A pair of bomb blasts at a boys’ school in Kabul left at least six people dead on Tuesday, the latest in a series of attacks on the minority Shiite Hazara community in Afghanistan. While no group has claimed responsibility, it follows a pattern of aggression by ISIS-K, the Islamic State affiliate, against Shiites in Afghanistan, as well as Pakistan. “Governments, not only the Taliban, have failed to come up with a strategy where they could provide security to the Hazaras and Shias,” says Afghan journalist Bilal Sarwary. “I call it a great betrayal towards people who are extremely committed to a bright future of Afghanistan.”
AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Kabul, Afghanistan, where a prominent boys’ high school was targeted by two deadly bombings in the heart of the city’s Shiite Hazara community. The blasts struck students as they were leaving class Tuesday morning. This is a witness.
WITNESS: [translated] My nephew attends this school. When the blast happened, I ran out to see what was going on here, and I saw the students running out of the houses. There were a lot of people outside the school gate, and then another blast took place.
AMY GOODMAN: Western media reports at least six people were killed and 20 injured by the two blasts, but witnesses and Hazara leaders say at least 126 people were killed in yesterday’s suicide attack, and at least 73 people wounded. Many were teenage students. No group has claimed responsibility yet. The attacks are similar to previous strikes credited to ISIS-K, the Afghan branch of the Islamic State.
For more on this and the security situation in Afghanistan under the Taliban, we’re joined by Bilal Sarwary, Afghan journalist who reported on Afghanistan from Kabul for 20 years. He fled the country after the Taliban takeover last year, joining us now from Toronto.
Bilal, welcome back to Democracy Now! Thank you so much for joining us. Can you explain the significance of what took place yesterday? Talk specifically about the community that was targeted and what this means for Afghanistan.
BILAL SARWARY: Thank you. It’s good to be with you again.
This was a brutal and deadly attack targeting students from the Hazara and Shia community in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood, a neighborhood that has actually been targeted time and again, whether you talk about the republic or whether you talk about the Taliban in power. And this was a massacre. I mean, parents working as drivers, parents who are farmers from central Afghanistan, from Hazarajat, were investing in the education of their children. They simply hoped that they will be the doctors and engineers and future leaders of Afghanistan. Instead, they were murdered. Some of them, you know, are missing body parts, so the only remains that parents have.
And what we also see is the failure now, for nearly 20, 21 years, where the Hazara community, the Shias are not protected, that they are being targeted for being Hazaras. So, you kind of feel the pain for Hazaras, because they are being targeted for who they are. But at the same time, we also see the Taliban jealously and forcefully guarding a narrative that suits them, a narrative where they say, “Afghanistan is an island of perfection under the Taliban. Everything is OK.” And even if you look at the official accounts of what happened yesterday, the Taliban were very, very quick to downplay this incident. And we also saw Taliban soldiers actually beating some of the relatives of the victims. And they also prevented people from donating blood. So, it is quite heartbreaking to see the Hazaras being treated in such manner.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Bilal, could you talk about how large is the Hazara community within Afghanistan? And also, although we don’t know for sure that it was the Islamic State that was responsible, there is a lot of suspicion that they were behind it. How have the Taliban been dealing with the Islamic State? Has it been growing in size, or what’s been the government’s policy toward them?
BILAL SARWARY: Well, the Hazaras and Shias are the beating heart of Afghanistan. This is a community that has invested in education. They’re students coming from places like Bamyan, from Daykundi and Ghazni, you know, have dedicated themselves, trying to get the education, so they are extremely hard-working. And throughout the history of Afghanistan, they have actually been the victims of many great injustices. But over the last 20 years, they were a very prominent and key part of the post-Taliban Afghanistan.
As far as the Islamic State is concerned, you know, they have a presence in eastern Afghanistan. They have been in silent recruiting mode, you know, buying weapons from the black market but also from some Taliban commanders who are selling them. It’s almost an open secret. And the presence of the Islamic State in northern Afghanistan is actually there, and there’s a risk that certain Taliban commanders, especially the non-Pashtun ones, would be joining the Islamic State. So, this is a major threat to the Taliban as a government, but they’re also a major threat in terms of having the foreign fighters, you know, that flow from places like Syria over the last eight, nine months, when the Taliban took over.
The Taliban would like you to believe that they have a fix for this. The Taliban would like you to believe that they could defeat Daesh, the Islamic State. But that is easier said than done. If you just look at also news coming out that the Islamic State launched a rocket into Uzbekistan from northern Afghanistan, that’s actually something that has happened for the first time over the last 20 years. So you have this regional fear coming from Afghanistan. The region is extremely scared. What happens now, that the Taliban also are hosting thousands of foreign fighters from al-Qaeda and other transnational jihadi groups, not to forget the fact that the Taliban have officially opened suicide battalions and brigades within their Interior Ministry, within their Defense Ministry.
