The massacre of schoolgirls in Kabul

@Ali Rahimi

A terrorist attack on a school attended by the long-persecuted Hazaras in the Dasht-e Barchi neighborhood of west Kabul, killed more than 85 people mostly school girls and injured close to 200 others, according to Etilaat Roz daily newspaper. The attack occurred on May 8, 2021 of May when a car bomb followed by two blasts targeted mainly ethnic Hazara girls in front of the Sayed-ul Shohada high school where about 7,500 female and 7,000 male students study in two shifts. The Afghan government has drawn much criticism for failing to provide any basic security measures for the school which accommodates several thousand students.

Hazaras, who make up an estimated 20 to 25 percent of Afghanistan’s population, are constantly targeted by terrorist groups including the Taliban and the Islamic State in various cities and on the highways, not only in Afghanistan, but also in Pakistan where they constitute the ethnic minority. The trend of attacks on Hazaras have indicated that they are targeted solely for their ethnic identity. In March 2021, seven Hazara laborers were shot dead in eastern Jalalabad with their hands tied behind their back. In January this year, 11 Hazara coal miners were killed in Pakistan. Between 2009 and 2014, more than 1,000 Hazaras have lost their lives in various attacks and targeted killings in Pakistan.

Hazaras have been massacred in educational centers, gyms, maternity hospitals, religious centers and political gatherings not only in Kabul, but very frequently along the country’s highways as well. Below is a timeline of some of the recent attacks against Hazaras in the Dasht-e Barchi neighbourhood of west Kabul since 2016:

  • On October 20, 2020, a suicide bomber struck an educational center, killing 24 Hazara students and wounding 57 others.
  • On May 12, 2020, a horrific attack took place on a maternity hospital. The gunman entered the hospital and opened fire on expectant mothers, newborn babies and nurses, killing 24 women and children and wounding dozens more.
  • On March 6, 2020, a Hazara political gathering was attacked, in which 32 people were killed and 81 wounded.
  • On March 8, 2019, another Hazara political gathering was attacked by rocket fire, in which 11 civilians were killed and 95 were wounded.
  • On September 5, 2018, a terrorist attack took place on a Hazara wrestling club, killing 26 people and injuring 90 others.
  • On August 15, 2018, a terrorist attack occurred inside a classroom of a university preparatory academy, which killed 48 Hazara students and wounded 67 others.
  • On April 22, 2018, a voter registration center was attacked, killing 63 Hazaras, most of whom were women and children, and more than 100 others were injured.
  • On October 20, 2017, a Hazara religious center was attacked, killing 39 people and wounding more than 45 others.
  • On August 25, 2017, another Hazara religious gathering was attacked in which 30 people were killed and 80 were injured.
  • On June 16, 2017, a Hazara Mosque was attacked by a suicide bomber, in which 8 people were killed and 10 were injured.
  • On July 23, 2016, a peaceful protest of the Hazara Enlightening Movement was attacked and close to 100 people, mostly university students were killed and around 400 were wounded.

Zaki Daryabi, a journalist based in Kabul says Hazaras in west Kabul have built three memorial cemeteries since Ashraf Ghani took power in 2014. The ’Roshnai’ (enlightenment) Cemetery for the victims of an attack on the ‘Enlightening Movement’ demonstration in 2016, the ‘Danaei’ (Knowledge Cemetery, for the 48 Hazara students killed in an attack on an educational center in 2018, and most recently the ‘Maaref’ (education) Cemetery for students killed this month.

Many of these attacks have been claimed by a supposed Islamic State affiliate group based in Afghanistan known as the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP), without much evidence being available to prove their culpability. However, for this specific attack, no group has claimed responsibility. The Taliban have denied their involvement but Afghanistan’s First Vice President, Amrullah Saleh, said he has no doubt that this was the act undertaken by Taliban insurgents. “The so-called IS-K is also an offshoot of the Taliban. Ideologically they are twins and logistically they are parasites of the same swamps”, tweeted Saleh.

How did the world react to the school attack?

The killing of Hazara girls in Dasht-e Barchi drew national and international condemnation. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) issued a statement expressing concern over the systematic killings of Hazaras after the attack on the girls’ school. The commission called on the Afghan government to acknowledge the “targeted killings of the Hazaras” and to provide “special protection” for them in accordance with International Human Rights Law, and to develop a security plan for west part of Kabul to protect Hazaras from future terrorist attacks.

The European Union (EU), United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and the leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, condemned the attack and stressed the importance of bringing the perpetrators to justice. The EU in a statement called the attack an affront “not only on the people of Afghanistan, but on all the people of the world who believe in the knowledge and equality of men and women.” Similarly, the UNSC also expressed concern over attacks on schools and educational facilities. The UNSC called for the perpetrators of the attacks, their supporters and financial backers to be brought to justice. International Human Rights Organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch also condemned the attack.

What do social media users say?

Social media users accuse the Afghan government for failing to prevent the massacre of Hazaras in recent years. Many said that such attacks have occurred on multiple occasions and the government has only ever released statement to offer its condolence in the aftermath of attacks, but has taken no practical action to prevent them.

The Afghan government’s “war crimes unit promised to investigate several previous bombings in Dasht-e Barchi but has failed to do so in a way that could help prevent future attacks”, tweeted Patricia Grossman, the Associate Asia Director for Human Rights Watch.

Several Afghan journalists, lawyers and academics have called the attack on Hazaras a “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing.”

“Hazaras are being ethnically cleansed because of their ethnic identity,” tweeted Haroun Rahimi, a law professor at the American University of Afghanistan. The chief-in-editor of Hasht-i Subh daily newspaper, Parwiz Kawa, called the recent attack on Hazara girls in Dasht-e Barchi a “perfect example of genocide”.

Farahnaz Forotan, a female Afghan journalist who was forced to leave Afghanistan due to security threats to her life posted on her Twitter account that the attacks on Hazaras are organized and very-well planned. According to Forotan, no place is safe for Hazaras in Afghanistan because they are “being slaughtered at school, maternal hospitals, educational centers and mosques.” She asked “who can ignore this genocide?”