The Hazara-Shia community in west Kabul city, particularly its sprawling neighbourhood Dasht-e Barchi, has been the target of some of the city’s deadliest attacks, especially since 2016. The community has particularly been hit hard in west Kabul, but Hazaras and Shias have also been persistently targeted elsewhere in Afghanistan. While the former government promised to step up measures to protect the community, including a much-touted security plan for west Kabul, it failed to deliver on its promises. After the Taleban first took over in August 2021, the neighbourhood experienced a short-lived respite from attacks but has since become the scene of a new cycle of assassinations and bombings, leaving its ethnic Hazara and Shia Muslim residents particularly vulnerable to an unrelenting campaign of targeted killings. AAN’s Ali Yawar Adili looks at the post-Republic attacks in Dasht-e Barchi and argues that the failures of successive governments to protect ethnic Hazaras and other Shia-Muslims have left the community exposed to violence, bloodshed and fear.An Afghan man walks past shattered glass near the site of an explosion in Dasht-e-Barchi district in Kabul on 10 December 2021. Three explosions hit west Kabul on that day. Photo by AFP.
In this report, we take a detailed look at the attacks targeting ethnic Hazara and Shia residents of west Kabul since the Taleban’s return to power on 15 August 2021. We provide an overview of the attacks against the community, which surged from 2016 onward. These attacks have become even more widespread and systematic since 2018, targeting not only mosques and protests but also sports clubs, education centres, schools and a hospital, resulting in mass civilian casualties. Two apparent patterns emerge in the attacks targeting the Hazara-Shia population in west Kabul: the first is the use of magnetic bombs and other explosives targeting civilian passenger vehicles. Second is large scale complex attacks, including car bombs and suicide attacks targeting places of gatherings. In the end, successive governments failed to protect the Hazara Shia community from the wave of unrelenting attacks and a security plan for west Kabul, when it finally came, was far too late to make headway into abating the brutal assaults. As attacks continue, residents of west Kabul try to cope with the toll these attacks are taking on their beleaguered community but have little hope that the country’s new rulers will take steps to finally tackle their pressing security concerns.
Highlights of this report
- After a brief respite from explosions following the Taleban takeover, attacks against west Kabul’s Hazara-dominated areas resumed a little over a month after the Republic’s fall. Since then, there have been several explosions in Dasht-e Barchi and three attacks against Hazaras and Shias elsewhere in the country, two of them targeting Shia/Hazara mosques in Kunduz and Kandahar.
- The Taleban’s desire to establish credibility as the provider of security could be the reason for their tepid response to the attacks, most of which have been claimed by ISKP. However, instead of acknowledging and taking steps to address security concerns seriously, the Taleban have been downplaying the strength of ISKP and therefore the incidents claimed by or attributed to it.
- While buses and other vehicles carrying government employees and those working for various organisations such as media outlets had been happening for several years, the pattern of targeting civilian passenger vehicles in west Kabul first started in January 2021. These attacks were pre-dated by persistent brutal attacks against Hazara/Shia gathering places starting in 2016.
- Such attacks continued unabated, with horrifying assaults like that on the Sayed ul-Shuhada High School in 2021, highlighting the failure of the former government to adopt special protection mechanisms for the Hazara community.
- In the years leading up to 2016, Hazaras had been the target of virulent statements by non-Hazara political figures and side-lined by the Republic’s leadership from key security posts. The failure of successive governments to ensure its wellbeing and security had led to demonstrations and protest movements organised by an increasingly discontented community. These dynamics are key to understanding the politics around the attacks against the Hazara community in general and their neighbourhoods in west Kabul as the levels of violence escalated.
Explosions in Dasht-e Barchi and west Kabul since the Taleban takeover
While many Afghans, particularly in rural areas, might feel a semblance of deliverance from the conflict, ethnic Hazaras and Shia Muslims continue to be killed by suicide attacks, magnetic bombs and other explosive devices in west Kabul. (Attacks in other provinces will be dealt with below).
The period of respite from explosions following the Taleban takeover was short-lived for the Hazaras of Dasht-e Barchi, with the attacks starting again a little over a month after the Taleban’s return to power. Since then, several explosions have hit west Kabul’s Hazara-dominated areas.
The first blast occurred in Dasht-e Barchi (police district 13) on 18 September 2021 when an explosive device detonated in Sarak-e Chehel Metra of the Erfani Township, wounding two people (see Kabul-based daily Etilaat-e Roz here).
25 days later, on 13 November, another magnetic bomb in Dasht-e Barchi targeted a Town-Ace minivan, a form of public transport. Six civilians were killed and at least seven others injured in the blast, according to an unnamed Taleban official (see this Reuters report). Journalist Hamid Saighani and a National Statistics and Information Authority (NSIA) staffer, Habibullah Yusufi, were among those killed in the blast.
Yusufi’s brother, Hamidullah Faramarz, who owns a shop near the scene of the blast, provided a gruesome eyewitness account. He told the author on 29 December 2021 that the explosion had targeted the minivan close to Naser Khesraw hospital, at the entrance of a backstreet leading to Rasul Akram mosque. He said he shuttered his shop in Gulayi Mahtab Qala and rushed to the scene where he saw a victim’s body, “only the skeleton,” near the burning remains of the Town-Ace. He also complained about the behaviour of Taleban officials in responding to the emergency. When he found his brother’s body which had been transferred to the nearest hospital, Naser Khesraw, it was “completely intact,” he said. Hoping that his brother might still be alive, he tried to take him to another hospital for an examination, but the Taleban at the hospital would not allow it. One of them, he said, even “pointed a gun at my chest, warning he would kill me.” Finally, a senior Taleban member intervened, allowing him to take his brother’s body to Muhammad Ali Jinnah hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival. Faramarz said that he saw the bodies of three other victims of the explosion at the hospital.
Two days later, on 15 November, there was a blast in Kota-e Sangi during rush hour, which wounded two people, but the cause of the blast was unclear. The spokesperson for the Taleban Ministry of Interior, Qari Saeed Khosty, told reporters that a civilian vehicle had been targeted by a magnetic bomb, but Police spokesperson, Mubin Khan, said that a roadside bomb had caused the explosion (see here).
There was another explosion on 17 November, this time in the Naqash area of Dasht-e Barchi, PD-13. Initially, spokesperson for Taleban interior ministry Khosty said the explosion had targeted a Town-Ace vehicle killing one civilian and wounding six others, including three women (see his tweet here). Later, the BBC reported that at least two people had died and five others were wounded in the blast. The report quoted eyewitnesses saying that they had first heard a loud explosion and then saw fire inside a minibus and another smaller vehicle. Farzana Nuri, who was wounded in the blast, told the author on 28 December that she had been sitting in the minivan’s back seat with her cousin and another girl. All three were wounded; her cousin lost her legs in the explosion. “Two or three men were seated in the middle row in front of us and were probably killed. The driver and the front seat passenger jumped out of the vehicle,” she said.
