largest ethnic group, making up about 20 percent of the population. Also a religious minority, they were massacred and tortured. Uprisings were viciously crushed. Their religious leaders were jailed; women were abducted. Most Hazaras languished in poverty and humiliation, forced to take menial jobs.

The Taliban carried out mass executions of Hazaras and drove them from their lands and meager livelihoods. Tens of thousands of Hazaras sought refuge in frigid mountain hideouts. In the Hazara ethnic homeland of Bamian province in early 2001, the Taliban methodically destroyed two giant Buddha statues that had survived for centuries, drawing an international outcry.

Since the Taliban regime collapsed in late 2001, however, the Hazaras have experienced a communal rebirth. Many returned from exile in Iran and other countries to forge a future here. A new generation entered universities and later found jobs with the United Nations and international firms and aid agencies. Economically, many flourished. Politically, theygained more clout.

Attacks against them had grown rare. In 2011, a suicide bomber in Kabul killed 56 Shiite worshipers, mostly Hazaras, on the holy day of Ashura in the bloodiest sectarian attack of the war. Last year, gunmen in central Ghowr province executed 15 Hazara civilians traveling in a minibus.

Now, a familiar anxiety is boiling up again within the community.

Most of the Hazaras in the two buses attacked in February were returning from Iran. Some had gone there for construction or other blue-collar jobs, and others to visit relatives.

Noori’s father and mother were inside with his 17-year-old son. They had taken him for medical treatment in Iran. When the teenager saw the gunmen, he fainted. That saved his life. The gunmen left him in the vehicle after Noori’s mother pleaded for mercy. But her pleas couldn’t save her husband.

“Who else but the Taliban can be behind this?” Noori said.

The Taliban’s central command has denied responsibility for the abductions. But the insurgency has become increasingly disjointed, with many Taliban factions acting on their own. Some have become so disgruntled that they have aligned themselves with the Islamic State to gain funds and prominence, according to U.S. military commanders who view the group as a potential threat but still at an embryonic stage in Afghanistan.

Survivors of the Zabul kidnappings told authorities that the gunmen spoke local languages and appeared to be ethnic Pashtuns from their accents. That’s a reason why officials say they think that the assailants were home­grown disciples of the Islamic State, also known as Daesh.

“These are Taliban who have changed their colors,” said Ali Akbar Qaseemi, an influential ethnic Hazara parliamentarian. “Daesh’s goal is to disintegrate the nation by creating problems among ethnic groups in Afghanistan.”

For many Hazaras, the fresh threats against them reflect the vanishing U.S. and international military presence. The abductions unfolded on major highways in areas once patrolled by foreign forces. With far fewer international troops, Afghanistan’s security forces­ are straining to fill the gap. Growing portions of the country are unpoliced.

“With the foreign troops gone, the Taliban see an opportunity to attack us again,” Meheryar said.

Since the abductions in Zabul, Afghan police and security forces­ have mounted unsuccessful operations to rescue the 31 men and boys. So far, there have been no public demands from the kidnappers.

Afghan government officials have declined to provide details of the incident or the efforts to free the victims, beyond vowing to use all means necessary to find them.

“The government is working hard on this matter,” said Ajmal Obaid Abidy, spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

‘We can’t do anything’

In the meantime, the families of the 31 men and boys have embarked on a frustrating daily quest to learn the fate of their loved ones. Some have traveled to Kabul from other cities — even from Pakistan. Each morning, they visit the offices­ of Hazara leaders and government officials. Each evening, they return home disappointed.

“No one is giving us any answers,” said Hussein Ali, 67, whose son is among the abducted. “We can’t do anything.”

“We are poor, working-class people,” Noori said. “We don’t know the influential people. We don’t have power.”

Esmail Kayhan’s family is struggling as much from the lack of knowledge as finances­. For the past year, his father had been working construction in Iran, sending money home every month. Now, he’s among the kidnapped. Kayhan’s older brother, who works in a bakery in Saudi Arabia, was forced to take a loan to help the family.

Kayhan said he is most worried about his mother, who has heart problems, and his grandmother, who is frail. He fears the shock of learning the truth could harm them. So he keeps telling them that his father is still in Iran, dealing with some last-minute business.

The other day, he said, his mother asked him: “Why does your father keep calling you? Why doesn’t he call me?”

He shrugged and said he didn’t know.

As each day passes, the Hazara community is growing angrier — and more organized. Small protests have been launched in Kabul and other parts of the country. There have also been demonstrations in Australia and Europe. On Twitter, activists have created the hashtag #Free31Hazaras, as well as a Web site: http://www.bringback31hazaras.com.au.

