On Friday afternoon (October 15), two suicide bombers targeted Shiite worshipers in Kandahar’s Bibi Fatima Mosque. According to the latest reports, the blasts during the Friday prayers killed more than 40 people and injured 70 others. Given the history of such attacks, the lack of media coverage, and the dire condition of the injured, the death toll may be much higher than reported.
This is the second deadly attack on Afghanistan’s Shiite community in a week. On Friday last week, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the Saidabad Mosque in northern Kunduz province, killing 150 Hazaras and injuring 150 others. The Islamic State in Khurasan Province (ISKP) has claimed responsibility for the attack on Shiite worshipers in Kandahar.
These repeated attacks indicate that the threats against Afghanistan’s religious minorities, specifically the Shiites, are high. Senior US officials had previously warned that the Islamic State in Khurasan Province (ISKP) will be revived in the next two years. Reports indicate that the threats against Shiites are likely to expand further.
Despite warnings, unfortunately, the rise of the ISKP and its threats against religious minorities have been ignored by the Taliban. Afghanistan’s Shiites have long been responsible for securing their mosques and other religious sites on their own. After taking control of Afghanistan, the Taliban disarmed those who guarded Shiite mosques. They promised the Shiites that they would provide security, but they have not done so yet.
Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, following an ISKP attack on a Taliban vehicle in Nangarhar in September said that it would be the last ISKP attack in Afghanistan. However, several deadly attacks took place since then, targeting Taliban members and civilians. The Taliban government, after two recent deadly attacks on Shiite worshipers, simply condemned the incidents in statements on Twitter. The Taliban have previously attacked civilian neighborhoods, including mosques, and are in fact the masterminds of such attacks. Now that this has happened under their government, they cannot acquit themselves by issuing a statement.
Such statements show that the attack on religious minorities in Afghanistan is being ignored. The Taliban’s negligence of providing Afghanistan’s Shiite community with security shows that killing Shiites is a legitimate act in the Taliban’s mind and that the crisis is not much important to the Taliban. Denial of the ISKP threat could also create further threats. The Shiites of Afghanistan have been the main target of ISIS in recent years. The history of the ISIS insurgency in Afghanistan and the Middle East clearly shows that the Shiites have always been considered cannon fodders.
Afghanistan’s Shiite leaders have warned that continued attacks could upset the socio-religious balance in the country. Recent upheavals in Afghanistan also show ethnic-religious purges and marginalization of Hazaras. Negligence of securing Shiites also paves the way for other hostile groups to step in to stop these atrocities. This will eventually lead to sectarian strife in the country.
Before such a turmoil, it is necessary to pay attention to the security of religious minorities in the country. The current situation requires the Taliban-led government to abandon its negligence toward the lives of ethnic and religious minorities, especially the Hazaras, and be accountable. If the Taliban are not capable of providing security for Afghanistan’s Shiites, they should provide the necessities and allow them to protect their community on their own.
The international community and human rights groups must also take serious steps to ensure the security of religious minorities in Afghanistan. If this situation continues, a full-blown religious-ethnic war will break out in Afghanistan, opening the door to other actors to interfere. Furthermore, if the country becomes a battleground for religious and ethnic warfare, worse consequences await Afghanistan that no one will be safe from its harm.