Fears abroad for fate of Hazara minority as Taliban take control

An Afghan Australian speaks with a relative in Kabul from Sydney

By Jill Gralow

SYDNEY (Reuters) - From his home in Sydney, Abdul Alizada is watching events unfold in Afghanistan, fearful for his many relatives still living there.

He has extra cause to be afraid. Alizada's family belong to the Hazara, an ethnic minority who have for decades been targeted by militants, including the Taliban and Islamic State, for their ethnicity and religious beliefs.

Most of the Hazara are Shi'ite Muslims, whom Sunni hardliners like the Taliban abhor, and the community has faced persecution and violence for decades, including recent attacks on a maternity hospital and a girls' school.

Alizada says the Hazara have been abandoned by the coalition forces as the Taliban have swept to power, and that his family in Afghanistan is terrified.

"There is no sleep in Kabul at all," he told Reuters.

"They are scared ... that every minute that 'the Taliban could come to our home and ask for me', or for the other members of the family or ask them for money or weapon."

The Taliban's rapid conquest of Afghanistan followed U.S. President Joe Biden's decision to withdraw American forces after 20 years of war that he said cost more than $1 trillion.

The speed at which cities fell to the Taliban took the international community by surprise and the United States is being widely accused of mismanaging the withdrawal.

The Taliban have been putting on a moderate face, vowing no retribution against opponents, respect for the rights of women, minorities and foreigners, and calling for people to go about their business. But many Afghans are sceptical and fear round-ups of old enemies and activists.

"As soon as they hear the word, Taliban, that they're coming to Kabul, it was a complete shock for everyone," Alizada said. "Everybody was trying to find a place and they couldn't hide in their own home and they couldn't find any place to hide."

Sitting on the patio of his home in Sydney, Alizada calls a relative in Afghanistan, who tells him the Taliban are entering people's homes and seizing money, vehicles and weapons.

"They already start searching homes in Bamiyan, in Mazar-i-Sharif and in some part of Kabul," the relative said, as relayed by Alizada.

"If people got new cars, they get their cars. If they got any motorcycles, something like that, they take it. Also, they are asking if somebody got any weapon or something. If they don't have, they ask for money."

Alizada is a Hazara community leader who came to Australia in 1999 seeking asylum. He became an Australian citizen in 2001 and now owns his own construction company.

Many Afghans fear the Taliban will return to past harsh practices. During their 1996-2001 rule, women could not work and punishments such as stoning, whipping and hanging were common.

"They are looking for people who were working in the last government, and also the active people who are politically or socially active, they are looking for them," said the relative.

(Reporting by Jill Gralow; Writing by Tom Hogue; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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