Three explosions hit west Kabul three weeks later, on 10 December. The first explosion occurred at 3:30 pm in front of the Shahid Mazari Musalla, a place for large religious and political gatherings, in Dasht-e Barchi, destroying a passenger vehicle. The two other blasts targeted two passenger vehicles in Mazari Square in Pul-e Sokhta and Dehburi (see BBC report here). The Taleban’s interior ministry spokesperson Qari Saeed Khosty told reporters that two civilians had been killed and three others wounded when a bomb exploded inside a minivan in Dasht-e Barchi, adding that a woman had been wounded in another explosion in the same area.
Attacks have also been on the rise elsewhere in Kabul, but the Taleban are the main targets of the attacks outside west Kabul, though often resulting in unfortunate civilian casualties. For example, on 3 October, an explosion near the Eidgah mosque in Kabul during the memorial ceremony for Taleban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahed’s mother killedat least eight people and wounded 20 others. In another incident, a Taleban vehicle was hit by a blast in Dehmazang square in Kabul city on 20 October, killing at least one person and wounding seven others, including four students, according to the Kabul-based Arman-e Melli daily. On 14 December, an explosion targeted a Taleban security forces vehicle in Kabul’s Tang-e Logar area of PD-8, killing a Zaranj (a motorised rickshaw) driver and wounding a Taleban member (media report here).
The attacks in wider west Kabul, including Dasht-e Barchi, mainly targeted civilian passenger vehicles, particularly the Town-Ace minivans favoured by young, educated and professional Hazaras. Farmarz, the brother of one of the victims (cited above), also noted that there are very few taxis in west Kabul and buses are slow-moving and are, therefore, not the transport of choice for white-collar workers. Etilaat-e Roz’s Jalil Rawnaq told the author, “Explosions in west Kabul are systematic in that they target civilian Town-Ace minivans used by a particular class of Hazaras such as government employees, journalists and NGO staff for their daily commute. In some of these explosions, journalists or women have been killed.” The new cycle of explosions in west Kabul has heightened public anxiety. Rawnaq said that each explosion in Dasht-e Barchi causes a wave of panic among the people and that he himself was always on his guard when riding in a Town-Ace, watching out for suspicious bags. The drivers, he said, ask passengers to keep an eye out for improvised explosives left behind by people who disembark the minivans.
The targeted killings in Dahst-e Barchi have forced residents to adopt difficult coping mechanisms. Some have decided to retreat from the city to rural areas, suggestive of a pattern of de-urbanisation induced by continued targeted killings. For example, Shekiba Omidi, whose sister Latifa lost her legs in the 17 November explosion, told the author on 28 December that she studied midwifery at Naser Khesraw University but had not left the house since her sister was injured. She said her family had decided to relocate to Behsud district in Maidan Wardak (because they could not afford to migrate to Iran or Pakistan) and were only waiting for Latifa to be released from the hospital. This, she said, will also mean that they will have to leave their jobs and studies along with the urban lifestyle they are accustomed to behind. Others who remain in Kabul reported changing their patterns of movement to minimise risk. Faramarz, whose brother died in the 13 November attack, told AAN that he had asked his sister, who attends an English course at Kateb University, to walk to her classes to avoid the risks associated with using public transport. He said that he now also walks whenever he goes out.
Attacks on Shia/Hazaras in other provinces
There have been at least two deadly attacks on Shia/Hazara civilians in two other provinces (Kunduz and Kandahar) since the Taleban takeover. In the first attack in Kunduz, more than 400 people had gathered for the Friday prayer on 8 October 2021 when an explosion ripped through the Sayed Abad mosque around 1:15 pm, according to a detailed Etilaat-e Roz report. The report quoted a doctor from Kunduz city saying that 150 people had lost their lives and about 200 others had been wounded in this suicide attack. Enayatullah Wellayati, a resident of Sayedabad in Kunduz province, who attended the victims’ burial ceremony, told Etilaat-e Roz that 120 bodies had been buried on that day and that more than 20 other bodies had been transferred to other places, including Kandahar, Mazar-e Sharif, Balkh province and Nikpai village’s Hussainabad in Khanabad district, Kunduz province. He had also received reports that four more of the wounded had died. Most of the victims were Shia Hazara.
A week later, on 15 October, deadly explosions targeted a congregation of worshippers in Masjid-e Jami’a Fatimia(Grand Fatima mosque, also known locally as Imambargah), the largest Shia mosque in Kandahar city (see media report here). Initially, the head of Kandahar’s Information and Culture Department (ICD), Shamsullah Samim, said 32 people had been killed and 70 wounded when three suicide attackers detonated explosives among worshippers and four others died after the mosque’s wall collapsed (see Etilaat-e Roz here). Later, Human Rights Watch revised the figures to at least 63 killed and 83 injured.
A third, less reported incident happened on 25 December when an assailant attacked the mullah of the Imam Ali mosque in PD-1 of Kandahar city with a knife, wounding him and three others (see Etilaat-e Roz report quoting a security source from Kandahar). Eyewitnesses told the paper that the assailant had joined the lines of worshippers and carried out the attack after the prayer ended. The Taleban have reportedly arrested the assailant and investigations are underway.
ISKP claims of responsibility and a tepid Taleban response
Except for the Sarak-e Chehel Metra attack on 18 September 2021, ISKP has claimed responsibility for all other attacks, including those on 13 and 17 November (media report here) and 10 December in west Kabul (see BBC report here). It also claimed responsibility for the attacks on the Kunduz and Kandahar mosques, mainly through statements released via its Telegram channels. On 15 October, an ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – ISIL and by its Arabic acronym Daesh) Telegram channel further carried an editorial published in the weekly publication, Al-Naba, warning that it would target Shias from “Baghdad to Khorasan,” describing them as “dangerous.” The editorial referred, in particular, to Shia Hazaras in Afghanistan, saying that they were Iran’s allies and had fought against ISIS alongside the US-led coalition forces (references to the war in Syria had been made before, see for example their statement on the 23 July 2016 attack on demonstrations in Dehmazang in annex one of this UNAMA report. The threat was posted an hour before the attack against Shia worshippers in a mosque in Kandahar (see BBC report here).
The Taleban’s desire to establish credibility as the provider of security as part of their overall narrative that the war is over could be one reason for their tepid response to the attacks at the rhetorical level. By the same token, the Taleban tend to underrate the presence and strength of ISKP and its affiliates. Instead of acknowledging attacks targeting the Hazara community but also those against their own ranks, the Taleban have been downplaying attacks, most of which have been claimed by or attributed to ISKP. For example, in the wake of the 8 October suicide attack on the Sayed Abad mosque in Kunduz, deputy Taleban spokesperson Belal Karimi (deputy to Zabihullah Mujahed) told reporters that although Daesh had carried out the suicide attack, “Daesh’s presence in Afghanistan is not serious. As the perpetrators of the suicide attack on the Eidgah mosque [during the memorial ceremony for Zabihullah Mujahed’s mother] were prosecuted, the perpetrators of this explosion will also be prosecuted.”
