Assef encompasses all that is evil in Afghanistan. The reader first meets Assef as a violent, racist child who draws his social power from his economic and ethnic identity, and wants to rid his country of all Hazaras. Assef’s rape of Hassan is a dramatic and explicit example of those with social privilege violating those without. Adult Assef becomes a Taliban leader and continues embracing Afghanistan’s most vicious and bigoted beliefs, ultimately personifying racism and abuse.

Assef also shares many characteristics with Amir. Both children grow up with a measure of privilege, and both children hurt Hassan—a socially and economically disadvantaged Hazara—when they abuse this privilege. As Amir fights Assef to save Sohrab, he is ultimately fighting the darkest part of himself that betrayed Hassan. Assef is the most unambiguously evil character in the novel, emphasized by the fact that Assef’s hero as a child is Adolf Hitler. Significantly, Assef does not die in the novel, insinuating that the cruelest parts of Afghanistan cannot be easily or fully extinguished.