Kabul neighborhood, home of Hazaras, stunned by wave of Taliban news


Kabul, Afghanistan – Amena says her family came to the Afghan capital from Bamiyan province in search of better opportunities and security six years ago. They settled in Dasht-e-Barchi, a predominantly Hazara Shiite Muslim neighborhood west of Kabul.

Last month, 85 people, mostly female students between the ages of 11 and 17, were killed in bombings outside Barchi’s Sayed-ul-Shuhada high school. Among them was Amena’s teenage niece.

“We came here for work, but the only thing we found was death,” said Amena, 50, who added that her family now plans to return to their home neighborhood of Waras, where they came from. several dead schools.

The relative safety of the neighborhood, where about a million people live, has attracted hawks like Amena from all over the war-ravaged country and also those returning from refugee life in neighboring Pakistan and Iran.

Barchi emerged as a safe haven for the Hazara population as the South Asian nation descended into civil war in the 1990s and Kabul became a battlefield for armed groups fighting for control of the Hazara. country.

We are not going anywhere. We have honor, we cannot be frightened

Fereshta, student

But in recent years, the neighborhood has become the target of brutal attacks, many of them claimed by ISIL (ISIS), provoking calls from a Genocide of Hazara that people say the Kabul administration has not addressed.

In recent years, the government has made some efforts to ensure Barchi by authorizing additional security for the neighborhood during Ashura’s annual commemorations. Commemorations of the death of the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad have been attacked at least three times since 2011. President Ashraf Ghani has also noted the condemnation of every attack in the area.

However, for Barchi residents, these efforts have not been enough. They tell Barchi that no place is safe. Armed groups have attacked educational testing centers, a wrestling gym, a DNI distribution center, a mosque, a motherhood, and last month, the girls’ school.

On Saturday, at least seven people died in two separate explosions in the area.

Discrimination against hazares

Hazars in Afghanistan have faced decades of state-sponsored abuse and discrimination, most recently under the Taliban regime between 1996-2001. In neighboring Pakistan, they are attacked by armed groups for their largely Shiite beliefs, while in Iran they face blatant racism as obvious Afghan refugees and recruitment to Tehran’s foreign wars.

Analysts and officials believe the attacks are being used by ISIL to feed themselves sectarianism in the multiethnic country, at a time when insecurity is rising and reports are emerging of regional leaders setting up local armed militias along ethnic lines, for fear of the Taliban returning to power following the imminent withdrawal from the US.

Some Dasht-e-Barchi families say they had struggled to encourage their children, especially girls, to return to school after the May attack [Fatimah Hossaini/Al Jazeera]

The withdrawal of the United States is part of the peace agreement signed with the Taliban, which had been waging a brutal armed rebellion since it was withdrawn from power in the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. Since then, the the Taliban have reduced their attacks on U.S. forces, but it continues to target Afghan forces across the country.

Despite the threats, the neighborhood, with mostly dirt roads for miles, remains a vibrant and bustling home for hundreds of thousands of people who know their ethnicity and geographic location, making them clear targets.

Fereshta, a college student originally from Maidan Wardak province, admits the terror rising over one of Kabul’s most congested neighborhoods.

“You can’t escape the fear, it’s all around,” the 20-year-old said outside a small grocery store in the neighborhood.

Economic diversity of the area

Fereshta blames everyone, from the Taliban – who were known to attack and kill thousands of Hazaras during his five-year rule – to ISIL, to the Afghan government over Hazaras’ growing insecurity.

“When an area is repeatedly attacked over five years and the government does not actively try to secure it, it raises many questions,” said an academic in the area who did not want to be appointed for security reasons, he said.

Zainab Zafarkhil moved to Dasht-e Barchi from Iran in 2007. At that time, his family’s decision to move to the neighborhood was quite simple. It was safe.

“There was a time when a suicide bomber in Barchi was unthinkable. It was the safest place in all of Kabul,” the 22-year-old university student said. But recent attacks have made her think about leaving the area.

The Zafarkhil family is an example of the economic diversity of the area, which has simple mud houses where unpaved roads turn to mud in cold winters and giant, multicolored malls where young people buy Gucci bootleg abayas and latest news. iPhones.

