Hazara Clash with Police

Members of Hazara community in Kabul district attack police after accusing officers of trying to kidnap a local woman.

Hazara Clash with Police

Members of Hazara community in Kabul district attack police after accusing officers of trying to kidnap a local woman.

Residents of a Hazara-populated district of Kabul held demonstrations this week against local police, and demanded that officers from their own ethnic group be hired to patrol the area.

The protests broke out last weekend [February 28 - March 1] after a skirmish provoked when, residents alleged, Kabul police tried to kidnap a woman.

The incident took place in the Dasht-e-Barchi district of western Kabul, which is almost entirely populated by members of the Hazara community. Most of the city's police force are ethnic Tajiks, former members of the Northern Alliance.

Conflicts and allegiances have shifted frequently in the past two decades of civil war, but Hazara in some parts of Afghanistan, especially in Kabul, retain their bitter memories of numerous fallouts with the Tajiks during the mujahedin era of the early- to mid-Nineties.

The densely populated district has been a high-crime area for the past year. Police finally set up a separate post here two weeks ago, but residents complain that they've done nothing to stop the criminals.

According to witnesses of the recent incident, a female teacher walking home early in the evening was stopped by police. She screamed for help, yelling that officers were trying to kidnap her. Nearby shopkeepers confronted the officers, who fired into the air to ward them off.

The next morning, local residents gathered at the district police station. They told an IWPR reporter that they drew thousands of supporters. Although the crowd had thinned out by the early afternoon, the reporter saw more than 1,000 demonstrators, an estimate which police confirmed.

"We want security," demonstrators chanted. "We want peace. Death to racism [Murdah bad nizhad parasti]."

They demanded that the police be punished and said they wanted only Hazara officers in the district.

Sayed Shamsuddin, a 70-year-old resident, said the local police chief first promised to catch and punish the officers involved, but the next day taunted the demonstrators, saying, "We wanted to kidnap her, what can you do? Any one we like among you, we'll take away. You Hazara people are porters and deserve prison."

Protesters threw stones at the police post, witnesses said. At least three officers were injured and windows, doors and the interior of the station were damaged.

Police were prevented from leaving for several hours, until their colleagues and ISAF peacekeepers arrived.

Three protesters are said to have been injured, two of them when police attempted to flee the post, hitting them in a speeding car.

Demonstrators surrounded ISAF cars and tanks to prevent them escorting police out of the station - but they said they wanted the peacekeepers to stay in their neighborhood to protect them.

An ISAF official, Hernan Oude Lohuis, told IWPR that his forces took control of the situation and are now mediating between the government and local people.

The demonstrators dispersed after Azizullah Shafaq, the spokesman of Hezb-e-Wahdat, a Hazara party, addressed them.

"Karim Khalili, the head of Hezb-e-Wahdat, promised us that the demands of the protestors will be accepted," he said. "And the police who have behaved badly with the residents of the area will be punished. So you should leave now."

Abdul Ali, 28, told IWPR, "We object to the government sending such police here. They have grudge against us and call us donkeys. They dishonor us. The police should not be from one area. These are all Tajik - and are against us."

One senior police officer escaped in a taxi, dressed in civilian clothes, carrying his uniform in a bag, his face pale with fright. "My life was in danger," he told an IWPR reporter.

He added that he agreed with the Hazara's request, "If the police were the people of the same area, such incidents would not occur."

General Haroon Asifi, a senior interior ministry official, said he had visited the district after the incident and that everything was calm, "A mixed committee of police and elders of that area has been formed, and they will eliminate any problems."

He said the women who had allegedly been assaulted had not filed a complaint - and until she does "how can we do anything?"

Local residents said they wanted to have Hazara officers when the new police station was built two weeks ago. Asmatullah, 18, who has a tailoring shop in the area, told IWPR, "All the police of the area should be Hazaras because they know each other well."

But Haroon Asifi disagrees with such demands. "The system won't work if Uzbeks are only allowed to police Uzbek areas, Pashtuns Pashtun areas or Tajiks Tajik areas. Our police take orders from the government, and if someone has any complaints against an officer we fire him."

Danish Karokhel is an IWPR reporter/editor in Kabul.

Support our journalists