The spokesperson for the Taleban interior ministry, Saeed Khosty, claimed that the Taleban would ensure security: “In the previous government, there were security problems of this sort and religious minorities shouldered the responsibility for the security of most of their own public venues. We have decided to take on the security of minorities. As a responsible system [government], we have the responsibility to protect all citizens of Afghanistan, especially the country’s religious minorities, and [ensure] their security is seriously provided,” he told Etilaat-e Roz on 29 October 2021. He was referring to the fact that before the fall of the Republic, and in the face of growing attacks, the former government had engaged community members to support security efforts. These ‘community guards’ are no longer operating.
Militarily, however, the Taleban have continued to attack ISKP, at least in the ISKP stronghold of eastern Afghanistan. In November, for example, it was reported that they had sent 1,000 fighters to Nangrahar to tackle ISKP (Long War Journal report here). There have been reports of targeting of Salafist communities, regardless of ISKP membership (see a Ghandara report here). Despite such attacks, the UN says the ISKP presence, if anything, has grown. The UN Secretary General’s Special Representative to Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons, in her 17 November 2021 briefing to the UN Security Council noted “the Taliban’s inability to stem the expansion” of the ISKP, saying, “Once limited to a few provinces and Kabul, ISILKP now seems to be present in nearly all provinces and increasingly active.” Lyons also raised concerns that the Taleban’s campaign against the group had relied “heavily on extra-judicial detentions and killings of suspected” ISKP members.
For Hazaras/Shias who may have looked to the Taleban for security after their return to power, some appear to be losing confidence in the new rulers’ ability to ensure security. Hussain, a resident of Kunduz, who lost his eldest son Ahmad Nawid on 8 October in the suicide attack on the Kunduz mosque, told the media: “The new government is unable to ensure its own security, never mind finding clues about this explosion. It cannot even tell people where these explosions originate, who the perpetrators are, and the reasons behind them. But it blames everything on ISIS.” He added: “When the Taleban entered Kunduz [city] in the month of Muharram, especially on the day of Ashura, the people were optimistic about security; [now that] they [the Taleban] had taken on security, there would be no problems anymore. [But} the Taleban did not have soldiers at the mosque and this incident happened.”
The Taleban have so far sought to downplay or conceal the nature and scope of the attacks. This makes reporting on the recent attacks even more challenging. Journalist Jalil Rawnaq, for instance, said that the Taleban have denied the explosions and sometimes provided inaccurate casualty figures. For example, following the 13 November attack, Taleban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahed (also the Deputy Minister of Information and Culture) initially said in a tweet that the explosion in Dasht-e Barchi was “apparently due to fire” in the Town-Ace (see here).
Rawnaq also said that people (survivors and eyewitnesses), fearing the Taleban, are often reluctant to provide details. The author experienced this when speaking to survivors of the attacks who were reluctant to discuss the attacks, with one interviewee asking for any details provided about one of the explosions to be excluded from this report: “Please do not discuss politics and ethnicity as you yourself understand the situation in Afghanistan very well.” Fearing the Taleban might be one of the drivers for people’s reluctance to describe the details of their experiences, but it is by no means the only one. Other possible drivers could include a desire not to add to already heightened ethnic tensions and an unwillingness to relive such a traumatic experience.
The pattern of attacks in Dasht-e Barchi
When Kabul fell to the Taleban, the Hazaras and Shia communities were marking the first 10 days of Muharram (the first month in the Islamic lunar calendar which started on 10 August) with ceremonies commemorating the killing of the third Shia Imam and a grandson of Prophet Muhammad, Imam Hussain, in the Battle of Karbala (680 AD) on Ashura, the 10th day of Muharram. The large gatherings held during this period are particularly vulnerable to attacks by both religious extremists and those using violence to achieve political goals. In fact, Hazara/Shia majority neighbourhoods in Afghanistan had suffered deadly attacks as early as 2011, when three bombs ripped through Ashura gatherings in Kabul, Mazar-e Sharif and Kandahar, killing 80 and injuring some 160 worshippers (see here and here). In response, community leaders, including the ulema, anxious to ensure security, have taken steps to protect the community. For example, on 2 August 2021, members of the Shia Ulema Council, the High Council for Regulating Religious Affairs and the Commission for Security Coordination of Religious Ceremonies met with former Second Vice President, Sarwar Danesh, to discuss security measures for the August 2021 Muharram ceremonies. They called for the speedy implementation of the government’s security and development plan for west Kabul and told Danesh they had made security plans of their own to ensure the communities safety during the holiest period of the Shia calendar (see press release here).
This year, the Muharram ceremonies were held without security incidents, even after the Republic fell five days into the period of mourning, but attacks in Dasht-e Barchi and other Hazara-dominated parts of west Kabul city resumed about a month after the Taleban’s return to power. These attacks follow previously established patterns: explosives that target civilian passenger vehicles, which had become a hallmark of attacks in west Kabul since January 2021 or large scale complex attacks targeting places of gatherings.
- Magnetic bombs targeting civilian passenger vehicles
The targeting of public transport vehicles carrying members of the Hazara community started when the former government was still in power. There were at least nine attacks between January and June 2021. In its mid-year report on 26 July 2021, UNAMA said it had noted:
[A] resurgence of deliberate sectarian motivated attacks against the Shi’a Muslim religious minority, most of whom also belong to the Hazara ethnic minority, nearly all claimed by ISIL-KP. These included a string of non-suicide IED [improvised explosive device] attacks and shootings, including at least eight IEDs in May-June alone that targeted buses or similar vehicles carrying members of the Hazara community.
In total, from all tactics between 1 January and 30 June 2021, UNAMA documented 20 incidents targeting Shia/Hazara, resulting in 500 civilian casualties (143 killed and 357 injured). Nearly half of the civilian casualties from non-suicide IEDs directed against civilians came from a single attack – the 8 May attack on the Sayed ul-Shuhada high school in Kabul.
By June, the attacks had become so pervasive they prompted Kathy Gannon of The Associated Press to write: “Just running errands in the mainly Hazara neighbourhoods of west Kabul can be dangerous.”
For an overview and details of the attacks, see Annex 1.
2. Brutal attacks targeting places of gatherings
A 2017 UNAMA report points to a pattern of targeted attacks against Hazara/Shia gathering places, including “against places of worship, religious leaders and worshippers” beginning in 2016. The report recorded “12 incidents targeting Shi’a Muslim worshippers at places of worship, resulting in 689 civilian casualties (230 deaths and 459 injuries),” from 1 January 2016 to 7 November 2017, compared to five incidents between 1 January 2009 and 31 December 2015. “The only attack which caused mass casualties prior to 2016 occurred on 6 December 2011 in Kabul city: a suicide attack targeting a Shi’a mosque killed 56 civilians and injured 195,” said UNAMA. The other four incidents involved the targeting of Hazaras outside Kabul city, including the September 2015 kidnapping and killing of seven Hazara travellers, including four women and an eight-year-old girl (Tabasum) in Zabul province (see Kabul Now’s timeline). The murders sparked the widespread Jumbesh-e Tabasum youth movement in Kabul (see AAN’s report).
