The Taliban Is Failing to Protect the People of Afghanistan

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Emirate Islami (Taliban) Flag on the wall of US Embassy near Massoud square, beside the ministry of health in Kabul Afghanistan. Courtesy of AhmadElhan (Wikimedia CC0)

At least 17 people, mostly young male students, were killed in a bomb blast this past Wednesday in the city of Aybak, the capital of Afghanistan’s Samangan province. According to the Associated Press, the bombing took place at a religious school just as afternoon prayers were finishing.

In addition to those killed, 26 were reportedly injured in the blast. This bombing is just the latest in a slew of terror attacks that have plagued Afghanistan since the Taliban took control of the country in August of last year. The majority of these attacks, like the September suicide bomber that killed 54 in the capital city of Kabul, have been claimed by the Islamic State group’s Afghan affiliate: The Islamic State of Khorasan Province, or ISKP.

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Map of administrative divisions of Afghanistan. Courtesy of TUBS (Wikimedia CC0)

ISKP has not yet claimed the Aybak bombing, and the Taliban security forces are investigating the incident to, “identify the perpetrators and punish them for their actions,” according to Taliban Interior ministry spokesman Abdul Nafee Takkur. Religious minorities in the country, particularly Shia Muslims like the Hazara ethnic group, have been the primary targets of ISKP. Although the Taliban has vowed to protect these minorities, their efforts have been lacking.

Afghanistan’s Most Extreme Militant Group

ISKP was formed in 2015 by Afghan and Pakistani jihadists, many of whom defected from the Taliban because they believed it was not extreme enough. ISKP considers itself to be a part of the global network of IS, and operates out of the Nangarhar province that borders Pakistan to the east. The “Khorasan province” is a historical region that covers parts of both modern Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“Since the Taliban takeover, (ISKP) 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,” says Human Rights Watch researcher Fereshta Abbasi.

According to HRW, the ISKP has committed 16 attacks, 13 of which it has claimed, that have resulted in over 700 casualties. Those numbers are most likely underreported, as the Taliban has been cracking down on media and journalists’ inquiries into the country’s rampant violence.

Of those that have been reported, there is the April 19 suicide bombing at a high school in a primarily Shia area of Kabul that killed and injured 20 people, including students and staff. Two days later, another suicide bombing at one of the country’s largest Shia mosques killed 31 and injured 87. A week later, gunmen shot and killed five Hazara miners on their way to a coal mine in Samangan. The following day, a bomb exploded on a bus, killing 9 Hazara passengers and injuring 13 in the city of Mazar-e Sharif.

UN Investigating Crimes Against Humanity

These mounting examples of targeted violence against ethnic and religious minorities is prompting an investigation from the United Nations. The concern is that these attacks are, “becoming increasingly systematic in nature and reflect elements of an organizational policy, thus bearing hallmarks of crimes against humanity,” says UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett.

In the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA)’s 2021 midyear report indicated a sharp rise in civilian deaths in the country. The total number of civilian casualties rose by 47 percent when compared to the first half of 2020, with three times the amount of deaths by improvised explosive devices (IEDs). At just over 500 killed, this was the most civilian deaths by IEDs since UNAMA began tracking the number in 2009.

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Kabul Taliban member with chest flags. Courtesy of Callum Darragh (Flickr PDM)

The Taliban’s Own History of Terror

The Taliban, a Sunni Islamist nationalist group, originally rose to power in Afghanistan in the 1990s. In those days the Taliban targeted Hazara Shia Muslims for large scale abuses and killings. In January of 2001, 170 Hazara men were rounded up and executed by Taliban firing squads in Afghanistan’s Yakaolang district.

Since the Taliban’s return to power in 2021, Hazaras have been in fear for their safety and livelihoods, despite promises to protect them. “The Taliban never liked Hazaras. Last time they were in power, they killed many of us,” an anonymous member of the Hazara community told HRW.

In October of last year, Saeed Khosty, the Taliban government’s Interior Ministry spokesman reassured outsiders, saying, “As a responsible government, we are responsible for protecting all citizens of Afghanistan, especially the country’s religious minorities.”

These words and promises feel pretty empty to Hazaras and others affected by the attacks. Going forward, the Taliban will have to prove to the international community, as well as their own citizens, that they are taking these attacks seriously, and are not themselves complicit in the killings of Afghanistan’s minority populations.

 

Written by Seth Herlinger.

 

Sources:

Aljazeera: Students among 15 killed in Afghan school explosion

AP News: Taliban: 10 killed in bombing of Afghan religious school

BBC News: Afghanistan: Who are Islamic State Khorasan Province militants?

BBC News: Students killed as bomb blast hits Afghan school

Human Rights Watch: Afghanistan: ISIS Group Targets Religious Minorities

Human Rights Watch: Massacres of Hazaras in Afghanistan

UNAMA: REPORTS ON THE PROTECTION OF CIVILIANS IN ARMED CONFLICT

Top image by AhmadElhan, Courtesy of Wikimedia – Creative Commons License

Second inset image by TUBS, Courtesy of Wikimedia – Creative Commons License

Final inset and featured image courtesy of Callum Darragh‘s Flickr page – Public Domain

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