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Afghanistan's Taliban appoints minority Shia Hazara official in 'historic first'

The announcement comes amid talks to end the US war in Afghanistan [Twitter]

Date of publication: 29 April, 2020

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A Shia Hazara was appointed among the ranks of Afghanistan's Taliban militant group for the first time, local reports confirmed.
Afghanistan’s Taliban militant group has reportedly appointed a Shia Hazara as the shadow district chief of the group for the first time, local media reported, in an apparent bid to gain support from the minority community.

Mawlavi Mahdi was announced as the new shadow district chief of the Taliban for the northern Sar-e Pul province last week, local Khaama agency reported.

The Taliban reportedly introduced the new official as a “Shia brother”, despite the group waging deadly attack on the minority group for decades.

He joined the group to fight against “Jewish and Christian invaders”, the Taliban said at the time of his appointment, referring to the United States.

The Taliban has since the 1990’s launched violent assaults on the minority Hazara community and in 1998 carried out a massacre against the group in Mazar-e Sharif city, the capital of Balkh.

Though the move to appoint a Shia Hazara official among its ranks seems unexpected, experts believe it is no more than a political move to gain widespread support across the nation.

“The Taliban has never been an inclusive force; their leadership in Quetta and Peshawar and their political office in Doha are run by Sunni Pashtuns. They have had token Tajik commanders in the field, particularly in the north, but now they are trying to include some token Shia Hazaras in the mix,” said Sabir Ibrahimi, an Afghan security analyst and research associate at New York University’s Centre on International Co-operation, told the UAE-based The National.

Meanwhile, researcher at the Afghanistan Analysts Network, Ali Yawar Adili, said the move follows similar strategic appointments by the Taliban in recent years.

“In recent years, the Taliban have recruited from other communities like Tajiks and Uzbeks. They seemed to feel a gap in their effort to portray themselves as a nationwide movement due to the lack of any significant influence among ethnic Hazaras,” Adili told The National.

On the ground, the Taliban have dismissed a government call for a Ramadan ceasefire in Afghanistan, saying a truce is "not rational" as they ramped up attacks on government forces.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani appealed to the militants to lay down their arms for the Islamic holy month that began Friday, as the country battles the growing coronavirus pandemic.  

But the Taliban's spokesman Suhail Shaheen tweeted late Thursday to reject the government's offer, citing ongoing disagreements over a potential peace process and a delayed prisoner exchange as reasons to keep fighting.

"Asking for ceasefire is not rational and convincing," wrote Shaheen as he accused the government of putting prisoners' lives at risk during the outbreak.

Read also: Is Afghanistan on the brink of a Middle-East proxy war as US looks to exit?

Under a landmark US-Taliban deal signed earlier this year, the Afghan government and the insurgents were by now supposed to have concluded a prisoner swap and started talks aimed at bringing about a comprehensive ceasefire.

American and other foreign forces have pledged to quit Afghanistan by July 2021 provided the Taliban stick to several security guarantees and hold talks with the government.

Ghani has been calling for a lasting ceasefire with the Taliban for years, only to be ignored by the increasingly emboldened insurgents.

The Taliban instead have mocked Ghani's government, referring to them as "puppets" controlled by foreign powers, and have roundly refused to engage in peace talks as they intensify attacks on Afghan forces.
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