On March 21, as the country was preparing to celebrate the Nawruz festivity, the Afghan Ministry of Defense dispatched at least 100 bullet-proof Humvee tanks to Maidan Wardak province to crack down on Abdul Ghani Alipoor, a Hazara commander whose fighters were accused of downing a military helicopter, killing nine personnel on board.
In the aftermath of the helicopter incident, President Ashraf Ghani talked to the family members of the slain forces, vowing to deal tough with the perpetrators, and ‘avenge the blood’ of the dead military personnel. His first vice president, Amrullah Saleh, said on a Facebook post that the perpetrators will be punished. The newly-appointed interior minister accused Alipoor of committing a ‘heinous crime’. He vowed to punish him hard.
The government has launched a house-to-house night search operation in Hesa-e-Awal Behsud district, inspecting to arrest Alipoor and his fighters. The operation in the civilian area is seen as a retaliatory effort to ‘avenge the blood’ of those who lost their lives in a complicated helicopter crash in Maidan Wardak on March 18. A source close to Alipoor told media that armed men loyal to Commander Alipoor shot down the army helicopter in Hessa-e-Awal Behsud, Alipoor later denied his involvement in downing the military helicopter.
A wave of contradicting tales began to fuel a hot debate on social media platforms after a handful of journalists began to post tweets with pictures of Iran-made portable anti-craft missiles just to link the attack with a regional proxy war amid a complicated peace process and American’s exit from the country. The tension between the government and Alipoor’s supporters mounted on social media after a senior Afghan military commander said on Facebook that the government will wipe out all supporters of the local commander.
The latest episode of confrontation with ethnic Hazaras in Maidan Wardak turned violent after security forces opened fire at a crowd of peaceful protesters, who protested the appointment of a new police chief. 11 civilians were killed and dozens wounded in police firing. A government official in Kabul claimed that the protest turned violent after armed men affiliated with Commander Alipoor opened fire at police forces. However, investigations by a government-picked truth-finding committee and Afghanistan’s human rights commission suggested that those who were killed by the police forces were unarmed civilians.
At this critical juncture, we need more wise policymakers in the room
To temporarily close the wound of civilian carnage in Behsud, the government suspended Allahdad Fedaee, the police chief who had commanded his forces to open fire at civilians, and referred his case for investigation to Afghanistan Attorney General Office but then again, on March 16, President Ghani appointed him as police chief for Laghman province.
Alipoor, who enjoys a widespread allegiance among the ethnic Hazara, was a van driver. In 2014, he took the weapon to protect his home district against a periodic Kochi violence and Taliban offensive. Many Hazaras who face attacks by the Kochis, persecution by the Taliban and discrimination by the government see Alipoor as a guardian who keeps local administration running and protects their dignity and property in a territory where the government has proved incompetent to protect people’s lives.
In late 2018, the government arrested Alipoor in Kabul and detained him for several hours but he was released after a protest by his supporters turned violent in the capital Kabul.
Amid a continued offensive by the Taliban, it is proofing difficult for the Hazaras to see the state disintegrating. The Hazaras have put their weight behind the government. Hazara men and women are proudly serving the Afghan army and police. They know well that a state is the only legitimate institution that delivers justice and provides public services.
No one in a sound mind would become happy at seeing his country falling apart.
The deadly shooting of ethnic Hazaras in Behsud and the subsequent appointment of the police chief who had ordered the shooting deepened the long resentments between the Hazaras and the government. For a very long time, what the Hazaras have been demanding of the government is security and protection. They are not safe on their way to the capital and back to their homes in the central highlands of Afghanistan. In the current dynamics of war, the intransigent insurgents persecute the Hazaras for a simple reason: the Hazaras are supporting the American-backed government.
A revengeful military operation in Behsud will widen the gap between the Hazaras and the government at a time when the country is negotiating a power-sharing deal with an old foe who is already celebrating victory. More than ever today, Afghanistan needs adults in the policy room. At this critical juncture, we need more wise policymakers in the room. Any kind of arbitrary move will ignite waves of anger and provoke further hatred.