Until 2017, attacks against Hazara and Shia Muslim gathering west Kabul largely focused on religious centres and protests (see UNAMA’s 2018 Afghanistan Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict Report pages 29-30), but in 2018 the attacks became more widespread and systematic, targeting not only mosques and protests but also sports clubs, education centres, schools and a maternity hospital, resulting in mass civilian casualties. Taken together, it can be surmised that these complex attacks against civilian centres in Hazara/Shia neighbourhoods were carried out with purpose and planning and were not arbitrary acts of aggression against haphazard targets. The table below provides an overview of the main attacks and illustrates their widespread nature. (See Annex 2 for more details, as reported by UNAMA).
The Sayed ul-Shuhada High School attack
The last of such attacks targeting the Hazara community in Dasht-e Barchi before the fall of the Republic occurred as hundreds of girls were leaving the Sayed ul-Shuhada School in the Chehel Dokhtaran area at the end of the school day on 8 May 2021. UNAMA’s 26 July 2021 report recorded three explosions: a vehicle-borne IED that detonated in front of an unmarked clinic gate next to the school, then an IED detonation nearer the school’s entrance, followed by an IED on the road leading away from the school. In total, UNAMA reported, 85 civilians were killed (42 girls, 28 women, nine men, three boys and three adults of unidentified gender) and at least 216 injured (106 girls, 66 women, 24 men, and 20 boys, see UNAMAA’s report here).
Although the area had been a high threat zone for years, no specific security measures existed for the school. A day after the attack, the school’s principal, Aqila Tawakoli, told that a National Directorate of Security (NDS) official had visited the school in the morning, before the attack, and had asked whether the school had guards and CCTV cameras. She told the official they did not and asked him to send patrols to the school when classes let out and students left the premises.
There was broad condemnation of the attack, including by the UN Secretary-General, the US Department of State and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights who called the attack “especially shocking, even after so many decades of horrific attacks against Afghan families.” The Taleban denied responsibility, but a spokesperson for the interior ministry said that a perpetrator with Taleban afflictions had been arrested (see media report here).
The attack shook the city, particularly the Hazara community, to its core. Hazara activists launched a Twitter campaign, “#StopHazaraGenocide,” to demand an end to the targeting killings. Some criticised the campaign for exploiting ethnicity rather than focusing on the suffering of all Afghans (see media report here). The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) called for “special protection, in line with international human rights law, for Hazaras and the community in Dasht-e-Barchi,” including a human rights-based protection plan and a plan for collective reparations (see also this AAN report). The Commission’s call for a UN fact-finding mission to investigate the targeting of Hazaras was later supported by 21 organisations (see their joint letter to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights).
The former government’s failure to protect the community
The Presidential Palace also strongly condemned the Sayed ul-Shuhada attack, with then President Ashraf Ghani announcing a national day of mourning for the victims of the attack and those of an earlier car bomb attack in Pul-e Alam in Logar. In addition, Ghani tasked his Second Vice-President, Sarwar Danesh, a Hazara himself, to look into the best ways to ensure security in consultation with elders, representatives and residents, and report his findings within two weeks.
This was not the first time that the government had promised to improve security in west Kabul. A year after Baqer ul-Ulum mosque attack, the government set out to beef up security for the 2017 Muharram period by recruiting and arming civilians (five armed guards per mosque) to guard Shia mosques and takiakhanas (Shia assembly halls used for Muharram commemoration). (See AAN’s report here). In September 2017, then acting interior minister Wais Barmak said his ministry had recruited “hundreds of people” for training and had taken steps to distribute weapons and pay salaries. Second Vice-President Danesh called it a “medium-term policy” for one to two years, depending on how security conditions develop. In addition to the five armed guards per mosque, volunteer guards were also recruited in coordination with the police, local authorities and the community during Muharram (see AAN’s 2018 report).This security arrangement for Shia mosques remained in place until the fall of the Republic.
In the spring of 2018, as part of a new security plan for Kabul city (see Annex 3), Dasht-e Barchi’s main police district, PD-13, was split to “ensure better security for residents” (see media report). The then commander of the 101 Ismayi Zone announced that the newly established PD-18 had been given a tashkil (staffing provision) of 313 personnel and supplied with more equipment and resources than it needed.
The attacks against the area’s bustling gathering places continued despite these measures. After another devastating attack, this time on the Maiwand wrestling club, Ghani told a meeting of ulema, influential figures and youth from west Kabul, on 7 October 2018, that the government would replicate security measures for Kabul’s so-called Green Zone in west Kabul. He said “fundamental actions” would be taken to ensure the security of this high threat zone (see the press release by the president’s office and media report here).
The Green Zone in the centre of Kabul (originally called the Green Belt) had been established following the massive 31 May 2017 truck bomb attack near Zanbaq Square, which had killed at least 92 civilians and injured nearly 500 (see AAN’s analysis of the green zone). Police checkpoints at each point of entry equipped with sniffer dogs rented from Germany protected the Green Zone and only registered vehicles and inhabitants were allowed to enter through a handful of entry points (see Etilaat-e Roz here). However, a source from the interior ministry told the Kabul-based daily such green-zone-like measures were not feasible for west Kabul. The announcement, he said, had been intended to placate public grievances against the government and that such a measure, if implemented, could ease the job of security institutions but would cause enormous problems for the people. Indeed, the plan was never mentioned again.
Targeted attacks against the Hazara and Shia community under the Republic and the Taleban
- The community under the Republic
It is important to understand the dynamics and context in which the attacks against the Hazara community in general and their neighbourhoods in west Kabul in particular escalated.
First, in the years leading up to 2016, the Hazara community had been the target of virulent statements by a number of political figures. For example, former Taleban ambassador to Pakistan, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, accused Hazaras of going beyond what was an acceptable place for them and upsetting the balance with the support of foreigners. Speaking to the Los Angeles Times on 10 December 2010, he said: “This is the conspiracy of the occupation. The foreigners are supporting the minority against the majority,” adding that that the “balance” would return once the US left. Similarly, in August 2013, after criticising the presidential palace for upgrading the status of Daikundi as a province and appointing “Hazaras and Shias” to all military and civilian agencies as well as the Hazaras’ pushback against Kuchis’ movement into Hazara-majority areas of Maidan Wardak, then-fugitive leader of Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin Hekmatyar warned in an Eid message: “The day will come when the oppressed people of Afghanistan will rise to claim their usurped rights and then they [Hazaras] will not find refuge in any part of the country. Some of them will flee to Iran and Iran will treat them brutally and without mercy” (see BBC report).