This week, they set up tents near the presidential palace in protest. Ali, who has been in the capital for five weeks, said he has no plans to return to his home in Quetta, Pakistan.

“I will remain in Kabul until I learn whether my son is alive or dead,” he said.

Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/after-suffering-under-the-taliban-an-afghan-minority-faces-new-threats/2015/04/08/035e1c4a-d71b-11e4-bf0b-f648b95a6488_story.html

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Another 6 Hazara Passengers Abducted from Herat-Farah Highway

March 17, 2015 | Tolo News

In a fresh and the third incident, at least six more passengers from Hazara ethnic minority have been abducted by armed masked men on the Herat-Farah highway, west Afghanistan on Monday night, officials told TOLOnews.

As the fate of 31 abducted passengers is still unknown, the commander of second unit of 207th Zafar Military Corps, Sayed Hassanullah said Tuesday that the new incident happened in Kanisk area of Farah province.

“A search operation has been started to rescue the abducted people,” he said.

However, unconfirmed reports suggest that four of the abductees were the Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers.

This has been the third incident within 24 days after the unknown armed men kidnapped 31 Hazaras on Kabul-Kandahar highway in Shah Joy district of Zabul followed by abduction of another 10 Hazaras in Ghazni. However, nine of Ghazni abductees were released three hours after the incident but the fate of rest of them is still unknown.

‎Despite the negotiations between the elders of Zabul and alleged abductors, the 31 abductees are yet to be freed, something many blame on newly-emerged Daesh group.

The Zabul abductees are said to be transferred to Khak Afghan district of Zabul where the security forces have killed more than 50 insurgents so far in the operation to rescue the hostages.

Source: http://www.tolonews.com/en/afghanistan/18651-another-6-hazara-passengers-abducted-from-herat-farah-highway

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30 Hazaras abducted in Afghanistan: officials

February 24, 2015 | AFP

— AFP/File

AFP/File

KANDAHAR: Masked gunmen have abducted 30 Shia Muslim men who were travelling by bus through central Afghanistan, officials said on Tuesday.

The men, members of the minority Hazara ethnic group, were taken on Monday evening in Zabul province, on the road between the western city of Herat and the capital Kabul.

Hazara Shia Muslims are often the target of sectarian violence at the hands of Sunni Muslim extremists in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“Our driver saw a group of masked men in Afghan army uniform signalling him and he thought they were soldiers so he stopped,” said Nasir Ahmad, an official with the Ghazni Paima bus company, told AFP.

“The gunmen took 30 Hazaras away with them.” Ahmad said the kidnappers took only the men on the two buses and released the women and children travelling with them.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the abduction, but kidnappings for ransom by bandits, local militias and the Taliban are common in Afghanistan.

There have been fears recently that the influence of the Islamic State group, which has a strongly anti-Shia agenda, could be growing in Afghanistan.

Interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said the police were “doing everything to ensure their safe release”.

Source: http://www.dawn.com/news/1165619/30-hazaras-abducted-in-afghanistan-officials

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Resurgent Taliban targets Afghan Hazara as Australia sends them back

December 17, 2014 | the guardian

Hazara

Juma, a Hazara man, standing on his ancestral lands. In the background is the mountains where his daughter froze to death while they hid from the Taliban in a 1998 attack. Photograph: Abdul Karim Hekmat for the Guardian

In Afghanistan, more and more Hazara are preparing to flee a resurgent Taliban, just as Australia has started returning Hazara asylum seekers. Another is being deported on Wednesday.

It was midnight in Ghor when the Taliban appeared on the road in the headlights of the minivans, waving at the vehicles to stop.

There were 20 men on the road, carrying Kalashnikovs. Nearby stood a truck, stopped earlier by the same men, now fully ablaze.

The Taliban boarded the buses and ordered everybody off.

By the light of the burning vehicle they checked everyone’s face against the ID they carried.

The 13 Hazara – easily distinguished by their facial features – were roughly moved into a separate line. They were marched away into the darkness and shot.

The victims had been travelling to Kabul for Eid, to celebrate the end of Ramadan with their families. Among the dead was a child and a couple married only a few days earlier, travelling to their honeymoon.

Fatima’s husband died in the darkness on the side of the road that night. “Life is very hard after I lost my husband … the night is night but the day is also like night for me,” she tells Guardian Australia from her home in Kabul. She wipes tears from her eyes with the hem of her chador.

