Editor’s Note: This discussion was broadcast on ABC Radio-Rear Vision on Sunday 5 August 2012.
- Ahmed Rashid
- Pakistani journalist and historian.
- Dr Saleem Javed
- Medical doctor by profession he has worked as a freelance journalist in Balochistan Pakistan for the past 4 years.
- Professor William Maley
- Foundation Director of the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy at the Australian National University.
- Grant Farr
- Professor Emeritus of Sociologist at Portland State University
Tony Eastley, AM (archival): More allegations have emerged that the immigration authorities are using out-dated information to reject the claims of Afghan asylum seekers from the persecuted Hazara ethnic group.
Sue Lannin, AM (archival): The 15-year-old Afghan boy arrived on Christmas Island last year. He is claiming asylum in Australia because he is from the Hazara ethnic minority.
Jim Middleton (archival): Afghanistan’s Hazara people have raised some of the loudest objections, saying there’s real danger of the Taliban once again seizing control.
Annabelle Quince: For over 10 years Hazara refugees from Afghanistan and Pakistan have been arriving in Australia, many by boat. And with the US-led coalition ready to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014 it’s predicted that many more Hazaras will be heading our way.
Hello, I’m Annabelle Quince and this is Rear Vision on RN, Radio Australia and downloadable on the web and via your MP3 player.
Today we take a look at the story of the Hazara people: who are they, where do they come from and just why are so many of them fleeing Afghanistan and Pakistan?
While the Hazara are thought to have been in Afghanistan for around 800 years, their unique physical appearance and their religion make them stand out from the other ethnic minorities.
Ahmed Rashid is a Pakistan-based journalist and author.
Ahmed Rashid: Originally from Central Asia and they are supposed to be the heirs and descendants of Genghis Khan, the conqueror who invaded Afghanistan and basically destroyed Afghanistan on his move to sort of conquer half the known world at that time—we’re talking about the twelfth, thirteenth century. And Hazaras were the descendants of the Mongols, who came through, and they look very Mongol; they look completely different from other Afghans, some of them who are Central Asian but not of Mongol origin.
But the other main thing with the Hazaras is that they’re Shia Muslims. Eighty per cent or 85 per cent of Afghanistan is Sunni Muslim, and the Hazaras form the largest bloc of Shia believers. And as a consequence of that, they have spent a lot of time being persecuted by the Sunnis and by the largest ethnic group in the country, the Pashtuns.
Saleem Javed: The first thing that we should note is that the Hazaras, they live in three different countries.
Annabelle Quince: Saleem Javed is a medical doctor by profession and is working as a freelance journalist in Baluchistan, Pakistan. He spoke with me via Skype from Quetta.
Saleem Javed: They are predominantly living in Afghanistan, around about 7 million, which makes them around 20 per cent of the Afghan population. The second part of the community lives in Iran and also there are some 5 to 600,000 Hazaras living in Pakistan, mostly in Quetta. And the Hazaras, they have distinct features—Mongolian features, facial features, they speak Persian and they adhere to Shia sect of Islam. These three features make them very much distinguishable from the neighbouring communities.
Annabelle Quince: Historically, Hazaras have lived in a region known as Hazarajat in the central part of Afghanistan. Professor William Maley is the foundation director of the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy at the Australian National University.
William Maley: It’s a mountainous area in the centre of the country which embraces a number of different provinces. The height of the mountains in the Hazarajat reaches about 5000 metres. The bulk of the population there are involved in agricultural activities, with both irrigated agriculture and also dry farming, with fruit trees and things like that. It’s a relatively inaccessible area and quite a number of the villages in the Hazarajat tend to be cut off by winter snows for much of the year. The summer is pretty short.
Annabelle Quince: For centuries the Hazaras lived quite independently in Hazarajat. This, however, all changed at the end of the nineteenth century.
William Maley: In 1880, following the second Anglo-Afghan war, a new ruler came to the throne of Afghanistan, Emir Abdur Rahman Khan. And with support from the British he embarked on a state-building project of a sort which no previous Afghan ruler had attempted. And one of the elements of this was a desire to assert control over wider tracts of the country than previous rulers had done and to put in place loyal supporters from the emir’s ethnic group.
And this led to a concerted attempt to assert control over Hazarajat, which was done in the so-called Hazara wars of 1891 to 1893, which were incredibly ferocious. A recent study by Jonathan Lee of the tactics pursued by the emir at the time makes it very clear that the brutality of his approach to state building was one which would have been completely intolerable in the late part of the twentieth or early twenty-first century. And this is one reason why a lot of Hazaras have very painful historical memories of how they’ve been treated in the country.
