Azaranica is a non-biased news aggregator on Hazaras. The main aim is to promote understanding and respect for cultural identities by highlighting the realities they face on daily basis...Hazaras have been the victim of active persecution and discrimination and one of the reasons among many has been the lack of information, awareness, and disinformation.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Is Democracy Always for the Better? The Forgotten Plight of Afghanistan’s Hazara Minority

With the possibility of a democratic pandemic sweeping the Middle East and South Asia it is perhaps worth pausing to reflect on all the implications for a more populist form of government. Afghanistan has had at least the semblance of democracy for almost a decade – yet what is the fate of the minority in a country where, for generations, brutal oppression has been the modus-operandi of the majority?

Admittedly, not many lessons can be taken from the 2010 Afghan election result which saw widespread fraud, physical intimidation and murder of candidates, self-confessed war criminals on the ballot and only three million eligible voters expressing their preference at all in a country of over fifteen million people. Something that might just pique our interest, however, is that of the 249 seats up for grabs one quarter were won by Hazara candidates. This is indicative of two factors: firstly, Hazarajat is one of the safest areas of a country savaged by unrelenting sectarian violence; and secondly, the Hazara people have wholeheartedly embraced democracy and democratic values and fully appreciate the enormous opportunities that allied military intervention has provided.

The journey the Harazaras have taken to arrive at this point is a story of unremitting abuse. Their history follows the depressingly predictable trajectory of a predominantly Shia minority within a Sunni populace made up of Pashtuns, Tajiks and Uzbeks. Marked out by their faith and their mixed Eurasian genetic heritage, the Hazaras have found themselves on the wrong side of an apartheid society, a state of affairs interrupted only by intermittent genocides. The Eighteenth Century Emir, Dost Mohammed Kahn was content with targeted racial taxation, while his eventual successor, Abdur Rahman Khan, preferred to massacre or banish the hated Kafir (infidels). Following the attempt to conquer Afghanistan by the Soviets, the Hazaras were split into two warring factions, secular nationalists based in Pakistan and Khomeni-inspired Islamists who were ultimately successful. However, in subsuming the secular thinkers into their ranks the Iranian-supported Hazaras unified their various resistance factions under the nationalist umbrella of Hezb-eWhadat. The leader of this movement, Abdul Ali Mazari, was subsequently assassinated by a new and terrible Pashtun government made up of the very worst kind of Sunni extremists. The Taliban’s subsequent destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas which so appalled the international community was as much a display of power to the Hazara people sheltering in caves on that same hillside, as it was a statement of Islamic superiority or the removal of blasphemous idols. Whatever atrocities had been committed by the Emirs would pale in comparison to this regime’s truly exceptional brand of evil.

Besudi Hazara chieftains (taken by John Burke in 1879-80 - from wikisource)
Today Afghanistan falls under the purview of international law as overseen by the United Nations. Hazaras have grabbed the opportunity for education and democracy with both hands. Hazaras are to be found in almost every human rights and democracy-promoting organisation throughout the country. Even though they constitute only 9% of the populace over a third of all University entrance tests are taken by young Hazaras.[1] But this should hardly surprise Western observers. The Hazara people have long made education, even the education of women, a priority. Much of the money they raise within their own communities is spent setting up schools in Hazarajat, while arguments over the nature and necessity of pluralism have been raging in Central Afghanistan for generations while the rest of the country were content to allow the eradication of all ethnic, cultural and religious differences. Most tellingly of all, however, Hazara farmers almost unanimously eschew as “un-Islamic” the practice of Poppy growing that has been embraced wholeheartedly by swathes of the Pashtun population. In truth, the Hazaras were ready for liberation in a way the majority Sunni populations simply weren’t.

But of course, however many Hazaras end up in parliament, the Pashtuns and Tajic warlords still control Afghanistan. The pathetic Hamid Karzai may work alongside minorities in his administration but he has no interest in ending his people’s proud tradition of racist oppression. Of all the billions Afghanistan receive in aid money only a fraction of a fraction has been spent in the central regions – no new roads, new schools or new hospitals for the Hazara. Jobs in Kabul and other urban centres are still split along entirely racial lines, with Hazaras finding what manual work they can and still publically scorned by the less-educated majority. The universities are largely controlled by extremist Sunni pseudo-scholars who lack the intelligence of the Hazara students they either exclude or bully into leaving. Hazara youngsters who graduate at the top of their classes in mixed-raced schools suddenly find themselves denied entry to the lowliest universities, even as their less talented Pashtun and Tajic classmates mysteriously start excelling when they come to take entrance tests. While Pashtun-Tajic, Tajic-Uzbek or Uzbek-Pashtun marriages are generally permissible, no Hazara will ever be good enough for the son or daughter of a Sunni household. Finally, lest we forget, the Taliban are still an ugly and active force in Afghan regional politics. Hazara elders are routinely slaughtered by the fascist cowards who still claim divine right to rule the peoples of Afghanistan.

As long as the Afghan government has to bend to the popular will, supporting Hazaras will never be government policy. The only hope for these embattled people lies in the by-products of democracy: in particular, non-discriminatory education, a free press, and the abandonment of primitive fundamentalist religious values. Meanwhile, as we look over the middles east and see regimes on the brink of collapse, if not already toppled, for the first time we have to ask ourselves what the popular will has to say. Women, homosexuals, Christians, Jews, indeed all racial and religious minorities are faced with the possibility that majority opinion is about to make itself heard. I firmly believe, perhaps naively, that a new democracy inevitably transforms over time into a liberal democracy as the necessities of constant compromise and gradually improving educational standards help shape the popular mood. The process of getting there, however, may well be long, violent and scarred by flagrant inequality.


[1] See Phil Zabriskie’s excellent article for National Geographic: The Outsiders


No comments:

Post a Comment