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Afghan Hazaras Fear The Worst After Forced Taliban Evictions

Some of the hundreds of Hazara families who forced off their land by the Taliban in Daikundi Province.

Jamilah and her six children live out in the open, exposed to the elements, with little food or water.

The 45-year-old was forced by armed Taliban militants to leave her mud-brick home in a remote village in central Afghanistan.

Her family was among some 700 from the Shi’ite Hazara minority that were forcibly evicted by the Taliban from the central province of Daikundi in late September.

"One day they came in six [Ford] Ranger trucks and ordered us out of our homes,” Jamilah, a widow, told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi. “Now, we are forced to sleep in the open. We are hungry and thirsty. What will we do when it’s winter?"

The evictions have raised fears that the historically persecuted community will once again become the target of Taliban atrocities. The militant Islamist group is predominately Sunni and is mostly made up of members of the Pashtun ethnic group.

During its oppressive rule from 1996-2001, the Taliban terrorized Hazaras, wrestling control of Hazara regions in Afghanistan through a campaign of targeted killings.

Since seizing control of Kabul on August 15, the militants have attempted to assuage Hazaras’ fears of discrimination and persecution. The Taliban has visited Shi’ite mosques in the Afghan capital and deployed its fighters to protect ceremonies marking the Shi'ite month of Muharram.

In the past, the ceremonies have been targeted by the rival Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) extremist group, which considers Shi'a as apostates who should be killed.

But the evictions of Hazaras in Daikundi have now led some Hazaras to dread that their biggest fear -- becoming the main target for Taliban persecution -- is being realized.

‘Dire Situation’

Many of the families evicted by the Taliban lived in villages in the district of Pato in Daikundi. Some residents have moved in with relatives but many live out in the windswept plains in the area.

“They forced people to leave in such haste they couldn’t even reap their harvest,” a Pato resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of Taliban reprisals, told RFE/RL.

“We were not allowed to take any belongings -- not even a blanket,” he said. “We are now in a dire situation.”

The evictions came after the Taliban issued an eviction notice to Pato residents.

“Based on the order of the governor and the court, [you must] leave your lands,” said the notice, a copy of which was obtained by Radio Azadi.

“If you don’t leave within five days, we will return and will not give you any of your belongings and then you will have no right to complain,” added the Pashto-language notice signed by Pato Governor Mullah Musafir.

Siddiqullah Abed, the Taliban's police chief in Daikundi, claimed a Taliban court had ruled that some land in Pato had to be returned to what he described as its original owners.

That claim is disputed by Hazaras, who say they are the rightful owners of their land. They accuse the Taliban of siding with their ethnic brethren.

There are decades-old land disputes between Hazaras and Pashtun communities in central Afghanistan. Some disputes have triggered armed clashes in the past.

"The judiciary had ruled in a case about the ownership dispute,” Abed told Radio Azadi. “We were just implementing the court’s order.”

Abed claimed the number of evicted families by the Taliban in Pato was lower than the 700 widely reported. He added that the Taliban had postponed further evictions until the spring.

Avoiding A 'Bloody War'

Hazara leaders and activists worry the evictions will snowball into a violent campaign against their community.

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Mohammad Mohaqiq, a senior Hazara leader and former presidential adviser, wants the issue to be resolved fairly according to the law.

“We don’t want this issue to turn into a bloody war,” he told Radio Azadi. “We want this issue to be resolved peacefully, and international legal and rights organizations must play their part in ending these [forced evictions].”

Ali Adili, an independent Afghan researcher, said the evictions have further marginalized Hazaras.

He said Hazaras have been evicted by the Taliban from their land in other areas, including the southern province of Uruzgan, which borders Daikundi.

“It has given rise to the worst fears for many Hazaras,” Adili told RFE/RL. “Given that Hazaras were massacred by the Taliban in the late 1990s, many Hazaras see the forced evictions as a continuation of the Taliban’s persecution of them.”

The Taliban has denied that it has targeted any Afghans because of their ethnicity or faith.

In 2015, the Taliban issued a statement detailing an alleged operation against a renegade Taliban commander, Mansoor Dadullah, who the group accused of robbing, kidnapping, and killing Hazaras to foment an ethnic war between them and Pashtuns.

But Arif Sahar, a researcher at Britain’s Sheffield Hallam University, said the Taliban is waging “complex and systematic ways of torturing and terrorizing the Hazaras.”

Ethnic tensions between Hazaras and Pashtuns, the largest community in Afghanistan, date back centuries.

Although there is no census, Shi'a are believed to make up around 15 percent of Afghanistan's 30 million people, which is largely Sunni. Hazara account for the overwhelming majority of Shi'a in the country.

During the 19th century, Afghan monarchs attempted to forcibly convert Hazaras, seize their land, and bring Hazara regions in the country’s central highlands under the control of the central government -- campaigns that killed thousands and forced even more to flee their homes, including many to British India. Hazaras who resettled in Kabul and other cities suffered discrimination and were often employed only in low-paying jobs.

“It depends on the Taliban whether they want to be a peaceful movement or they want to act violently against other groups,” Sahar said.

In an ominous sign, Amnesty International has documented the killing of 13 Hazaras -- including a 17-year-old girl, two civilians, and 11 members of the defunct Afghan security forces -- by the Taliban in Daikundi since the group seized power.