Anthony Browne is MP for South Cambridgeshire.
In announcing its new refugee resettlement programme for Afghanistan, the Government said priority would be given to women and girls among the 20,000 places. There is also a campaign for priority to be given to homosexuals, since the Taliban believe that they should be put to death.
But there is another group that should also be prioritised: the Hazaras. Like Kurds and Yazidis in Iraq, they are an historically persecuted minority in Afghanistan, with sustained oppression and intermittent massacres over the centuries. They are also particular enemies of the Taliban – and the reprisals have already begun.
Amnesty International recently reported that the Taliban had tortured and killed nine Hazara men in the east of Afghanistan. Witnesses said six were shot, and three were tortured to death. One was reportedly strangled with his own scarf, and then had his arm muscles sliced off. Amnesty’s secretary-general, Agnes Callamard, said: “These targeted killings are proof that ethnic and religious minorities remain at particular risk under Taliban rule in Afghanistan.”
The Hazaras claim that after the Soviet Union left Afghanistan, the Taliban massacred 15,000 of them. In one particularly gruesome episode in 1998, the Taliban launched revenge attacks on Hazaras in Mazar-I-Shariff, Afghanistan’s fourth city, going from door-to-door hunting combat age Hazara males, and shooting them or cutting their throats in front of their families. Many thousands were killed, and their bodies left to rot in the open and be eaten by dogs. The Hazara understandably fear history repeating itself.
Hazaras are the third largest minority in Afghanistan, with visible ethnic, religious and linguistic differences to the general population which make them easy to identify. They are mainly Shia Muslims, for long discriminated against by the majority Sunni population, and despised by the Sunni Taliban. They are thought to be descended from the Mongols – and legend has it, from Gengis Khan himself. Their language is a distinct dialect from Pashtun, and instantly recognisable.
The Hazara are the only ethnic group that steadfastly resisted the Taliban and never joined them, and often lead insurgencies against them. In general, they are strongly opposed to the intolerant religious stance of the Taliban. With the end of Taliban rule in 2001, after the Nato invasion, the treatment of the Hazaras significantly improved. They were allowed full citizenship of Afghanistan, and in the 2010 Afghan parliamentary elections, won around 25 per cent of the seats. Many held senior political positions, becoming ministers and regional governors.
The sudden success of the Taliban taking control of Afghanistan in recent days has sent shockwaves throughout the country, but gripped the hearts of the Hazara with pure fear. Many have abandoned their homes and gone straight into hiding. One Hazara former government minister I have been trying to help had been very outspoken against the Taliban, but is now trying to avoid being captured and killed. He is in hiding in a friend’s house in the mountains, and his latest message to me said he is now surrounded, and that they will capture him soon. That was last week, and silence has followed.
Over the decades, the Hazara have fled persecution in Afghanistan, and there are now diaspora communities not just in neighbours such as Pakistan in Iran, but also in many Western countries. Australia has just officially recognised the Hazaras as a particularly at risk group in Afghanistan, and the Hazara Council of Great Britain has started a campaign to get the UK to follow suit. A new group, the Conservative Friends of Hazaras, has been launched by one of my constituents, Khadijeh Zargar, a board member of the Hazara Council of Great Britain. She is also a parish councillor – the highest elected position held by any Hazara in the UK. The All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Hazaras is being relaunched.
The Home Office and Foreign Office have been approached for meetings by Hazara activists. When it is working out how to allocate the 20,000 places on its Afghanistan resettlement scheme, the Government should give the Hazara the recognition they deserve.