These statements were in response to what some western journalists and foreign experts called the “rise of the Hazaras” and the “Hazara resurgence.” For example, the 17 February 2007 Economist story “Afghanistan’s Hazaras, Coming up from the bottom” noted: that while the Republic had “made things a bit better for Afghanistan’s underclass … Hazara successes [were] breeding their own problems.” Similarly, in his 2012 paper “The Rise of the Hazaras and the challenge of the pluralism in Afghanistan 1978-2011,” Michael Semple suggested that the Hazara’s eager response to the post-2001 political order had raised concerns in certain circles, including the Taleban. “Indeed the sense that Hazaras are using education as a tool for social progress may even be one of the factors which have latterly forced the Taliban to reign in their campaign against schools,” said Semple.
Second, the attacks against the community intensified following the rise of ISKP in Afghanistan, with the group claiming responsibility for the majority of attacks against Hazaras and Shias. ISKP emerged in Afghanistan in 2015 as an affiliate of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), sharing its Salafist ideology, which is laced with sectarianism. Its recruits are mixed, coming not only come from Salafist communities but also former Taleban fighters, university students and remnants of other radical Islamic groups from the region. But almost all the attacks against Hazaras and Shias have been claimed by ISKP, as Table 1, above shows, where ten out of 12 were claimed, with the exception of the most horrifying – the maternity hospital attack and the attack on the girls school.
Some doubts linger about some of these claims. For instance, in 2017, AAN writer Borhan Osman raised questions about whether ISKP might receive support from ‘criminal networks and groups loosely connected with other insurgency actors’ which enabled their capacity to conduct large-scale attacks in Kabul city (see Osman’s report). This idea of an operational overlap between different factions is a persistent one. The UN sanction committee in its 1 June 2021 report also discussed the potential nexus between the ISKP and the Haqqani Network. The report highlighted a division in the intelligence community about this relationship, saying, “Although some Member States have reported tactical or commander-level collaboration between ISIL-K and the Haqqani Network, others strongly deny such claims. Any relationship is based on personal connections and augmented by individuals moving among multiple terrorist groups.”
For its part, the former government used these tragedies to further its own political narrative. For example, after the 8 May 2021 attack on Sayed ul-Shuhada high school, Ghani said: “This afternoon, the Taleban continued their crimes and carried out a terrorist attack at the [Sayed ul-Shuhada] school’s entrance.” (This was posted to the Arg’s Facebook page, which has seen been deactivated. The author has a copy in his archives). Similarly, then First Vice-President Amrullah Saleh, blamed the 12 May 2020 attack on a maternity ward in a Dasht-e Barchi hospital on the Taleban: “Neither the Taliban hands nor their stained consciousness can be washed of the blood of women, babies & other innocent in the latest senseless carnage” (see his 15 May tweet). The Taleban denied responsibility for the attack and instead blamed the government for shielding ISKP (a reference to surrender of some ISKP fighters to the government in Nangrahar after having been pressured by the Taleban in late 2019, see AAN’s analysis) . A year after the attack, on 10 May 2021, MSF reported that their fact-finding process did not “determine with certainty the identity of the perpetrators of the attack and their motives.” It also said that “the most likely hypothesis is that the attack was committed by at least two members of the IS-KP armed group. Some sources mentioned support from other armed groups, which our inquiry could not confirm or [rule out].” Saleh’s tweet seemed to have been a response to a tweet by then US Special Envoy for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad in which he claimed that the US government had “assessed ISIS-K conducted the horrific attacks on a maternity ward,” and implicitly called on the government not to fall “into the ISIS trap and delay peace or create obstacles.”
Third, for the Hazaras, the threat had been mounting well before these ISKP claimed attacks, with Hazaras having been the target of kidnappings and killings on the highways and other provinces before 2016. The 2015 UNAMA annual report noted that it had observed “a sharp increase in the abduction and killing of civilians of Hazara ethnicity by Anti-Government Elements,” which abducted “at least 146 members of the Hazara community in 20 separate incidents” most of which, according to the report, had occurred in ethnically mixed areas. It cited the abduction and killing of seven Hazaras, including a nine-year-old girl named Tabasum, whose bodies were found on 7 November 2015. They had been taken hostage in the Gilan district of Zabul province while travelling to their home district of Jaghori in Ghazni province a month before. This led to a series of protests by Hazaras, including in west Kabul, which became known as the Tabasum movement (see AAN’s reporting here). The protestors demanded, among other things, the establishment of an Afghan National Army (ANA) corps in Hazarajat, the Hazara-majority central highlands of Afghanistan, to deal with the persistent kidnapping and killing of Hazaras on the roads leading to the region (media report).
This was not the first time the community had called for an ANA corps in Hazarajat. The demand was first tabled in July 2015 after the Taleban killed more than 20 Hazara local police personnel in the Jalrez district of Maidan Wardak province (see media report about the incident). In December 2016, in the wake of the government’s decision to reroute the Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan-Tajikistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TUTAP) power line (more on this later), relations between the government and the Hazara community were at breaking point. In an attempt to build bridges with an increasingly wary and resentful Hazara community, former Second Vice-President Danesh and then Deputy Chief Executive Muhammad Mohaqeq (who stood by the government in the power line issue after initially opposing it) submitted the Comprehensive Security and Administrative Plan for the Central Hazarajat Regions to the National Security Council.
They wanted to draw the government’s attention to “existing dangers and threats in Hazarajat” and compel it to take steps to increase public confidence in the government’s ability to ensure their security. As part of this plan, they diluted the demand to establish an ANA corps and instead proposed a lewa (an army brigade) comprised of six kandak(battalions) be based in Bamyan. They suggested the following battalion deployment: (a) one in the centre of Bamyan, (b) one in the Sheikh Ali district of Parwan, (c) one in the Behsud district of Maidan Wardak, (d) two in Kejran and Nili in Daikundi, one in Lal wa Sarjangal in Ghor. They also proposed that battalions from the Ghazni army brigade and the northern 202 Shahin corps be deployed to Jaghori district in Ghazni province and Balkhab district in Sar-e Pul province, respectively, as both districts are far from Bamyan (see also previous AAN reporting).
Fourth, for the Hazara community the backdrop of a mounting sense of persecution has to include one of the earliest attacks in west Kabul, which targeted a peaceful demonstration led by the Hazara dominated Jumbesh-e Roshnayi(Enlightenment Movement) in Dehmazang Square on 23 July 2016. The attack killed 85 people and injured over 413 others (according to this UNAMA report (PP 8-9). The rally it targeted was part of an unprecedented series of large protests against a government decision, viewed by Hazara leaders as discriminatory, to reroute the TUTAP power line from the initially proposed Bamyan route to Salang. The protestors linked the objectionable decision to historical wrongs and “the systematic and shameful injustices that have gone on for 70 generations,” according to a declaration released after their 16 May 2016 rally. “We can tolerate a lack of electricity, but the degradation of a nation and systematic discrimination is no longer tolerable,” it said (see media report). More importantly, while outrage at what Hazaras perceived as the government’s discriminatory policy and its failure to protect the community drove the Enlightening Movement and Tabasum protests, the public outcry and subsequent lockdown of Kabul city also showed the community’s ability to mobilise in the capital to exert pressure on the government.
