On July 23, 2016, several hundred Hazaras were protesting the development of a power line, disagreeing with the route that had been chosen by the government. By the end of the day, the protest had been devastated by violence and the minority Hazara community in Afghanistan had been shaken. Over 80 members were killed and another 230 were injured in the Kabul attack, with the Afghanistan National Directorate for Security stating that the attack was plotted by known terrorist Abu Ali from the Nangarhar Province of Afghanistan. When analyzing this unfortunate and tragic incident, two issues have to be examined. The first issue is that the Hazaras have been persecuted and discriminated against since at least the 16th century. In the 1880s, “Jihad was declared by Sunnis on all Shi'as of Afghanistan” during the reign of Abdur Rahman Khan (1880-1901), leading to the Hazaras’ political, economic, and social persecution. Secondly, the man who plotted the attack, Abu Ali, was a known member of the Islamic State, showing the spread of ISIS outside of its home base in Iraq and Syria.
Looking at the violence against Hazaras, according to the National Interest, the attacks against them have to do less with the sectarian conflict plaguing many Islamic-majority countries, but rather with the “ethnic conflict and the collapse of the power sharing agreement in Kabul”. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant - Khorasan Province (IS-K), also known as Wilayat Khorasan, has been attacking Hazaras for the past year. Furthermore, Iran has been supporting the Hazaras due to their shared faith and has pledged support for the Hazara minority in Afghanistan. This support from Iran is due to the fact that many Hazaras are of the Shia faith and there has been past cooperation between the Hazaras and Iran.
ISIS’s claims that the Hazara are fighting in Syria thereby making the community a legitimate target. IS-K believes that they are legitimate targets because some Hazaras have been traveling to Syria in order to protect Shia holy sites, many of which IS-K has destroyed or has tried to destroy. As the conflict in Syria and Iraq has progressed, thousands of Hazaras have also traveled to fight for economic reasons, with Iran promising citizenship and money to those who fight in Syria. Unfortunately, the Hazaras would have still been targeted by IS-K even if they weren’t involved in Syria due to the sectarian conflict occurring within Afghanistan and ISIS’ ongoing brutal campaign against Shiites.
Two worst-case scenarios present themselves stemming from this event. With the massacre of the Hazaras in the bombing, there is a chance for a potential renewed sectarian conflict in Afghanistan between the Sunnis and Shias. For decades, the Hazara Shia have been persecuted by the Pashtun Sunni majority; however, conditions have been improving in the Hazara community, with rights to protest being allowed in recent years. As a result of this bombing that targeted the minority Hazara population, a further escalation of tensions can occur, resulting in renewed ethnic conflict.
Secondly, there is an additional cause of concern due to the multiple parties involved. The presence of ISIS or at least an affiliate, operating within the country is a major cause of concern. Although the branch is small compared to its Iraqi, Syrian, or Libyan counterparts, attacks like this show that it is not to be treated lightly. What at least helps the situation is the presence of US special forces, Afghan forces, and the Afghan Taliban, that pose as a counter to the presence and danger that ISIS poses.
One thing that can be done by the Afghan government though is to provide full civil and human rights to the Hazara people, giving them the same opportunities and chances to succeed as any other people in Afghanistan. Many Hazaras have been treated as “second-class citizens”, being denied basic services and political rights for years. Although it won’t solve the problem as a whole, guaranteeing the rights of the Hazara would be a step in the right direction to stem sectarian conflict within the nation.