Hazara woman Fatima, whose husband was killed by Taliban insurgents in a roadside attack this year. Her family has been left destitute by his death. Photograph: Abdul Karim Hekmat for the Guardian

Hazara woman Fatima

Hazara woman Fatima, whose husband was killed by Taliban insurgents in a roadside attack this year. Her family has been left destitute by his death. Photograph: Abdul Karim Hekmat for the Guardian

“What was his crime to be killed that way? He was just bringing some food to the table for his children.”

Fatima and her six children have been left destitute following her husband’s death.

She cannot afford to send them to school. Her 12-year-old son finds work on the streets to feed the family.

“My heart aches when I look at other fathers who cuddle their children on the street. I hear them call ‘daddy’. But my children don’t have a father. I have a little four-year-old boy who used to hang on his father’s shoulder all the time. He always asks me ‘where is my father?’”

Afghanistan, which for generations has known only the brutal, grinding waste of war, is as dangerous as it has ever been.

Over 13 years the presence of hundreds of thousands of foreign soldiers brought no peace to a benighted land.

And their withdrawal has left a power vacuum that is being filled by whomever is most brutal and most ruthless.

Afghanistan’s ethnic and religious minorities, such as the Hazara of the country’s central plains, again face persecution.

“Hazara are being killed because of their ethnicity right across the country,” Mohammad Musa Mahmoudi, executive director of Afghanistan Independent Human Rights says. “It has happened several times.”

The enmity is ancient, and runs deep. Hazara are Shia muslims, “kafirs” (infidels) to the Sunni Taliban. “Hazara are not Muslim. Killing them is not a sin,” Mullah Manan Niazi, the Taliban governor of Mazar-e-Sharif, said in a public address to his followers.

In 1998 Taliban extremists drove Hazara in their thousands from the city into the surrounding Koh-e-baba mountains.

Eight thousand were slaughtered, while others died in the cold of the hills. Hazara farmer Juma was one of those who fled, as the Taliban burned down his village. His eight-year-old daughter froze to death as he held her.

“Many people were killed in the caves and the mountains when they were caught by the Taliban.”

This year, for the first time since the war in Afghanistan began, Australia has started deporting Hazara asylum seekers back to their country, arguing it is safe for them to return.

The Australian government concedes it is not safe for them to live in their villages, or to travel the roads to their homelands controlled by the Taliban and impassable. But it says it is safe for Hazara in the capital, Kabul.

On Wednesday, Australia is due to forcibly deport a third Afghan Hazara this year when 33-year-old Faiz (not his real name) will be put on a plane bound for Kabul with a clutch of guards.

Once there, the guards will leave him on the streets of the city he fled more than two years ago.

Faiz was a farm worker from Jaghori district who says he was kidnapped twice by the Taliban and impressed into forced labour before being released.

He says he was told by a Talib he was believed to be a spy for the Americans, and warned he was on his last chance.

Last year, the Australian government’s assessment process found Faiz was not a refugee requiring Australia’s protection, and that it was safe for him to return.

But the Refugee Council of Australia has briefed immigration department officials that the government’s knowledge of the security situation in Afghanistan was out of date, and that it is not safe to send any Hazara back.

The first Afghan Hazara to be returned, Zainullah Naseri, was deported in August. Three weeks later he was stopped by the Taliban at a roadside checkpoint on the way to his home district of Jaghori, in the central province of Ghazni.

Naseri was captured and chained up, beaten and tortured, while his captors negotiated a ransom for his release. He fled after two days, using a rock to smash the chains that held his feet, and escaping through the crude sewerage system. He is now living, still in hiding, on the streets of the capital.

Zainullah Naseri

The first Afghan Hazara to be returned by Australia, Zainullah Naseri, was deported in August. He was captured by the Taliban, chained up, beaten and tortured. Photograph: Abdul Karim Hekmat for the Guardian

Another Hazara man, Australian-Afghan Sayed Habib Musawi, who returned home to see his grandchildren, was pulled off a bus at a similar illegal Taliban checkpoint, on a nearby road between Jaghori and Kabul. He was tortured before being shot and his body was dumped on the side of the road.

Faiz is from the same Jaghori district as Zainullah and Sayed. All the roads between Kabul and Jaghori are controlled by the Taliban.

At least another six Hazara men have been “redetained” by Australian authorities, in anticipation of their expected deportation in the new year.

From 1 January to 30 June, the United Nations documented 4,853 civilian casualties in Afghanistan, a 24% rise compared with 2013, when casualties in turn were 14% higher than in 2012.

Suicide attacks in Afghanistan’s cities have risen 68%, and women and the young are particularly at risk. A third of the civilians killed this year have been children.

Australia’s ambassador to the UN, Gary Quinlan, told the security council in September: “We have seen an increase in civilian casualties … recent attacks involving large numbers of fighters are a particularly worrying trend.”