Finally, the increase in the attacks came amid the community’s diminishing representation in the government and security institutions. A January 2020 review conducted by activists affiliated with Second Vice-President Danesh (the author has seen a copy) showed that while some Hazaras had been appointed to deputy positions, none had been appointed to lead any of the security agencies (ministries of interior, defence, and NDS) or been appointed to command one of the nine ANA corps, in the previous 19 years. It has been suggested that their omission from the Republic’s security apparatus has left the Hazara community vulnerable and open to violent attacks. For example, in an opinion piece for Etilaat-e Roz, journalist Khadim Hussain Karim (also a former member of Jumbesh-e Roshnayi) suggested that an effective mechanism to prevent further attacks against Hazaras would require the government to abandon its policy of excluding Hazaras from the leadership positions in the state’s security institutions.
2. The community under the Taleban
Under the country’s new rulers, targeted attacks against the community have continued in Kabul and elsewhere in Afghanistan. The Taleban’s sweeping rush to power was already fraught with tensions for the Hazara community, especially after reports emerged that Hazaras had been deliberately and violently targeted in some areas that came under Taleban control. For instance, the US embassy in Kabul tweeted on 2 August, 13 days before the fall of the Republic: “The targeted killing of Hazaras has been a devastating focus of both IS-K & the Taliban. We are learning about the Taliban’s murder of 40+ civilians in Malistan, Ghazni. If true, these could constitute war crimes.” The AIHRC also reported on 7 August that the Taleban had “searched people’s houses in Miradina, Shirdagh, and Pashi areas [in Malestan] and brutally killed civilians who had no role in the clashes.… 27 people were killed, including a woman.” Four days after the fall of the Republic, on 19 August, Amnesty International reported that Taleban fighters had “massacred nine ethnic Hazara men” in Malestan district of Ghazni province in early July when the group captured the district. In another report published on 5 October, Amnesty documented the killings of 13 Hazara men in Khedir district of Daikundi by the Taleban on 30 August, two weeks after the fall of the provincial capital to the Taleban and the collapse of the Republic. According to Amnesty, 11 of the victims were former Afghan National Security Forces (ANDSF) members who had surrendered and two were civilians, including a 17-year-old girl (see also AAN’s reporting).
The more recent attacks in Dasht-e Barchi come against the backdrop of this tense period for the community, prompting some Hazaras to question who is behind the attacks and cast doubts on the Taleban’s intentions to tackle the threat against the community seriously. For example, journalist Rawnaq said it was difficult to identify the perpetrators. One problem, he said, is that the Taleban “fear people in west Kabul because they do not have a natural support base among the people there.”
Farzana Nuri (quoted above) said that since the “Emirate” took the government [power], they blame these explosions on Daesh.” However, she said, she wondered if the Taleban are “unable to prevent them and blame them on Daesh so that their government is not disgraced. In west Kabul, we were optimistic that there would be security. We still live in hope.”
Moreover, while there has been outreach between the Taleban officials and Hazara/Shia representatives, the reports of these meetings show that the security of Dasht-e Barchi did not figure in the discussions. For example, on 9 November, representatives from various Hazara factions – Sheikh Madar Ali Karimi, Sayed Sufi Gardezi, Muhammad Hussain Sangardust and Sayed Zalmai Mosawi – met with Taleban Deputy Prime Minister Mawlawi Abdul Kabir. They discussed “issues such as respect for people’s rights, presence and political representation of Shias in the government, ensuring security in Shia areas and Hazarajat against possible attacks by Daesh and safeguarding social justice” (see here).
The following day, the same representatives met Taleban’s deputy prime minister Abdul Salam Hanafi in his office, where they asked the “Islamic Emirate [of Afghanistan]” officials to address “some of the problems and demands of Hazara people,” in particular plans to relocate the Dasht-e Barchi 50-bed hospital which they said provided essential services to the area’s residents (there were reports at the beginning of November that the hospital might either be closed or relocated to somewhere else). Hanafi promised that the IEA would address the problems raised in the meeting, including the Dasht-e Barchi 50-bed hospital’s planned relocation. In addition, the two sides stressed the importance of continued engagement and bilateral cooperation to resolve the people and the country’s problems. Similarly, former MP Jafar Mahdawi hosted a gathering in support of the Taleban on 25 November, several days after three explosions in Dasht-e Barchi, which Taleban spokesperson Mujahed attended. While Mahdawi criticised former President Ashraf Ghani, he failed to comment on the explosions in Dasht-e Barchi (see here).
While the ethnic Hazaras and Shia-Muslims in west Kabul were the persistent target of deliberate killings, particularly from 2016 onwards, the former government failed to adopt special protection mechanisms for the community, with government leaders in the Republic blaming the Taleban or ISKP as per their own political agendas.
From 2017 until its downfall, the former government promised specific security measures for Dasht-e Barchi after almost every attack but failed to implement them. A relatively comprehensive security plan was prepared only after the Sayed ul-Shuhada High School attack, the last of the deadly and brutal attacks against the community under the Republic, but it came too late and at a time when the government was far too beleaguered to pay special attention to the Hazara community in west Kabul.
While ISKP has claimed the majority of recent attacks, the Taleban have yet to treat these brutal acts against the Hazara community as a continuation of the previous campaign of targeted killings and respond to them accordingly. This coupled with previous reports about a potential operational overlap between ISKP and other groups including networks within the Taleban has led to speculation in the Hazara community about who the perpetrators might be and the reasons for the country’s new rulers’ apparent inattention to the mounting body count. There may have been military and intelligence attacks on ISKP in the east of the country, but for residents of west Kabul, these unrelenting attacks overshadow the lives of all those in Dasht-e Barchi. Feeling abandoned by the new rulers, as they were the last, all community members can do is adopt their own coping mechanisms to minimise risks as they commute to work and school, go shopping or gather in places worship.
As the Taleban consolidate their rule, the threat from ISKP and the need to ensure security for all Afghan citizens should count as one of their first orders of business. However, as the assaults on Hazaras and Shias continue, residents of west Kabul who might have hoped that Taleban rule would bring safety and security are losing confidence in their ability and will to protect their community against further threats.
