Manila Bulletin – Monday, November 8, 2010
KABUL, Afghanistan (AFP) – Afghanistan’s most repressed ethnic group, the Hazaras, have used their vote in recent parliamentary elections to win themselves a political voice that could change their fate. Throughout the war-shattered country’s history, Hazaras have occupied the bottom rung of society, and as Shia Muslims in a country dominated by Sunnis were brutalized by a succession of rulers. In post-Taliban Afghanistan, however, Hazaras are making democracy work for them, and look likely to take 20 percent of the seats in the recent parliamentary poll. ”Hazaras have always been repressed and abused by their rulers,” said Ahmad, a Hazara intellectual who refused to give his surname because of the political sensitivity of the issue. ”The new system, the democracy that we have had since the fall of the Taliban, is seen by Hazaras as a great chance to prove their existence.” Hazaras account for 10-15 percent of Afghanistan’s population, which for lack of census data is estimated at 30 million. They dominate the country’s central highlands, a region surrounded by the conservative Pashtuns, Afghanistan’s traditional rulers from the south and east, and the urbanised, liberal Tajiks in the north and west. For 200 years, Hazaras – descendants of Mongol conqueror Ghengis Khan, whose hordes rampaged across the region in the 13th century – were treated as second-class citizens, banished to low-status, low-income jobs. Whenever Hazaras rose against the repression, they were brutally subdued by their Pashtun rulers, who sometimes massacred entire clans and then doubled taxes on others. The Taliban, the ultra-conservative Islamists who ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, kept up the tradition and made abusing the Hazaras one of the defining points of their brutal regime. But since the Taliban fell in a US-led invasion, the Hazaras have learned how to make the new system, a Western-backed democracy, work in their favour. The September 18 parliamentary poll, the second since the end of the Taliban era, marked a significant milestone on the Hazaras’ rocky journey to equality.