Fearing Islamic State, some Afghan Shi’ites seek help from old enemies

Ethnic Hazara demonstrators gather in a protest tent in Afghanistan’s capital demanding action to rescue Hazaras kidnapped from a bus by masked men who many believe are influenced by Islamic State, in Kabul, March 19, 2015. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

(Reuters) – Even by Afghanistan’s standards of often-shifting alliances, a recent meeting between ethnic Hazara elders and local commanders of the Taliban insurgents who have persecuted them for years was extraordinary.

The Hazaras – a largely Shi’ite minority killed in the thousands during the Taliban’s hard-line Sunni Islamist rule of the 1990s – came to their old enemies seeking protection against what they deemed an even greater threat: masked men operating in the area calling themselves “Daish”, a term for Islamic State in the region.

In a sign of changing times, the Taliban commanders agreed to help, said Abdul Khaliq Yaqubi, one of the elders at the meeting held in the eastern province of Ghazni.

The unusual pact is a window into deepening anxiety in Afghanistan over reports of Islamic State (IS) radicals gaining a foothold in a country already weary of more than a decade of war with the Taliban.

Back-to-back kidnappings within a month of two groups of Hazara travelers – by men widely rumored, though far from proven, to claim fealty to IS – have many spooked…