Edited by Martine van Bijlert, Roxanna Shapour and Rachel Reid
Annex 1. Attacks targeting vehicles in west Kabul in 2021
The most recent attacks targeting civilian vehicles started in January 2021 and then increased in June. On 18 January, an explosion targeted a private vehicle on Faiz Muhammad Kateb road near Darul Aman, killing the driver and wounding a passenger. An explosion targeting a private ‘corolla type’ vehicle on 20 January 2021 killed one civilian and wounded three others. The explosion happened on Faiz Muhammad Kateb road in PD-6 of Kabul. On 21 January, a magnetic improvised explosive device (MIED) targeted a shared taxi on Faiz Muhammad Kateb road, killing one civilian and injuring two others.
There were two MIED detonations on 1 June: Deputy interior ministry spokesperson Sayed Hamid Roshan told the media the first explosion had taken place in front of Ahl ul-Bait mosque in Sar-e Kariz at 7:15 pm and the second at the entrance of Kucha-ye Almas Gharb in Gulayi Dawa Khana. Kabul police spokesman, Ferdaws Faramaz, toldreporters that ten civilians had been killed and 12 others wounded in the two explosions.
On 3 June, there were two explosions: In the first explosion, the spokesman for the Kabul police, Ferdaws Faramarz, told the media that a private Town-Ace minivan had hit a mine in Faiz Muhammad Kateb Road, in PD 6 at 1:45 pm. Four civilians, including two women, had been killed in the incident and four others, including a woman and a child, were wounded.
The second explosion occurred in PD-6’s Pol-e Sokhta area around 7 pm. Faramarz told reporters that a private Town-Ace minivan had been targeted by an MIED, killing four civilians and injuring five others. In addition, a Saracha (corolla station wagon) type vehicle travelling behind the target vehicle caught fire.
Similarly, there were two blasts at around 2:40 pm on 12 June: Deputy spokesperson for the Ministry of Interior Ahmad Zia Zia told reporters that an explosion had targeted a private Town-Ace vehicle near Muhammad Ali Jinnah Hospital (PD-6), killing six people, including a woman, and wounding two others. He also said that another explosion targeting a Town-Ace in PD-13 killed one civilian and wounded four others, including a woman. The second explosion, according to eyewitnesses, took place between Istgah-e Shefakhana and Istgah-e Sar-e Pul.
Additionally, on 25 July, the spokesman for Kabul police, Ferdaws Faramarz, said that the police had detected and neutralised an improvised mine in a Town-Ace in Chahar Rahi Shuhada area of PD-18. He said a “bloody terrorist incident” had been foiled (see media report).
Annex 2. Details of some major attacks on Hazara targets in west Kabul since 2016
- 23 July 2016 attack on Demonstrations in Dehmazang Square
In its October 2016 special report, UNAMA said it had verified casualty figures with local hospitals and demonstration organisers. UNAMA confirmed that at least 85 civilians had been killed and 413 injured in the attack. The vast majority of the casualties were Hazaras. At least one woman and four children were killed and, of the 413 verified persons injured, there were at least six women and eight children. The report said that “The attack appears to have deliberately targeted persons belonging to a specific ethnic and religious community and the claim of responsibility used language that advocates religious hatred and incitement to violence” (PP 8-9).
- 21 November 2016 attack on Baqer ul-Ulum Mosque in PD-6
UNAMA’s 2016 annual report (PP 34-35) described the incident as below:
On 21 November 2016, a suicide attack killed at least 40 civilians and injured 74 others, including many children, at the Baqer-ul Ulum mosque in Kabul during observance of the religious ceremony of Arbaeen, a commemoration on the 40th day after Ashura. The suicide bomber detonated the device at the mosque, deliberately targeting the large congregation composed mainly of worshippers from the Shia Muslim religious minority. Daesh/ISKP claimed responsibility for this attack using derogatory expressions and calling for violence against Shia Muslims, as it called in earlier statements.
- 20 October 2017 attack on Imam Zaman Mosque in Pul-e Khosk of Dasht-e Barchi
UNAMA’s 2017 annual report noted: “Body-borne IED detonated against Imam Zaman Shia Mosque in Dasht-e-Barchi area: 129 civilian casualties (69 deaths and 60 injured). Daesh/ISIL-KP claimed responsibility” (see page 28).
- 28 December 2017 attack on Tebyan Cultural Centre
According to UNAMA’s 2017 annual report, “Body-borne IED detonated inside Tabyan cultural centre: 119 civilian casualties (42 deaths and 77 injured). Daesh/ISIL-KP claimed responsibility.”
- 21 March 2018 attack on Kart-e Sakhi Shrine
UNAMA’s 2018 annual report set out:
From 1 January to 31 December 2018, UNAMA documented 19 incidents of sectarian-motivated violence against Shia Muslims resulting in 747 civilian casualties (223 deaths and 524 injured). This represents a 34 per cent increase in civilian casualties from such attacks as compared to 2017, continuing the trend of extreme harm to civilians from this community initially documented by UNAMA in 2016.108 Seven of the 19 incidents were claimed by and attributed to Daesh/ISKP, amounting to 711 civilian casualties (212 deaths and 499 injuries). For example, on 21 March, a suicide attacker detonated a body borne IED in the vicinity of Karte Sakhi shrine where Shia Muslims had gathered to celebrate Nowruz. The attack killed 35 civilians, including four children, and injured 65, including six children. Daesh/ISKP claimed responsibility for the attack, explicitly citing a sectarian motive. It was the second attack deliberately targeting Shia Muslims in Kabul that week (see page 29)
According to the 2018 UNAMA annual report, the majority of sectarian-motivated attacks against Shia Muslims in 2017 were against places of worship. Whereas, in 2018, only two such attacks (against mosques were documented, with the majority of attacks against Shia Muslims occurring in civilian places of gathering (other than mosques), including in Shia Muslim majority or ethnic Hazara neighbourhoods.
For instance, in Kabul city, on the morning of 22 April, a suicide attacker detonated a body-borne IED outside the entrance of a tazkira (national identification card) distribution centre in a Hazara populated area where a large crowd of local residents were gathered to collect their tazkiras as the first step of the voter registration process. As a result, 60 civilians were killed, including 23 women and 11 children, and another 138 were injured, including 65 women and 17 children. Daesh/ISKP claimed responsibility for the attack explicitly citing a sectarian motive (see pages 29-30 of the report here).
- 15 August 2018 attack on Mawud Tutoring Centre
UNAMA’s 2018 annual report described the incident as below:
On 15 August, in another egregious incident, in Dasht-i-Barchi, a Shi’a Muslim majority area of Kabul, a suicide attacker detonated explosives inside a classroom of an educational centre. As a result, 40 civilians were killed, including at least 14 females, some of whom may have been under 18, and 67 were injured, including at least five children and 14 women. Attacks on Shi’a Muslims infringe their right to freedom of religion, and the wide scope of these attacks beyond places of worship – at education centres, sports clubs, celebratory events and other social gatherings – directly impede their ability to carry out normal lives.
