The Hazaras of Afghanistan are Shiites who are widely believed to have roots in Mongolia and are thus both ethnically and religiously distinct from the Pashtun Sunnis who dominate the country. In the 1890s, Afghanistan’s Pashtun leader, Abdur Rahman Khan, perpetrated what can be legitimately termed a genocide against the Hazaras: killing, enslaving, and dispossessing the bulk of the population. For decades afterward, the Hazaras were at the bottom of what Ibrahimi, in this sympathetic but nonpolemic book, calls a caste system. Despite the absence of an official census, the Hazaras today are estimated to represent somewhere between ten and 20 percent of Afghanistan’s roughly 30 million inhabitants. Their homeland, in the middle of the country, is grossly underdeveloped. Ibrahimi has undertaken field and archival research to trace the efforts of the Hazaras to protect their identity and patrimony and to find a legitimate place in the Afghan state. The Hazaras were recognized as a group by the 2004 Afghan constitution. They hold ministerial positions and have elected representatives to the national assembly. It takes a strong state, Ibrahimi avers, to mitigate ethnic politics, but a strong state will almost inevitably be an instrument of the Pashtuns, the group to which the fiercely anti-Shiite Taliban belong.
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