Saleem Javed: The fact is that the Hazarajat was totally independent before the invasion of the Hazarajat by the emir of Afghanistan, Emir Abdur Rahman Khan. In the late nineteenth century he invaded the Hazarajat, the lands of Hazaras, and killed almost 60 per cent of the Hazaras. And the rest of them: some of them escaped to Pakistan, some of them escaped to the neighbouring country, Iran, and those who went to the neighbouring countries, like Iran and Pakistan, they make the present-day communities of Hazaras in Iran and Pakistan.
Annabelle Quince: According to Grant Farr, professor emeritus of sociology at Portland State University, by the end of the Hazara wars the Hazaras were leaderless, the upper class having either been killed or fled to Pakistan.
Grant Farr: There were many killed. He took out the kind of the whole upper class of Hazaras: they either were killed or they moved into the Quetta area of what became in 1947 Pakistan. And so there’s a large community of Hazaras in Quetta. Up to recently it had been fairly well integrated into Pakistani society and it left the Hazaras that were left, the Hazaras that were left in the Hazarajat in the high mountains, leaderless. And they became more of a pariah group, looked down upon by the rest of the Afghans. And that was really the pivotal kind of time.
But that movement has continued: the notion of bringing somehow the Hazaras under control of another ethnic group, basically the ethnic group that’s in Kabul. But their upper class during that time, or their ruling class, was either killed or they were forced into Pakistan, where they still live in the Quetta area.
Annabelle Quince: So how successful was the emir? Was he able to bring the Hazarajat under the control of Kabul?
Grant Farr: Well, it worked to a limited degree. I say to a limited degree because although a lot of Hazaras were killed in the process, a lot managed to survive. A lot were scattered to other parts of Afghanistan. And particularly in combination with poor weather, which affected crops, people found that they couldn’t survive on the basis of the economic activities which hitherto had sustained them.
So many Hazara labourers made their way to cities where they found their way into the lower stratum of society, doing the menial tasks that no one else wanted to do. And this is one reason why one finds Hazaras in many of the towns and cities of Afghanistan as well as in the Hazarajat.
Annabelle Quince: For most of the early part of the twentieth century, the Hazaras either eked out an existence in the Hazarajat or worked in low paying jobs in the cities and towns of Afghanistan.
Journalist (archival): President Carter has again condemned the Soviet Union over its involvement in Afghanistan, saying his opinion of the Russians has changed drastically in the past week. He said Mr Brezhnev had claimed that the Afghan government had invited the Soviet Union to protect it from a third nation, but Mr Carter said this was obviously false.
Annabelle Quince: When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the Hazaras attempted to join the resistance forces—but found they weren’t welcome.
Grant Farr: The resistance groups that we know about that fought the Soviet Union were largely Pashtun groups. That’s because Pakistan favoured them and the arms against the Russians ran through Pakistan at that time. But the Hazaras came out, some of the groups tried to form resistance groups, but what they found when they came out to Peshawar or Quetta, or the other kinds of places in Pakistan from which the war was fought against the Soviet Union, that they got very little support. So many of them turned to Iran.
Ahmed Rashid: The Hazaras were always treated almost as second-class citizens by the Pashtuns: they were the servants, the sweepers, the cooks, the drivers. And they were mistreated. And what the war did against the Soviets in the ‘80s was that the Hazaras formed their own resistance groups against the Soviets. The Hazara resistance leadership was not based in Pakistan where the others were, but it was based in Iran, because Iran of course was a coreligionist, Iran being also a Shia country. But the Hazaras then emerged as a very strong and more self-confident force, and once the war ended and the Soviets left in 1989, they began to demand their rights.
Journalist (archival): A general has crossed the Afghan border towards home in the final act of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Journalist (archival): According to the latest edition of the weekly Literary Gazette, almost 15,000 Soviet soldiers and officers died and nearly 37,000 were crippled. But it was a proud Lieutenant-General Boris Gromov who crossed into the Soviet border town of Termez at five minutes to midday. The 45-year-old general crossed behind the last column of about 50 tanks and 400 men and said he would never look back.
William Maley: Well, for a while they seemed to fare well, particularly under the leadership of a man called Abdul Ali Mazari, who had been involved with an earlier party called the Organisation of Victory. And he was leader of a significant militia which occupied part of Kabul between 1992 and 1995. But in early 1995 he was killed by the Taliban.