- 5 September 2018 attack on Maiwand Sports Club
According to UNAMA’s 2018 annual report (page 22), it was a suicide attack and a car bomb against the Maiwand Sports Club in Qalai Nazir area of Kabul city on 5 September 2018. The attack killed 30 civilians and injured 106 civilians.
- 12 May 2020 attack on MSF-run maternity ward
UNAMA’s 2020 annual report described it:
One of the most atrocious attacks of 2020 was the 12 May attack on a maternity ward in PD13 of Kabul city, when several armed men forced their way into the hospital, deliberately moving towards the maternity ward, shooting at civilians and throwing hand grenades. The attack caused 46 civilian casualties (23 killed and 23 injured), many of them were mothers who had just given birth. The responsible party behind this attack remains undetermined (see page 14)
- 24 October 2020 Attack on Kawsar-e Danesh Tutoring Centre
According to UNAMA’s 2020 annual report (see page 55), “an ISIL-KP suicide attacker detonated his explosives near the exit of a pre-university educational centre. As a result, 40 civilians were killed and 79 injured, mainly students of the educational centre who belong to the Hazara community.”
Annex 3: Details of a security plan for Dasht-e Barchi which was never finalised and implemented
The security plan for west Kabul was not made public (although the author has seen a copy), but former Second Vice-President Sarwar Danesh’s press and public relations chief, Muhammad Hedayat, gave some details to Hasht-e Sobh daily on 2 June 2021. He said that a “technical survey” conducted to identify “vulnerabilities” looked at the tashkils of security agencies operating in west Kabul. It found that the 1,000 police personnel assigned to PDs 13 and 18 were not adequate to secure the area, which had more than 1.6 million residents and 1,200 public utility centres such as schools, hospitals, mosques and universities. The plan, which he said had been prepared in consultation with the people’s representatives and security agencies, proposed increasing the police and NDS tashkils, greater public involvement in ensuring security and new security posts.
The security plan itself has three sections: (1) main features of the area in question: Dasht-e Barchi; (2) primary sources of security threats; and (3) main recommendations, including the implementation and oversight of the plan, as well as public cooperation in security matters.
The plan begins by noting that the city’s ethnic Hazaras and Shia Muslims are scattered throughout 16 police districts and six city districts, with mosques, schools, tutoring courses and other institutions across the area which are potential targets. However, the plan does not extend to all of west Kabul (which, according to the plan, includes PDs 3, 5, 6, 7, 13, 18 and Paghman district). Instead, it only deals with Dasht-e Barchi (police districts 13 and 18 and part of PD-6) due to the concentration of terrorist threats and presumably the sheer size of its population.
Dasht-e Barchi is described as an area of 110 square kilometres, consisting of police districts 13 and 18, and parts of PD-6 (as well as smaller parts of PDs 3, 5, 7, and Paghman district). Its features, summarised in the table below, show that this is a heavily populated area with many potential targets. The plan puts the population of Dasht-e Barchi at 1.6 million, which is more than the population of Herat city or Mazar-e Sharif, based on population statistics from UN-Habitat.
The two municipal nahiyas (urban districts) 6 and 13 were run by 72 employees, while the three police districts, together with the NDS, had a total of 1,041 security personnel, which seemed inadequate for such a large area that is significantly under threat.
The plan listed the six primary sources of security threats that needed to be addressed:
- Terrorist incursions, both during the day and the night, as evidenced by the distribution of night letters demanding ushr (taxes) and prohibiting women from working in vegetable gardens; threats against government employees and other people in the area; and attacks on security posts. Locals were further concerned about complex attacks, unexpected incursions and hostage-takings. From 2020 onward, these threats had been met with the occasional establishment of temporary nightly checkpoints. (According to a 1 June 1TV report), the Taleban collected ushr from cucumber farms in Shahrak-e Etifaq: 15,000 Afs for every two million Afs and 10,000 Afs on every four tons of cucumbers. The farmers were given a time and place to “submit their taxes” and were provided with receipts).
- Terrorist attacks on centres of public gathering and places of learning, as listed above
- Roadside mines, magnetic bombs and assassinations
- Criminality and organised crime, including armed robberies and killings (an increase in crime, starting in the fall of 2019, led to widespread complaints on social media) and a general feeling of unsafety in the area’s often unlit alleys and streets.
- Rocket attacks such as the 2020 Nawruz attack on the shrine of Sakhi.
- Increase in social discontent: here the plan vaguely indicated that when the people’s demands were not met, over time, after civil protests, a phase of indifference and frustration, coupled with a sense of discrimination and injustice, could have dangerous political and security implications, without specifying what these might be.
The most important part of the plan consisted of its actual recommendations, which included, first of all, a three-layer belt to deal with terrorist incursions: the first security belt would be comprised of the 111 Brigade with an additional ANA base and several other posts. The second security belt would consist of a police security ring, including a new 50-member police base at the key Changhar crossroad, which connects Paghman, PD-13 and PD-18. The plan also reiterated a 2018 recommendation, so far not implemented, to establish 27 additional police posts in PDs 13 and 18, as well as the neighbouring PDs 3, 6 and 7, to prevent car bombs and large-scale explosions in west Kabul. The third security belt would consist of NDS units based in Tepa Sankar and assigned to areas in west Kabul. According to the plan, the unit had already been established in 2018, but only 46 out of the envisaged 150 personnel had been recruited; the plan recommended expanding the unit to 300, deployed to three bases.
The plan recommended ten measures to improve detection and intelligence capabilities (including a permanent surveillance balloon above Sankar Hill which could cover the vast Dasht-e Barchi area, Arghandi, Paghman and Lalandar), information sharing and stationing special units in west Kabul to allow for rapid deployments after an incident and prevent further terrorist attacks and assassinations. It also recommended the establishment of a fire brigade and an ambulance service in Muhammad Ali Jinnah Hospital (the area currently has neither) and improved capabilities at the Jinnah and 100-bed Barchi hospitals.
Recommendations to protect the area against criminality included recruiting a network of criminal investigation collaborators and motorcycles for police patrols, because the poor state of roads makes it difficult for vehicles to access many areas.
Recommendations to thwart rocket attacks included extended search and clearance operations, on special occasions and regularly, and a strengthened intelligence coverage of the areas surrounding Dasht-e Barchi (Paghman, Arghandi, Lalandar and Chaharasiab).
The section on dealing with a possible fallout from discontent mainly noted that 1.2 million people live in nahiya-13 alone, where there were no fire stations and ambulance centres and only one long paved road. The plan also recommended dividing nahiya-13 into three instead of two as was envisioned by a presidential decree.
Although the plan provided a relatively comprehensive analysis of the state of the area’s threats and suggested measures that in a normal situation might be sufficient, they were a case of “far too little, too late”. With the rash of district centres and provincial capitals falling to the Taleban across the country, the government was then struggling not just to push them back but to hold on to what remained under its precarious control.
This article was last updated on 16 Jan 2022