Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Militias Intimidate Refugees

Hazara gunmen could scupper efforts to return displaced Tajiks and Pashtuns to Bamyan.
By Shoib Safi

Mohammad Abbas, a refugee from the village of Jogra, says there’s little chance of him going home anytime soon.


Hizb-e-Wahdat’s gunmen destroyed our houses - only five remain and they’ve turned those into security posts,” he said.


Residents of Jogra and other nearby Tajik and Pashtun villages, totalling 3500 families, fled after the fall of Taleban, concerned that Hazara fighters, who had previously been targeted by the student militia, would return to the area to wreak vengeance.


Their worst fears were realised in Jogra, one of 13 Tajik villages in Bamyan, with the village turned into ruins by the gunmen, members of one of the militias attached to the Hizb-e-Wahdat, the Hazara political party.


Bamiyan, located in the heart of Afghanistan, has a population of 350,000 according to the 2002 government statistics. It consists of Hazara, Tajik and Pashtun tribes, which form 78, 20 and 2 per cent of its population, respectively.


The continued presence of Hazara gunmen in the various districts of Bamyan has alarmed local residents and returning refugees who have complained vainly to the provincial governors and the Hizb-e-Wahadat leaders. They say the fighters are intimidating and show them little respect.


Khawaja Mohammad, a resident of the village of Dawti, says religious grudges – the Hazaras are Shi’a and the Tajiks are Sunni Muslims - are behind much of the hostility. “In some cases they even make fun of our religious elders, but we can’t say anything,” he said.


Minorities here have faced the vengeance of Hizb-e-Wahdat gunmen several times before. From 1998 to 2001, the Hazara fighters twice managed to wrest control of the area from the Taleban for short periods of time, during which Tajiks and Pashtuns were targeted.


Mohammad Rahim Aliyar, governor of Bamyan province, said the various tribes in the province lived together peacefully before the Taleban captured the area in the 1998, claiming that it created problems by persecuting the Hazaras because of their faith and ethnicity. “ The Taleban, after taking over Bamyan, intentionally gave the conflict a tribal and religious colour,” he said.


Despite the tensions, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has sought to help displaced people return to their homes. “In all about 1400 families, around 6700 people, many of whom fled to Iran and Pakistan, have returned all over Bamyan with our help,” said agency spokesman Nasir Fernandez.


The trouble Hazara militiamen are causing cannot be compared with destruction wrought by the Taleban. Refugees returned to Shaheedan district to find that many houses, schools, medical facilities and mosques had been burned down. “There’s just one school for all the villages in the area – and we haven’t a single clinic,” said Ahmad Baig, a local community representative.


International relief agencies have helped people rebuild 500 homes and there are plans for 500 more. And in an effort to revitalise the economy, 3000 sheep have been distributed to farmers and work has started on the reconstruction of the local bazaar.


Some returnees have vowed to take revenge on the student militia for all the suffering they’ve endured at their hands. Mohammad Ali from the village of Sabza in the district of Qarghanatoo, said, “ The Taleban set fire to our region. We had to flee to mountain caves and our infants died from the cold weather. We will pay back the Taleban if we can.”


Abdul Wali, Shoib Safi and Danish Karokhel are Kabul-based freelance journalists