So this is a massive conundrum for the region, which I would like to call the regional conundrum. And, you know, the Taliban have so far failed to really regain the trust of the neighboring countries — forget about the international community, forget about the Afghan people, you know, that they have really been cracking down against.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And speaking of the neighboring community, Pakistan — the Shia community in Pakistan has also been targeted in recent years. Could you talk about what is happening there? And it looks like it might be Islamic State people, as well, attacking in Pakistan?
BILAL SARWARY: Well, if we look at the history of the last, let’s say, 30 years or so, there has been also a number of militant extremist Sunni groups, you know, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and many others inside Pakistan, that have targeted the Shia communities, from Quetta to Parachinar in the former tribal areas. And this community remains extremely vulnerable from these militant groups.
But in Afghanistan specifically, where I followed this deadly trend, you know, the governments — I must also say governments, not only the Taliban — have failed to come up with a strategy where they could provide security to the Hazaras and Shias. I remember during the republic’s time, even weapons were handed over to the community in Kabul, because the government said, “Look, we simply cannot provide security, so you have to do it for yourself.” And you have to actually also ask the question: Why is it that there has been dozens and dozens of these deadly attacks happening in one specific area, Dasht-e-Barchi in west Kabul, which is predominantly a Shia and Hazara community and area where they have been residing? So, I call it a great betrayal towards people that are extremely committed to a brighter future of Afghanistan.
AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about what’s happening to girls and education? This area, this neighborhood was the site of the bombing of a girls’ school last year. And you have the latest news of the Taliban closing schools for girls above sixth grade, just hours after they reopened, Bilal.
BILAL SARWARY: Well, what we have seen in Afghanistan is full-scale Talibanization. If we go back to August 15, since the Taliban took over power militarily, we were told that this is Taliban 2.0. We were told that the Taliban have changed, you know. The reality is the Taliban have banned music. The Taliban have banned all forms of entertainment. The Taliban have cracked down on Afghan media. The Taliban have also now banned the education for girls. I mean, there are all sorts of excuses, if you listen to the Taliban, but the reality is that this is an ideological issue for the Taliban. They simply do not want to allow it. And what we also see is the most powerful Taliban, you know, the ideological ones, those who are calling the shots, are against it. So you have certain Taliban leaders, especially the younger ones, taking this issue onto social media and saying, “Actually, this is great injustice. I want my daughters to be educated.”
And it’s actually quite depressing at the moment, because Afghanistan is a country where millions of girls will not be able to achieve their dreams of becoming doctors and engineers and teachers. And if you look at the last 20 years, the Afghan women have played a massive role in rebuilding the country, and especially people who were born in 1998, ’99, 2000. They are actually, today, the leaders. They are, today, people who have successfully represented Afghanistan all over the world but also have played a very important role in Afghanistan. And, you know, I feel so sorry and I feel so helpless as an Afghan to see that education is not a choice, education is not available, not only to Afghan girls specifically but also to a larger part of the Afghan community.
AMY GOODMAN: And yet, with all this, Bilal, you have this week 40 organizations, including Unfreeze Afghanistan, 9/11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, writing a letter to President Biden, urging him to reverse his decision to block the Afghan central bank from accessing $7 billion of Afghanistan’s money held in the United States, to prevent this looming humanitarian catastrophe of hunger. Can you respond, as we wrap up?
BILAL SARWARY: Well, this is, you know, part of the consistent failures of the Biden administration, how he conducted things in Afghanistan — Afghanistan could have had a peace process, Afghanistan could have had a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire — and in the manner that he ordered the evacuation in the 11th hour. But it is also the responsibility of the Taliban. It’s now on the Taliban. They’re not the insurgency; they are the government. They have to do good by the people of Afghanistan. They have to treat the people of Afghanistan respectfully. And they have to actually regain the trust of the international community. And when you speak about the unfreezing, people like myself have lost money, you know, that I had trusted the banks with. So the money actually belongs to the people of Afghanistan. And at some stage, you would kind of hope that there would be a sensible and logical solution coming out. And Afghanistan today is facing extreme, extreme levels of poverty. Millions of Afghans are facing the risk of mass starvation. And that in itself is the tragedy of 21st century. And it actually shows you what a waste it was over the last 20 years investing billions of dollars, all the sacrifices, and the end result is the epic failure that we are experiencing today.
AMY GOODMAN: Bilal Sarwary, we want to thank you for being with us, Afghan journalist who reported from Afghanistan for 20 years. He’s continuing to report, but he left the country after the Taliban takeover last year and is now in Toronto, Canada.
Next up, we go to the border to speak with an immigration lawyer about how U.S. border officials have arrested a record 1 million asylum seekers in the past six months, while at the same time welcoming thousands of Ukrainian refugees fleeing Russia’s invasion, a number of them coming up through the southern border. Stay with us.