For ordinary Hazaras, of course, this was not a great blessing. Because although Mazari and his forces controlled part of Kabul, there were other parts of Kabul where Hazaras were located which were very vulnerable. And in early 1993 there was a ghastly massacre called the Afshar Massacre in which hundreds of Hazaras were killed, predominantly by members of a militia led by a man called Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf, who remains politically very prominent in Afghanistan to this day. That again was a traumatic reminder for Hazaras of the kind of experiences which they’d undergone in the late nineteenth century.
Journalist (archival): In Afghanistan, Taliban forces have taken control of the capital, Kabul.
Journalist (archival): Two weeks ago the Taliban moved into Afghanistan’s second largest city of Jalalabad. The takeover came as a surprise, not because the Taliban managed to do it, but because it came with a minimum of bloodshed. For the people of Jalalabad they were seen as avenging angels who had come to bring to justice those mujahedeen who had fallen on evil ways. That in many ways explains the success of the Taliban, that and a heady mix of religion and politics.
Ahmed Rashid: We then saw the rise of the Taliban, who hated the Shias, hated the Hazaras, massacred them in large numbers, conquered their territory, subjugated their women, and we see immense hatred between the Hazaras and the Pashtuns. And ever since then, I mean now with the whole threat of the Americans withdrawing from Afghanistan and the Hazaras are very fearful that if the Taliban come back in any way there will be a new ethnic and religious program against them.
Journalist (archival): They arrived at four in the morning, 3000 Taliban in SUVs, and began burning down houses and executing civilians.
Man (archival): They lined up people by twos and shoot them. Further away down there, they took civilians and they cut off their heads.
Journalist (archival): And they weren’t content to kill just the Hazaras they saw. So they set up a blockade of the Hazara areas so food couldn’t get through. More than a million people faced starvation.
William Maley: It was not a good time for Hazaras in many parts of the country. The worst single massacre in the history of modern Afghanistan occurred in Mazar-i-Sharif in August 1998, when about 2000 Hazaras were massacred in three days when the Taliban took over the city. And one of the people who led that particular massacre was a man called Abdul Manan Niazi, who was a fanatical Sunni chauvinist from the Shindand area in western Afghanistan. And he remains a prominent member of the Taliban’s so-called Quetta Shura to this day.
And this is one of the reasons why there’s not too much love lost between the Hazaras and the Taliban and of course an enormous apprehension on the part of ordinary Hazaras about what would happen to them if the Taliban come back.
Annabelle Quince: And the Taliban’s hatred or resentment towards the Hazaras is it simply because they are Shiites and they’re not Sunnis?
William Maley: It’s much more that than ethnic identity, but the problem from the Hazaras’ point of view is that their ethnic background makes them physically distinctive; they stick out in a crowd in the way that Shias such as the Kizilbash in Afghanistan don’t. And as a result, if you have a Talib who is fanatically anti-Shiite, it’s relatively easy as a rule of thumb for that person to tell in any given crowd who the Shia are. And that makes the Hazaras very vulnerable indeed.
Annabelle Quince: The official repression of the Hazaras by the Taliban ended with the arrival of the US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan in 2001.
Linda Mottram, AM (archival): This morning the people of Kabul awake to their first full day of life free of the extreme Islamic strictures of the Taliban.
Donald Rumsfeld(archival): Forces of Taliban and al-Qaida have several choices. They can flee and reorganise in the south, they can flee and melt into the countryside, or they can defect. If they reorganise in the south we are going to go get them, if they go to ground, we will as the president said, ‘root them out,’ and if they decide to flee, I doubt they will find peace wherever they select.
Annabelle Quince: With the US-led invasion into Afghanistan and the ousting of the Taliban, did that lead to a significant change in life for the Hazaras in Afghanistan?
William Maley: Again we need to distinguish between people at elite level and ordinary people. Certainly since 2001 there has been no official discrimination against Hazaras coming from the Afghan government, but of course that’s not what ordinary Hazaras have to fear. It’s also been the case that a number of Hazara politicians, such as Karim Khalili, who’s currently the vice-president, and Mohammad Mohaqiq, who’s been a member of parliament, have managed to position themselves as prominent figures speaking on behalf of Hazara interests.
But having said that, the influence that these people exercise within the state in Kabul is virtually meaningless for ordinary Hazaras living in areas where the power of the state is very limited. And the capacity of the state to offer realistic protection for Hazaras against predatory groups such as the Taliban is negligible in most of the country.
So on the one hand you don’t have official discrimination, but on the other hand you have an acute sense of vulnerability which many—in fact probably the majority—of Hazaras rationally feel in their day-to-day lives.
Annabelle Quince: You’re with Rear Vision on Radio National, Radio Australia and via the web. Today we’re tracing the history of the Hazaras and trying to work out why it is that so many of them are arriving on our shores as refugees.
