After decades of war, the Afghan police have become somewhat immune to sights of carnage. However, a recent patrol in the Khas Uruzgan district of Uruzgan province, just north of Kandahar, recently stumbled upon a particularly grisly sight, which could cause nightmares among even the most seasoned police veterans.
On Friday, June 25, Afghan police official, Mohammad Gulab Wardak said that his patrol had found the decapitated bodies of 11 men, with their heads placed neatly beside them. The obvious planning in the placement of the severed heads next to the bodies made the blood of even these seasoned policemen run cold. It had the hallmark of a serial killer – or the Taliban.
In fact, the moment he saw the bodies, the official knew who their killers were because all of the dead men were ethnic Hazaras and they were all Shias.
“This was the work of the Taliban. They beheaded these men because they were Shia Muslims and ethnic Hazaras,” Wardak said.
The incident was nothing new. For years, the Taliban have been systematically killing Afghan Shias, most of whom are members of the Hazara ethnic group. The Hazaras, who comprise the third largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, are Persian-speaking and primarily Shia Muslim.
When the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan in the 1990’s, the Hazaras faced not only widespread oppression, but extinction, as well.
One of the most infamous cases occurred in 1998, when the Taliban attacked the town of Mazar-i-Sharif which had a sizeable Hazara community. According to testimonies by international observers and an account by Human Rights Watch (which researched and compiled its own report,) the Taliban, in one bloody operation, systematically murdered 8,000 people in Mazar-i-Sharif.
Witnesses said that on the morning of August 8, 1988, the Taliban entered the town, firing heavy machineguns mounted on pickup trucks. Anyone, who happened to be outside, was caught in the fire. The streets were soon covered with bodies and the gutters ran scarlet with blood. The stench of fly-blown, decomposing corpses soon became unbearable in the stifling heat. The bodies lay there for 6 days, rotting in the sun, before the Taliban allowed them to be buried.
If the first day was a nightmare, the second could have been likened to Dante’s description of one of the inner circles of Hell. On that day, the Taliban began a house-to-house search for Hazara men. Any who were found, were summarily killed. According to the witnesses, most of the victims were shot, but some had their throats slit.
The testimonies stated that the Taliban then went on to round up hundreds of people and pack them into containers to suffocate in the scorching summer heat. During the ‘mop-up’ operation, any Hazaras found alive – whether men, women, or children, were gunned down. Numbers of people, including women, children and the elderly were shot while trying to flee the town, which had been transformed into a deathtrap. The Taliban even went into the hospitals and shot the patients in their beds.
One witness testified how he saw the Taliban stuff children into containers and cart them off to an unknown destination after their parents had been killed.
Age, gender or physical helplessness obviously meant nothing to the Taliban; nor did they recognize diplomatic immunity.
Amnesty International reported that the extremist group entered the Iranian Embassy in Mazar-i-Shariff, kidnapping and then killing 10 Iranian diplomats along with one journalist.
The Mazar-i-Shariff massacre was, by no means, an isolated incident. Numerous similar cases of ethnic cleansing took place throughout Afghanistan for as long as the Taliban were in power. Some of these events were documented by various groups, such as Human Rights Watch. Others obviously occurred unnoticed by the outside world, as various mass graves found after the Taliban were ousted indicate.
The 1998 Mazar-i-Shariff incident was pivotal, however, in that it marked the date, in which the Taliban ‘came out into the open,’ so as to speak, clearly stating their views and intentions.
Mullah Manon Niazi, the Taliban leader, who directed the massacre and was said to have personally selected victims for the death containers, openly called the Hazaras ‘infidels’ and threatened to kill them all unless they renounced Shiism and converted to ‘Islam’ – what he meant, of course, was the Taliban brand of Sunnism. In one particularly blunt speech, which was recorded by international observers, he said, “Hazaras are not Muslim, they are Shi’a. They are kafir (infidels). The Hazaras killed our force here, and now we have to kill Hazaras… If you do not show your loyalty, we will burn your houses, and we will kill you. You either accept to be Muslims or leave Afghanistan… wherever you go we will catch you. If you go up, we will pull you down by your feet; if you hide below, we will pull you up by your hair.”
It must be stressed that these views were not limited to Niazi, alone, but were shared by other Taliban leaders, as well.
Another of the group’s commanders, Maulawi Mohammed Hanif, informed a crowd of 300 people, who had been ordered to gather at a particular mosque, that the policy of the Taliban was to “exterminate” the Hazaras.
These speeches were not merely the ‘hate messages’ of lunatics. The Taliban meant business. The statements were borne out by the actions of Mullah Musa, the Taliban’s so-called director of public health, who went through a public hospital looking for Hazara patients. Later that day (according to a doctor, who was in the hospital at the time,) Musa returned with a group of gunmen. All 20 of the hospital’s Hazara patients were shot dead — along with their relatives, who had been visiting them.
As has already been mentioned, similar cases occurred throughout the country for as long as the Taliban remained in power. After the group was ousted, the discovery of numerous mass graves filled with headless bodies, led experts to believe that many exterminations took place, which were never recorded. According to human rights groups, thousands of people remain unaccounted for and there are most likely mass graves that have not yet been found.
If the Hazara carnage of the 1990’s had been limited to that time period alone we could call it a tragedy and file it away in history’s archives of atrocities. But unfortunately, it cannot be relegated to the past. As the Afghan police patrol’s recent discovery indicates, the Taliban are, once again up to their old tricks — slaughtering people due to their race and/or religion – particularly, when those people happen to be Hazara Shias.
Though NATO, led by the United States, invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and initially removed the Taliban from power, since that time, the militants have regrouped and reemerged, seizing portions of the country. In retrospect, all the coalition has been able to do is temporarily scatter the group.
Though NATO has tried, for a little under a decade, to rid Afghanistan of the Taliban, it has been unable to do so. Like the proverbial ‘bad penny,’ the radical group keeps turning up and the war goes on.
The Taliban will most likely be around for some time to come and as long as they are they will continue to persecute those, who disagree with them – particularly in matters of religion. Thus the Hazara carnage is an ongoing tragedy. People will continue to suffer and die – doomed by their ethnic heritage and condemned for the things in which they believe.