"The Hazaras are producing the most enthusiastic, educated, forward-looking youth, who are seizing the opportunities provided by the new situation," says Michael Semple, a red-bearded Irishman who serves as the deputy to the special representative of the European Union in Afghanistan. Shafaq helped found the Center for Dialogue, a Hazara student organization with 150 members. The group publishes its own magazine, holds events promoting "humanism and pluralism," and works with human rights organizations to monitor elections. Semple deems the group part of an emerging political consciousness among Hazara youth.
"We have a window of opportunity," Shafaq says, "but we are not sure how long it will remain open." This son of Hazarajat is the proverbial country boy who came to the big city and made good. Shafaq's father farmed in their village, Haft Gody, in Waras, a district in southern Bamian, and ran a restaurant in the district center. Children in Waras customarily marry young, stay close to home, and tend the potato fields. But Shafaq wanted something more. When he wasn't helping his father, he read voraciously—novels, history, philosophy, translations of Abraham Lincoln, John Locke, and Albert Camus.
Growing up, Shafaq heard the stories of where his people came from, why they looked different from Pashtuns and Tajiks. He and his fellow Hazaras, the story goes, are the descendants of Genghis Khan's Mongolian soldiers, who marched into central Afghanistan in the 13th century, built a garrison, and conquered the inhabitants—a varied mix of peoples not uncommon along the Silk Road. When the locals rose up and killed Genghis's son, the conqueror retaliated by leveling Bamian and wiping out most of its residents. Those who survived intermarried with the Mongolian invaders and became the Hazaras—a genetic collaboration evident in the diversity of facial features among the region's people today.
In recent times a minority of Hazaras have embraced the Genghis connection as a point of pride, but more often the outsider lineage has been used against them. For many the modern-day narrative starts in the 1890s, when King Abdur Rahman, a Pashtun, launched bloody anti-Hazara pogroms in and around Hazarajat. Fueled by chauvinism, armed with fatwas from Sunni mullahs who declared the Hazaras infidels, Rahman's forces killed many thousands and took slaves from among the survivors. Throngs of Hazaras were driven from lowland farms up into the central highlands. Later rulers used force, law, and manipulation to keep the Hazaras confined, physically and psychologically, to those highlands.