Hazaras differ from other groups in Afghanistan because of their progressive attitudes to education and women.
Saleem Javed: The Hazaras, they have been very much in love with education. They are very progressive people who have a history. The members of this community, they have been treating their wives somewhat equally in different respects of life. Like, even today if you go to the suburbs of Bamyan city you will find the women working together with the men in the fields.
Now today, for example, the only female governor in Afghanistan is a Hazara. The governor of Bamyan today is a Hazara, Dr Sarabi, and the chairman of the Independent Human Rights Commission of Afghanistan is also a Hazara woman, Dr Sima Samar. And also there are many Hazara women who take interest in sports, who take interest in singing, in music, even in the armed forces.
So either in Afghanistan or in Pakistan they have always given an equal chance to their female counterparts to improve. But unfortunately because the society is somewhat not very much favourable to women, so that’s why the Hazara women have also not improved as much as their men. One of the main issues that the Taliban had with the Hazaras was this: that why do you allow your girls to go to schools? Why do you allow your women to come out of their homes?
William Maley: Hazaras typically have seen education as a route of exit from the marginalised social status to which other groups have been inclined to consign them. And for that reason they’ve tended to study very hard when the opportunity presents itself and to seize any opportunity that comes along in terms of education. So historically there have been individual Hazaras who have made optimal use of educational opportunity and achieved a certain amount of status in Kabul as a result of that. The former chancellor of Kabul University, for example, was a Hazara.
As far as women are concerned, the Hazaras tend to be markedly more broadminded in terms of social relations than some of the other ethnic groups of Afghanistan, particularly more conservative Pashtun groups, and there have been very notable Hazara women who have been articulate voices not just for Hazara causes but for humane causes more broadly. And probably the most striking example of that at the moment is Dr Sima Samar, who is the head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. And she’s certainly been a voice of sanity on issues relating to Hazaras, but on many other issues as well.
Annabelle Quince: Since the Hazara wars in the late nineteenth century a large community of Hazaras has lived in Pakistan, mainly around Quetta. For most of this time the Hazaras were welcomed and integrated into Pakistani society and even the Pakistani Army. Over the past 10 to 20 years however, as the Pakistan state began to disintegrate this all changed.
William Maley: It’s changed very significantly and to some degree this is due to a recrudescence of some of the sectarian violence and sectarian groups that scarred Pakistan’s domestic social life in the 1990s. There’s a particularly unpleasant group called Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which is a Sunni radical group which is largely committed to the elimination of Shia.
And it has engaged in attacks on Shiite Muslims not only in the Quetta area, where the bulk of the victims are Hazaras, but also in the vicinity of Parachinar to the north of Quetta, where there is a Shiite grouping coming from the Pashtun Turi tribe. And the sort of mechanism of these attacks is often that a bus will be stopped and the Shia will be separated from the Sunni passengers and the Shia passengers will be murdered.
So from that we have a fairly clear indication that it is religious sectarian identity which is the basis for these slayings. But the Pakistan state has proved quite ineffectual in dealing with this and as a consequence there’s now a really pervasive sense of terror in Quetta about what the future holds, and that’s one of the principle push factors that is leading to the appearance of Hazara asylum seekers in the vicinity of Australia.
Saleem Javed: Today the Hazaras live in the west of Quetta and the east of Quetta in two different localities which are sometimes now called ghettos. And now the Hazaras cannot move out of their own localities inside Quetta because as soon as they move outside their own localities they will be chased, identified and killed. The nature of the attacks has been different. Firstly, mostly the Hazara intellectuals and the officers were killed. Then the Hazara traders and businessmen were killed. And then later on, after 2008, then indiscriminate killings of the Hazaras is going on.
Only in 2012, more than 60 Hazaras have been killed, which include women, which include students, which include children, which include old people, vegetable vendors. Last month, a bus which was taking the Hazara students to a university, that bus was exploded through a suicide attack. Four Hazaras were killed. Now they are effectively under house arrest.
Grant Farr: If the Taliban is powerful in Afghanistan, it’s more powerful in Pakistan. In the last few years this jerk that Pakistan has made, or this rapid pivot Pakistan has made towards this fundamental Islamic movement, which has really destabilised Pakistan, has hit the Hazaras directly. They’re a group that are easily attacked and so… and since they look different, I mean, they look different: these are oriental-appearing people as opposed to the other people in Pakistan, who are South Indian types, or they’re continental types.
You see situations, you read about situations where a bus is stopped and the Hazaras are pulled off and put off to the side and either killed or harassed or something like that, and you think, ‘How could they tell who they are?’ Well, they can tell who they are; they look different.