Benjamin Lee, a former human rights lawyer for the UN in Afghanistan, says the withdrawal of foreign troops has left a chasmic power vacuum in Afghanistan.

“This has changed the war’s dynamics. Afghan security forces are now clashing with Taliban and other insurgent groups in villages, in communities, in populated areas,” Lee says. “Mortar rounds, rocket-propelled grenades, heavy and small arms fire, improvised bombs, characterise these exchanges, and the impact on civilians is tragically predictable.”

The Taliban are moving away from the patient guerrilla tactics of their war of attrition with the overwhelming might of the US. The Taliban fight in the streets now. More people now die from gunfire than bombs.

“This is an emboldened Taliban, this is changes in territorial control, this is a consequence of the withdrawal of a lot of the advanced technological equipment that international forces had available to them, particularly aircraft,” Lee says.

“Particular ethnic groups, including the Hazara, have been disproportionately targeted, but the point I would convey is that it’s simply not safe to send anyone back, regardless of their ethnicity.”

The Australian government sends deported Afghan Hazaras back to Kabul, arguing the capital is a safe place for them to live, even if the roads to their homelands are under insurgent control and impassable.

Once, that was undoubtedly true. During the war, while western money was still flooding into Afghanistan, Kabul was markedly safer than the rural provinces that surrounded it, or the cities in the restive south. It was far from an oasis of peace, but money and western interests brought with them some measure of security.

But with the drawdown of foreign troops during 2014, Kabul has spiralled into regular violence. In January, a suicide bomber blew a hole in the wall of a Kabul restaurant frequented by westerners. Two gunmen stepped through the hole and opened fire, killing 21 people where they ate.

Two months later the Taliban breached the supposedly-secure Serena hotel, and killed 10 people, including two children. In June, an attack on presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah killed 13 people. And in August, the US sustained its highest-ranking wartime casualty since Vietnam, when two-star Major General Harold Greene was shot dead by a rogue Afghan soldier.

Last month, high-profile female politician Shukria Barakzai (who had run a secret school for girls during the Taliban’s reign) was injured in an attack on her car that killed three civilians.

And last week a suicide bomber killed a German civilian while watching a play being performed at a high school in Kabul.

“Taken together, these Kabul attacks,” Lee argues, “demonstrate that restaurants, hotels, even the streets aren’t safe. When the top foreign military brass can’t be protected, where does that leave the Afghan civilians we are returning?”

A connection to the west, or a perceived sympathy for it, makes anyone a target, but particularly a member of a minority.

Zainullah Naseri’s ethnicity drew the Taliban’s attention, but it was the Australian driver’s licence they found in his pocket that made him a person worth capturing.

Hazara embraced the nascent democracy of post-2001 Afghanistan, in response to the brutal oppression they had faced during the Taliban rule.

During the next decade of foreign intervention, thousands found work as interpreters for western forces, or truck drivers for the government. Their children could again go to school, enrol in university or take public service jobs.

But in 2014 the Hazara no longer have the protection of the wealthy, powerful forces that once employed them, and find themselves again the target of a resurgent Taliban.

“If the Taliban come back,” says Abdul Khaliq Azad from the Afghan Strategic and Peace Studies in Kabul, “they would annihilate the Hazara because of their staunch support for the foreign presence in Afghanistan.”

The Taliban are back. So Hazara are leaving. Dozens of Hazara in Kabul tell Guardian Australia they are preparing to leave Afghanistan, by legal means or otherwise.

Supply and demand works in trafficking too. The people smugglers’ price for a ticket to Indonesia has halved in recent months, from $12,000 to $6,000, as entire families – not just single men of working age – decide to leave. Many have ambitions of ultimately reaching Australia.

People in Kabul are aware of Australia’s “stop the boats” policy, under which unauthorised vessels are forcibly turned around, or asylum seekers removed to Nauru and PNG.

Many are discouraged, some are not.

The thousands of Hazara leaving this place are trying to get anywhere, be that Australia, or Indonesia, or Europe. They just know they have to leave.

Najibullah Naseri is from the same village as Zainullah (though no relation). He is stuck in Kabul, unable to get home, and feeling increasingly constricted in the capital. Every day the Taliban feel a little closer.

“I have not seen my family in Jaghori for one-and-a-half years. So what’s the point of living here?”

He is preparing to leave, looking for a route, any route, that will take him out of the country. “If the Afghan government can’t provide security for us, we should free ourselves, before we are killed here.”

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2014/dec/17/resurgent-taliban-targets-afghan-hazara-as-australia-sends-them-back

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