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A week of fighting between Taliban militants and fighters loyal to a commander from the mainly Shi’ite Hazara minority has heightened fears of a dangerous new phase of sectarian violence in Afghanistan.
The clashes in the central province of Uruzgan, which have killed at least 21 people, have highlighted concerns that Hazaras, members of a mainly Shi’ite Persian-speaking minority targeted by Islamic State attacks over recent years, may take up arms in frustration at a lack of action by the government.
While the Taliban, made up mainly of ethnic Pashtun Sunni Muslims, has not explicitly targeted Hazaras in the past, officials fear the violence could escalate into an ethnic battle.
“The fighting is very intense and is now becoming an issue of ethnic violence between Hazara and Pashtun,” said Amir Mohammad Barekzai, the provincial council chief. “The government must arrange a truce between them or there will be a massacre.”
Sectarian violence had until recent years been relatively uncommon in Afghanistan but suicide bombings at Shi’ite mosques and cultural centers by Islamic State as well as attacks on Hazaras traveling on provincial highways have fueled growing anger. Many Hazaras blame Sunni Pashtuns for the attacks.