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Hazaras head the Afghan class

world Updated: Jan 05, 2010 23:42 IST

For much of this country’s history, the Hazara were typically servants, cleaners, porters and little else, a largely Shia minority sidelined for generations, and in some instances massacred, by Pashtun rulers.

But increasingly they are people like Mustafa, a teenager whose course reflects the collective effort of the Hazara, who make up 10 to 15 per cent of the population, to remake their circumstances so swiftly that by some measures they are beginning to overtake other groups.

Like many Hazaras of his generation, Mustafa, 16, fled Afghanistan with his family in the mid-1990s. They settled in Quetta, Pakistan, living with other Hazara refugees outside the Taliban’s reach and getting a taste of opportunities previously beyond their grasp.

After the 2001 U.S.-led invasion, his family returned, not to their home in impoverished Daykondi province, but to Kabul, where his uneducated parents thought Mustafa and his siblings would get better schooling. Mustafa is a top student at Marefat High School in Dasht-i-Barchi.

The Hazara gains have been rapid. Two Hazara-dominated provinces, Bamyan and Daykondi, have the highest passing rates on admissions exams for the country’s top rung of universities.

In a country that has one of the world’s lowest female literacy rates — just one in seven women over age 15 can read and write — the progress of Hazara women is even more stark, especially compared with Pashtun provinces.

Pashtuns, who are mostly Sunni, are the country’s largest ethnic group. While the Taliban insurgency rages in Pashtun regions, and many schools are attacked or forced to close, the enrollment of girls in Bamyan schools rose by one-third the past two years, to 46,500, as total enrollment there grew 22 per cent.