On April 19, 2022, at least nine individuals died, and more than 50 were injured, per UNICEF’s report, after a series of coordinated attacks occurred in Western Kabul in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood, home to a large Shia and Hazara population. The first attack struck the Mumtaz Education Center early Tuesday morning, followed by three explosions, one caused by a grenade, at the Abdul Rahim Shaheed High School, where elementary school girls are still allowed to attend.
While no group has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks, violence is not a new phenomenon for the Shia community, which has previously been the target of attacks by the Taliban and the Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K).
Immediately following the attacks, various government and organizational figureheads spoke out, regarding the attacks as reprehensible and senseless. Attacks against civilians, especially innocent children at schools, has struck an international nerve. Ramiz Alakbarov, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator, reiterated that violence against schools is never acceptable, as schools should be a source of physical and emotional safety. Moreover, UN Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric stated that “attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure, including schools, are strictly prohibited under international humanitarian law.”
Hazara Shia Community in Afghanistan
In 2019, the U.S. Department of State estimated that 10-15 percent of Afghanistan’s population are Shia, and of the Shia population, 90 percent are ethnic Hazaras. The Hazara community predominantly resides in central and western Kabul. Due to the minority status of Afghan Shias, they are frequently targeted by Sunni-based organizations, such as the Taliban and IS-K. Ultimately, the Hazara community has “encountered persecution and systematic discrimination in their chronicle for more than a century.”
Initially, hopes rang high for the Hazara community when the Taliban collapsed 20 years ago. The prospect of a democracy resounded throughout Afghanistan; however, attacks persisted against the Hazara Shia community, especially with the rise of IS-K and their mission to purge Afghanistan of any Shia Hazara Muslims. Now, with the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, the Hazara Shia community is fearful that any progress they have made within society will be shattered and that attacks will steadily increase against their community.
Other Attacks Against the Hazara Community
While the attacks on April 19th in Kabul are horrific, sadly, they were not unprecedented. Afghanistan’s Hazara community has been continuously and brutally targeted by both the Taliban and IS-K, from being the victims of targeted killings to discrimination to kidnappings.
Recent attacks include those in July 2021, when Hazara men in the village of Mundarakht were massacred by Taliban fighters “during a two-day killing spree.” Additionally, the attacks of April 19, 2021, are not the first-time schools have been targeted in a largely Hazara community. In May 2021, at least 90 individuals were killed after a car bomb was detonated outside he Sayed Ul-Shuhada High School, targeting female students. Also, the IS-K detonated a group of suicide bombers at a Shia mosque in October 2021, killing 47 and injuring at least 70.
Ultimately, attacks against innocent children, especially at schools, should never occur. The ruthlessness of these attacks must be met with a thorough investigation and changes within Afghanistan to protect the Shia and Hazara communities. This is a moment in which the Taliban can demonstrate to the international community that they have truly changed by providing safety and security for all Afghans. Finally, the international community must pay careful attention to the unrelenting attacks against the Hazara Shia community and take actionable steps to secure their well-being and prosecute any human rights violations.
Rise to Peace Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow
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