Her family is lucky. As businessmen and government employees, the Zafarkhils have the financial means to move to any other part of the city, but to thousands of other Barchi families, especially those from remote provinces such as Ghor, Maidan Wardak and Ghazni. , this is simply not an option.

Despite the threats, the neighborhood, with mostly dirt roads for miles, remains a vibrant and bustling home for hundreds of thousands of people. [Fatimah Hossaini/Al Jazeera]

Hussain and his wife, Bas Gol, moved their family from the Lal Wa Sarjangal district to the central province of Ghor seven years ago, just before violence began to resume.

They came to Barchi in 2014 hoping to give their children better educational and economic opportunities than they had in Ghor. However, both husband and wife know it would be nearly impossible to return to the province home to more than 130 armed groups.

“Going back would cost us more money. We just have to hope for the best here. ” Hussain says that even if her family returned to Lal Wa Sarjangal, there would not be enough financial opportunities to support her.

What attracts people to Dasht-e-Barchi?

Qayoom Suroush, a Kabul-based researcher, says that, like Hussain and his wife, tens of thousands of families moved from other provinces to Barchi specifically because of the economy, security and culture.

“At Barchi you are among your own people, you don’t have to worry about social acceptance here, because everyone is like you,” Suroush says of the cultural incentive that attracts so many hazares to the neighborhood.

Many Al Jazeera residents talked about the importance of being close to family and how living in Barchi makes it much easier for them to attend local religious and political meetings that are considered vital parts of their social life.

In addition, after spending the last 16 years living and studying in Barchi, Suroush says the quality of education available to young people in Barchi is also very important for people who come from some of the lesser areas. safe and undeveloped in the country.

“Education is very important for the Hazara. In Barchi you can get a quality education at a much better price than other areas of Kabul, “he said. Like Suroush, other residents pointed to dozens of schools, language courses and entrance exam preparation centers. at the university along the main road.

Even for those who can somehow afford to return to their home province, it often means going from one unsafe area to another.

“Pashtuns against Hazaras”

Farzana Azghari has lived in Barchi most of his life.

“We moved here before I could pray,” the 19-year-old told Al Jazeera. That was when his triplet sisters, Raihana, Habiba and Hakima, were born. Like other young girls who grew up in Barchi, the Azghari sisters initially had few fears. They felt safe and secure at their enclave.

But for the past two years, Farzana and other Barchi residents said Shuhada High School had been threatened, to the point that the students themselves began beating each person who entered the premises.

“For two years, none of us carried backpacks to school,” Azghari said of the fear that Barchi residents had consumed.

When the school was attacked, it was Raihana who did not come out alive. She would be buried, along with dozens of other girls, on a hill divided between the victims of each of the various attacks that took place in Barchi.

Farzana Azghari, in black, lost one of her sisters in the May attack on a girls ’school. Her other two sisters, red, escaped the bombing [Fatimah Hossaini/Al Jazeera]

Azghari says these attacks are orchestrated by groups that want to turn “the Pashtuns against Hazars and the Hazara against the Pashtuns.”

The government has doubled the blame on the Taliban for the attacks, including school explosions. But the armed group refutes the allegations. No group has claimed responsibility for the school attack.

Recently, Zalmay Khalilzad, Washington’s special representative for the reconciliation of Afghanistan, said ISIL forces were responsible for the school attack. ISIL has claimed most of the attacks against the Hazara, places of worship and Shiite ceremonies and for specific attacks on Barchi.

Fereshta, the college student, lost her own friend in an explosion. Her teenage friend was one of 30 people killed in the October 2020 bombing at the Kowsar-e Danesh school in Barchi.

But he says the Hazara people of Barchi will persevere.

“We are not going anywhere. We have honor, we can’t be scared, “Fereshta told Al Jazeera.

“We will show the world that Afghanistan is not a graveyard for the Afghan people.”

In recent years, rebel attacks on Dasht-e-Barchi have increasingly targeted civilian institutions, such as the Maiwand Wrestling Gym. [File: Ali Latifi/Al Jazeera]

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