Their situation in Pakistan—and this is relatively new, this was not the situation when I was doing my work in Pakistan—but their situation now in Pakistan has become quite precarious.
Journalist (archival): The prime minister says Afghanistan’s transition to take control of its own security is on track to take place next year.
Julia Gillard (archival): Transition begins in coming months and as you know we expect this process to take 12 to 18 months. And at its conclusion the majority of Australian troops will be able to return home.
Barack Obama (archival): We’re now unified behind a plan to responsibly wind down the war in Afghanistan. Since last year we’ve been transitioning parts of Afghanistan to the Afghan national security forces and that has enabled our troops to start coming home.
William Maley: There’s an overwhelming sense of apprehension at the moment, largely because ordinary people tend to think that the notion that peace is coming is a spurious one, one that’s being put out by western powers as a justification for their decisions to quit the theatre of operations in Afghanistan. The Taliban have proved to be a resurgent force, drawing in part on the failures of the Karzai government to market themselves to core constituency amongst the Pashtuns in the south and the east, but more seriously on account of their access to sanctuaries in Pakistan from which they’ve been able to operate with considerable impunity over the last seven to eight years.
For this reason, there is a real sense that what’s coming is not peace but either a Taliban takeover of the bulk of the country or a civil war in which anti-Taliban groups will end up being armed by other actors in the region. And here it’s worth noting that the Hazaras were virtually the only group that more or less completely disarmed as part of the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration progress in the early part of the decade. And while some Hazaras have sought to compensate for that by joining the Afghan national army, the Hazaras have less militia capacity than any other significant social group in Afghanistan at the moment and that also adds to their sense of vulnerability.
Saleem Javed: The first try is that they should just leave Afghanistan to the neighbouring countries, but now because Pakistan has become somewhat very dangerous place for the Hazaras, now the Hazaras they move either towards Europe by crossing the Iranian border or they move to Australia. But this has been also very dangerous. From 2008 up to now almost 300 Hazaras have died on the way to Australia when the boat capsizes off the Indonesian coast, but still they are running towards Australia, they are running towards Europe, because they do not have any other option. If they stay in Pakistan, if they stay in Afghanistan, they will be… they are not sure about their future. So now they take this all danger of travelling to Australia, of travelling to Europe, so that at least if they arrive there they will have a better future for their children, for their women.
Sally Sara, AM (archival): Some Afghan MPs also hold grave fears if unsuccessful asylum seekers are sent back to Afghanistan. Outspoken parliamentarian and notorious Hazara militia leader, Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq, believes the asylum seekers will be in danger.
(Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq speaking)
He says without doubt, they will face disaster in their life. Hazaras make up a large proportion of asylum seekers going from Afghanistan to Australia. Their leaders say they are at added risk of persecution because many come from the provinces where the Taliban has a strong presence.
Annabelle Quince: So with the coalition forces due to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014 and the situation in Pakistan deteriorating, are we likely to see more Hazaras attempting to come to Australia?
William Maley: In a way the debate over whether we create pull factors by resettling people from Indonesia before they get on boats is a bit abstract, because what it ignores is that the push factors from Afghanistan are likely to be going up significantly in the next couple of years, in which case you hardly worry about pull factors, or you shouldn’t, because you’ll have to cope with substantially increased numbers anyway.
It’s simply a rational response to the kind of threats which people see looming over their daily lives and if you’ve had a history of being attacked not because of your opinion—which you can to some degree attempt to disguise—but on the basis of what you are seen by others to be, then there is very little that you can actually do to protect yourself if the going gets rough, in which case exit becomes the wisest option.
Annabelle Quince: Professor William Maley, foundation director of the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy at the Australian National University, ending today’s program. My other guests have been Ahmed Rashid, Pakistan-based journalist and author, Grant Farr, professor emeritus of sociology at Portland State University, and Saleem Javed, a Hazara medical doctor currently working as a freelance journalist in Baluchistan, Pakistan.
Steven Tilley is the sound engineer and archival material came from ABC Archives and from CBC.
As always you can down load this program from the Rear Vision website: abc.net.au/radionation/rearvision. And while you’re there, we always love to get your comments. I’m Annabelle Quince and this is
Rear Vision on RN. Thanks as always for joining us.
Pakistani journalist and historian.
Dr Saleem Javed
Medical doctor by profession he has worked as a freelance journalist in Balochistan Pakistan for the past 4 years.
Professor William Maley
Foundation Director of the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy at the Australian National University.
Professor Emeritus of Sociologist at Portland State University.
Presenter Annabelle Quince