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Monday, February 19, 2007




The Hazaras

The Economist published a short article about the Afghan Hazaras. Members of the Afghan Shia minority and one of the most downtrodden communities, the Hazaras are living through a social and political revival. In Afghanistan, as in Iraq, the US interventionism has produced an impressive Shia renaissance. The new Afghan constitution accepts Shia Islam as a state religion. The Shia now run 4 out of 34 Afghan provinces and for the first time have (at least on paper) equal rights with members of other tribes and communities.

After having been confined for centuries to the backward and poor province of Bamiyan, there is a massive migration of the Hazaras to the cities such as Kabul and Herat. Probably the two most interesting pieces of information provided by this article is the Hazaras' single minded commitment to education and the level of their political skills and mobilization:

The Hazara district of Jaghori, in the southern province of Ghazni, borders Taliban-dominated territory where hundreds of schools have been burnt in the past two years. Yet 65 schools are open and literacy rates far outstrip the national average.

This is in particular impressive given the Hazaras' history as one of the most backward and illiterate Afghan minorities.

During the last elections the Hazaras demonstrated a level of political organization, discipline and mobilization resembling the Iraqi Shia and the Shia of Lebanon. The Hazaras took 43 seats out of 249, means 18%, while their share in population is estimated at just between 9 to 13%. And as transpires from the Economist article the Hazara politicians skillfully follow a pragmatic and conciliatory approach avoiding major confrontations with other communities:

Mr Mohaqeq (the Hazaras' political leader NB) backed Mr Karzai's candidate for parliamentary speaker, despite his record as an ethnic-Pushtun militia commander accused of involvement in the massacre of 800 Hazara civilians in 1993. This outraged many Hazaras, but Western analysts say such realpolitik accounts for the Hazaras' strength (four seats) in the cabinet.

The Sunni Shia relationships in Afghanistan are deteriorating. Iran's regional ambitions clearly poison the relationships between the two communities with armed clashes reported last year from Herat. The anti Shia syndrome has apparently reached Afghanistan too. Yet this is not say that the Hazaras has succumbed themselves to the usual anti US anti Western paranoia gripping the Muslim world.

The community's migration to the cities over the past five years has caused local resentment, particularly in Herat. They are accused of acting as agents for their co-religionists in Iran, receiving money and business support in return. . . But there is no reason to believe that the Hazaras would be Iran's natural ally. . . For the time being, they clearly equate the removal of NATO troops with an end to their own renaissance—and a return to the divisions that brought their past suffering.

. . . In Khair Khana, a bomb-scarred suburb of western Kabul that is a Hazara enclave, the enthusiasm for his (Karzai NB) administration and its Western allies is far from the jaded cynicism displayed by most Afghans.

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