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Assessment for Hazaras in Afghanistan

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Hazaras in Afghanistan, 31 December 2003, available at: [accessed 20 February 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Afghanistan Facts
Area:    6,522,250 sq. km.
Capital:    Kabul
Total Population:    24,782,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

The political situation for the Hazara of Afghanistan changed radically with the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001 by U.S.-led forces. Since the establishment of the Karzai government, Hazaras have been included in the central government. They are unlikely to rebel in the near future, although the likelihood of intercommunal clashes is significantly higher, especially as long as remnants of the Taliban continue to exist in the country and the central government remains constrained in its ability to control local warlords.

The likelihood of Hazara protest is moderate. They are represented in the central government; however, it is dominated by ethnic Tajiks. Furthermore, Hazaras remain among the worst off economically. Although no protest has been reported in recent years, that could change if Hazara grievances are not addressed and the central government remains ineffective outside Kabul.

Analytic Summary

The Hazara, who speak Farsi, are Shi`i Muslims (primarily Twelver, but also some Ismaili) who occupy the central highlands (the Hazarajat) of Afghanistan. Hazaras settled in other areas of Afghanistan as early as the 13th century and were forced into their current location by Pashtun and Sunni expansionism in the 18th and 19th century. Their status - political, economic and cultural – has been precarious in modern history due to their being both an ethnic and a religious minority. They are primarily sedentary farmers who also engage in some herding. Urban populations of Hazara tend to occupy the lowest economic rungs. Economically marginalized, the Hazara began to organize politically in the 1960s and 1970s. During the Soviet occupation, they rebelled for political autonomy and achieved in the 1980s a high degree of independence in return for not attacking the Communist government in Kabul. The Soviet withdrawal in 1989, however, saw a return of the Hazara's precarious position, especially vis-a-vis Pashtun political groups.

Represented primarily by the party Hizb-i-Wahdat (ORGCOH94=7), the Hazara aligned with the United Front (or Northern Allliance) after the takeover of the country by the primarily Pashtun Taliban in 1996 as a full-scale civil war erupted (REB96-98 = 7, REB99-01 = 6). Since the establishment of the Karzai government, Hazaras have engaged in neither rebellion nor protest (REB02-03 = 0; PROT02-03 = 0).

Hazara regions were a major battleground in the Afghan civil war. Their location in the center of the country, between Pashtun-dominated and Tajik-dominated regions, made them vulnerable to attacks and frequent changes of controlling authority. Hazaras also were targeted disproportionately by the Taliban for reprisals, probably because of their religious identity as Shi`i Muslims. Several massacres of Hazara civilians were reported in 1998, 1999 and 2000. However, a 1998 agreement between Hazara faction leader Hujjat-al-Islam Sayyid Mohammad Akbari and the Taliban has left some administration of some areas of Hazarajat, nominally under Taliban control, in the hands of ethnic Hazaras. Hazara regions still suffer from the aftermath of the civil war, including the presence of landmines, displaced persons and lack of usable infrastructure. Furthermore, Hazara areas were hard-hit by a drought in 1998-2002 (leading to a 60 percent drop in agricultural output) and have yet to recover. The drought also led to high levels of rural-to-urban migration.

Following the overthrow of the Taliban, the Hazara's political and economic situation has improved. Ethnic Hazara are represented in the central government, including in cabinet-level positions and steps have been taken to revitalize the economy of Hazarajat (POLDIS02-03 = 1, ECDIS02-03 = 1). However, given the relatively small size of the Hazara population, they wield little influence in the cabinet. Furthermore, remedial policies have not yet been effective in improving Hazara economic conditions except at the margins. The Hazara continued to be engaged in intercommunal conflict in 2002 with Pashtuns (COMCON02 = 3) but no clashes were reported in 2003.

Hazara continue to have grievances, including desiring greater political control in their region, greater economic opportunities, freedom of religion, freedom to promote their culture, and protection from other communal groups.

In the past, the Hazara have received external support from Iran. Given Iran's regional status and power, Iranian patronage may also provide Hazaras with some degree of protection as well.


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