After years of persecuting Afghanistan’s religious and ethnic minorities, the Taliban are now trying to win over and recruit from the Shiite Hazara community ahead of intra-Afghan peace talks.

The predominantly Sunni insurgents posted a video on their website last week to introduce their first local leader from the Hazara community. Mawlawi Mahdi, a Shiite cleric militia leader, was named the Taliban’s governor for Balkhab district in Sar-e-Pul province in northern Afghanistan.

In the video posted on April 22, Mahdi urges Hazaras, who have faced repeated attacks from the Taliban over the past two decades, to join the group in fighting against “Jewish and Christian invaders”, referring to the United States.

“Weren’t you in the frontline fighting the Soviet Union alongside your Sunni brothers?” he says. “Why aren’t you joining your Taliban brothers in fighting this invasion?”

The Taliban are “inclusive of all people without any racism” and Shiites are very much a part of their “divine strategy”, Mahdi says in another section of the roughly edited video, in which some of his statements are cut off in mid-sentence.

The Taliban are scheduled to hold peace talks with government officials and representatives of civil society under a deal with the US administration to end nearly two decades of war in the country. The group has continued to attack the US-backed government forces as preparations for the talks make halting progress.

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