Another terrorist attack reminds us of the Taliban’s failure to protect Afghan citizens

This piece was originally published on 14 October 2022 in Sight Magazine.

This time last year saw two shocking attacks on Afghanistan’s Shia Muslim community. First, on 8 October 2021, a suicide bomber affiliated with the Islamic State – Khorasan Province targeted a mosque in the northern city of Kunduz with an attack timed to coincide with Friday prayers which claimed at least 50 lives and injured 100 others. Some estimates placed the death toll as high as 100.

Then, exactly one week later, terrorists bombed another Shia mosque, again timed to coincide with Friday prayers, in the southern city of Kandahar. Estimates of those killed range between 47 and 65, while at least 80 others were said to have been injured.

CSW wrote at the time that the attacks “raised questions about the Taliban’s ability to offer security to citizens of Afghanistan, which they had presented as a key benefit of their rule.” And then, last month, with the anniversaries of both attacks on the horizon, the Shia community was targeted once again.

On 30 September a bomber targeted the Kaaj Educational Centre in the predominantly Shia Muslim neighbourhood of Dasht-e-Barchi, Kabul. The initial death toll was reported as at least 19 people, with estimates since rising to 35. Most of those who were killed were women and girls from the Hazara community who had been targeted specifically as they were preparing for an exam.

The Hazaras are one of the largest ethnic minorities in Afghanistan and are predominantly Shia, and they have faced systematic discrimination and recurrent periods of targeted violence and enforced displacement for years.

Earlier this year the same neighbourhood was targeted in a series of bomb blasts at two other educational institutions, at which time the UN High Commissioner for Refugees wrote on Twitter: “Afghanistan’s ethnic, religious and linguistic diversity is at great risk. It must be respected and kept safe.”

Again, as this most recent attack indicates, the Taliban has failed to do this. In fact, the group, who took over the country in the weeks following the NATO withdrawal in August 2021, has historically perceived the Hazaras as their adversaries, and is said to have targeted the community with mass killings and other serious abuses when they held power in the 1990s.

The Taliban’s return to power brought with it justified concerns for the safety of the Hazara community, and not only has this illegitimate government failed to constrain the efforts of IS terrorists, in some cases it has carried out violations of its own.

For example, in September and October 2021, reports emerged of the Taliban “evicting” over 4,000 Hazara people from their homes in Daykundi province, and approximately 2,000 families were expelled from their homes by a local Taliban court in Mazar-e-Sharif.

More recently, Amnesty International has reported that on 26 June 2022 the Taliban detained and unlawfully executed four Hazara men, at least one of whom is believed to have been tortured, supposedly in search of a former security official. A woman and 12-year-old girl were also killed in the same raid.

Predictably, the Taliban has not shown much willingness to investigate the 30 September attack on the Hazara community. Instead, when women took to the streets to protest against the bombing and the Taliban’s continuing failure to protect them, Taliban forces reportedly opened fire and used physical violence to disperse them.

One woman told The Guardian UK, “The Taliban will never protect us and they can’t represent us in the international community.”

She is absolutely right. It is abundantly clear that the Taliban are not fit to govern a country, or to uphold the fundamental human rights which should be afforded to all citizens without discrimination.

It is right that the Taliban has not been recognised as a government by any member of the international community, and CSW welcomes in particular the appointment of a UN Special Rapporteur to monitor and report on the situation in Afghanistan to the Human Rights Council. However, it is increasingly apparent that more needs to be done to hold the Taliban to account and to ensure that the lives of Hazaras and other Afghan citizens are protected.

As citizens we can also take action, including by calling on our own governments to create safe pathways for Afghan refugees and migrants, to support the work of the UN Special Rapporteur, and to use every opportunity both in public and private to hold the Taliban to its expressed commitments to inclusivity and non-retaliation.

By CSW’s Public Affairs Officer Ellis Heasley