An affiliate of the ISIL (ISIS) armed group in Afghanistan has targeted Hazaras – a predominantly Shia Muslim ethnic group – and other minorities, in a wave of attacks at mosques, schools and workplaces, undermining the Taliban’s promise of greater security, the Human Rights Watch said in a report on Tuesday.
The Islamic State of Khorasan Province, ISKP (ISIS-K) has repeatedly attacked religious minorities, with the Taliban authorities doing little to protect them from attacks or to provide necessary medical care and other assistance to victims and their families, the group said in a scathing report.
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The Taliban have claimed that they brought security to Afghanistan after taking over control in August 2021, following the US military’s withdrawal. But ISKP’s continued attacks against Hazara Muslims, Sufis, Sikhs and other minorities undercut that Taliban narrative.
“Since the Taliban takeover, ISIS-linked fighters have committed numerous brutal attacks against members of the Hazara community as they go to school, to work, or to pray, without a serious response from the Taliban authorities,” said Fereshta Abbasi, Afghanistan researcher at HRW.
“The Taliban have an obligation to protect at-risk communities and assist the victims of attacks and their families.”
Since the Taliban’s return to power, the ISKP has claimed responsibility for 13 attacks against Hazaras and has been linked to at least three more, killing and injuring at least 700 people, the rights group said.
The group also said that the Taliban’s own crackdown on the media means additional attacks have likely gone unreported. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported that recent attacks by the group on Shia gatherings in Kabul killed and injured more than 120 people, HRW said.
ISKP emerged as the biggest security threat
The ISKP has emerged as the biggest security challenge to the Taliban, which already faced hunger stalking the country, the Afghan economy in freefall after billions of dollars of Afghan funds were frozen and international diplomatic isolation.
The New York-based rights advocacy group remotely interviewed 21 survivors of attacks, and family members of victims, in Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif provinces between April and July, using secure communications.
According to the group, the attacks, beyond their immediate devastation, take a terrible long-term toll on the survivors and families of victims, depriving them of breadwinners, often imposing severe medical burdens, and restricting their access to daily life.
“We do not send our children to school any more, and we close our shops early,” said a man who lost his 45-year-old brother in the Seh Dokan Mosque attack. “The mosque has also been closed since the attack.”
Depression and severe trauma were reported by survivors and loved ones of victims. Women also said that losing their spouse or “mahram” (male relative) has meant more dire social and economic consequences, especially as Taliban restrictions on their freedoms have made it difficult to earn a living and become financially independent.
The Taliban’s failure to provide security to at-risk populations and medical and other assistance to survivors and affected families exacerbates the harm these attacks cause, HRW said.
“Armed group leaders may, one day, face justice for their atrocities against Hazaras and other communities,” Abbasi said. “Taliban officials who fail to take action to protect religious minorities from attack may be complicit in these grave crimes.”