By Freshta Shikhani and Frud Bezhan
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
November 15, 2018
The mountain paths leading out of Jaghori, a district in the remote highlands of central Afghanistan, teem with trucks and cars crammed with men, women, and children. Despite freezing conditions, others make the journey by foot, trudging alongside the hastily formed convoys with their meager possessions slung over their shoulders.
They are escaping the Taliban, which launched a major attack last week to seize control of Jaghori and Malistan, districts in Afghanistan’s central Ghazni Province heavily populated with members of the country’s beleaguered Hazara minority.
Those who successfully make the hazardous journey — many head to the provincial capital, Ghazni city, others all the way to Kabul — find little solace in their new surroundings.
No Food, Medicine
Arrivals to Ghazni city, where Taliban fighters are clashing with government forces on the outskirts of town, say the government has failed to provide them with basic necessities.
“We have gone from one grave to another,” says Abdullah, a resident of Jaghori who fled to Ghazni city on November 13 with his family of nine. “We don’t have any food or blankets. Two of my children are sick from the cold, and there’s no medicine.”
“We left in the middle of the night in a crowded truck,” adds Abdullah, who only goes by one name. “People left any way they could.”
Abdul Khaleq Ahmadi, the head of the provincial department for refugees, says that more than 1,000 families from Jaghori and Malistan have escaped to Ghazni city in the past week. Most families are living in schools, mosques, and hostels in the city, while others are staying with relatives.
The government and aid agencies are scrambling to set up temporary accommodation for the displaced and supply them with basic provisions. Many of the new arrivals say the response has been slow.
“I came here with my wife and children,” says Mohammad Ali, whose family found shelter in a mosque in Ghazni city on November 11 after leaving their home in Sang-e Masha, the main town in Jaghori district. “There’s no food. People are getting sick.”
The Taliban still pose a threat to many who have fled to Ghazni city, which itself was briefly overrun by the militants following a massive offensive in August. Hundreds of people were killed in the ensuing fighting that destroyed parts of the city. While the militants were beaten back, they have continued to attack government forces on the outskirts of the city.
The militants are estimated to control more territory than any time since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 that ousted the Taliban regime.
The Afghan government this week sent air and ground reinforcements to help Afghan special forces and Hazara militiamen fighting the Taliban in Jaghori and Malistan. The ongoing clashes have killed hundreds on both sides.
Many people have expressed anger and frustration over the government’s slow response in sending reinforcements. The fighting prompted demonstrations in Kabul and Ghazni city by Hazara, who have complained of official neglect after their community was targeted in a string of militant attacks. A suicide attack close to where demonstrators had been gathering in Kabul killed at least six people on November 12.
The Taliban terrorized Hazara during its oppressive 1996-2001 rule, when the militants seized control of central Afghanistan through brute force and a campaign of targeted killings. The current fighting in Ghazni between the mostly Pashtun Sunni Taliban and Shi’ite Hazara has heightened fears of ethnic and sectarian violence, even as the Taliban has denied it is specifically targeting Hazara.
‘We Don’t Have Anything’
While many have sought refuge in Ghazni city, others have made the hazardous road journey through Taliban-controlled areas to the capital, Kabul.
“We travelled for three days and nights by truck until we finally arrived in Kabul,” says Fatima, a resident of the town of Anguri in the Jaghori district, adding that they used back roads to avoid Taliban checkpoints in the region.
“There was fierce fighting in our area,” adds Fatima, who only goes by one name.
She says she fled after the Taliban overran her town. She arrived in the capital on November 12 with several other families from the same town. She says she left with only a few pieces of extra clothing.
“We’re staying here with relatives, but we don’t have anything,” she says. “We don’t have any money.”
Nesar Ahmad arrived in Kabul on November 13 with more than 20 family members and relatives. He is staying with relatives in Dasht-e Barchi, a predominately Hazara area that has been hit by a series of deadly suicide bombings claimed by the Islamic State (IS) extremist group.
Ahmad acknowledges the threat of staying in Dasht-e Barchi, but he says staying in Jaghori was not an option.
“Everyone fled in every direction to stay alive,” says Ahmad, who adds that people escaped to Bamiyan and Dai Kundi, Hazara-majority regions that neighbor Ghazni.
“The government should know its responsibility,” says Ahmad with a sigh of frustration. “There are hundreds of people here like me that need help. We don’t have money or food. The government needs to clear out the Taliban so we can go back to our homes.”