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Afghanistan: Violence in the Hazarajat, Protests in Kabul

Afghanistan is one of those countries where minority issues drive nearly everything. They form the basis for why President Hamid Karzai is “the best game in town,” but also why he should resign. They form the fundamental structure of the national government, with ethnic set-asides (Kuchis get 10 seats in Parliament, Tajiks and Hazara each get a Vice-Presidency), warlordism (no one will dare move against Abdulrashid Dostum's ethnic Uzbek enclave in the north), and generally a tense unease between various people groups.

Because this situation is not new, it sometimes gets ignored in the face of the Taliban insurgency. But sometimes ethnic rivalries boil over into outright disputes. In Wardak province, just west and south of Kabul, the Hazara have a long-standing feud with the nomadic Kuchi over land rights. On Tuesday, July 8—the day after the horrific bombing at the Indian embassy in Kabul—a band of Kuchis moved into the Behsud district of Wardak and killed several Hazaras, taking at least four hostage and claiming the “right” to use their land. The Rumi reports:

In April, Human rights workers expressed fears that Hazaras were planning to take up arms against Kuchis who settled on their land.

“Given that both parties lack confidence in the government's ability to solve their disputes they may try to defeat each other by violent means,” Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission said.

Kuchis, who are predominantly Pashtuns, traditionally move all over the country in search of green pastures for their livestock and, at the start of each spring, many travel to the central provinces, where most of Afghanistan’s Hazaras live.

Kuchi elders complain that Hazaras have enjoyed strong international support since the Taliban’s fall, while Kuchis have been perceived as collaborators of the mainly Pashtun Taliban.

In July 2007, after several people were reportedly killed in clashes between Kuchi herders and Hazara settlers in Behsud district, President Karzai set up a commission to come up with a solution. Then commission has yet to report its finding.

Very quickly, a blog to help the victims of the attack was set up. A relatively recent blog-based clearing house for Hazara issues, Hazarajat Times, picked up a story that would grow in significance: Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq, a Hazara Member of Parliament, first warned that the Kuchi incursion would lead to civil war if it was not resolved, then began a hunger strike on July 16 to end the conflict. He drew some rather surprising supporters, such as Abdulrashid Dostum, and within days hundreds had pledged to join in the strike.

Since the current conflict was eerily similar to the exact same clash that happened in July of 2007, many Hazara were deeply frustrated at the perceived inaction of Kabul. So they planned a protest.

By July 21, Mohaqiq was trying desperately to spread the word about the clashes (which were almost entirely unreported in the West). The Rumi captured most of what he said:

He said “over 15 villagers including children and women have been gunned down while 20,000 persons have been displaced fleeing the barbarism of Al-Qaeda and Taliban supporters”.

Mohaqiq expressed disappointment towards human rights organizations, media and UN for not taking any serious notice of the invasion and strongly appealed the international community, human rights organizations and United Nations to intervene and avoid Kuchi nomads massacring the people of Behsud District…

Last year on June 23, 2007 there was a giant peaceful public demonstration in Kabul against the Government to resolve the “Kuchi Headache” for ever “The international community, NATO led coalition forces, United Nations and Human Rights’ organizations are needed to look into the matter and get rid of the “headache” meeting the human rights of the downtrodden people of central highlands” he added.

About this time, some Farsi/Dari-language media began to cover the incursion. Quqnoos has a disturbing video of some Hazara victims of the attack.

In posting the above video, The Rumi angrily wondered why President Karzai seemed to be doing nothing:

Kabul government sent police forces to stop the Kuchis but in this video you can see the kuchi-armed groups dressed in Taliban style are walking in front of National Police. Why the police forces cannot take their weapons? What is so special for the kuchies to be armed while the rest of the ethnicities are disarmed?

About this time, Mohaqiq was reportedly weakening. Registan.net noted that the ethnic issues surrounding the conflict had much more complex roots, and warns against assuming it is all about the Taliban:

Many Hazara claim the Kuchi are “Taliban,” or at least Taliban-loving, because during the 90s they worked with the Taliban, who granted them access to Hazara (and Tajik) land. Naturally the Hazara are angry over this imbalance.

Here’s the rub. As a predominantly Pashtun force, the Taliban were rather notorious for their appalling treatment of all other minorities within Afghanistan, including (or perhaps especially) the Hazara. In fact, the imposed famine on the Hazarajat was particularly brutal and generally unreported in the media in the West.

Wardak is about half Pashtun, with most of the rest (somewhere around 40%, according to unreliable official statistics) Hazara…It seems, in brief, a fairly standard nomad/settler conflict, with the consequent disputes over land used both for agriculture and grazing. These types of conflicts become especially acute during times of drought or shortage, and the current squeeze over food prices, and a looming drought in the south, have probably exacerbated the conflict.

The next day, July 22, Safrang noted that thousands of people took to the streets of Kabul, demanding the government put a stop to the depredation.

The march started around 7:00 a.m. Tuesday morning in Dasht-e-Barchi area of West of Kabul and proceeded towards the city center and the offices of the UN’s Assistance Mission in Afghanistan -UNAMA. Several news agencies have put the number of demonstrators at “thousands”. By mid-day, Farda TV reported that the demonstrations were over and no incidents had taken place. Farda TV also aired footage of the demonstrations showing people in thousands marching in large thoroughfares of the city, advancing towards the center of the city.

Footage also showed police in riot gear standing around, and in some cases lining up on the main streets at a distance from the demonstrators, blocking their advance. Faced with the riot police, some among the demonstrators encouraged those at the head of the demonstrations to sit down and not advance any further, avoiding contact with the riot police and keeping a distance of 15 meters or so.

It was hard to read many of the placards and banners held up by demonstrators on TV screen. Those that I could read included:
“We oppose ethnic conflict and those who support/encourage it”
“The government should stand with defenseless civilians of Behsud”
“We want Justice”

The protests seem to have worked. Amidst a crowd Hazaristan Times estimated at 300,000, Mohaqiq ended his hunger strike, having met with both Karzai and UNAMA officials about the incursion. They posted some beautiful pictures. And President Karzai ordered an evacuation of the Kuchi, who by all accounts are slowly leaving the embattled district.

At what cost, however? The Hazaristan Times started a donation drive to financially assist Hazara who had their homes razed or family members killed. The images they post are gruesome, but help to highlight just how severe this sadly ignored problem really was.

12 comments

  • Shaman

    They say (Afg & Pak) that Hazara Mongols are foreigners! If so, Americans are also foreign in USA. Because it was the land of RED INDIANS. It is a new era and People must mix and live a life of mixed community. Because those days are gone when one community lived on a specific part of the earth and they conquered another area killing the different races.
    Pashtuns should realize that what they do against Hazaras is wrong. Can’t they learn some modern way of living? If they can’t means they deserv a nuke dropped on them! But this is not we Hazaras want. We have a great sense of justice and we love peace. We love peaceful world. And this is strange that no one takes any action against Kuchis! Hazaras have handed over their weapons and Kuchis are beeing armed! What kind of justice is this???? One day I am sure some miracle would happen and the world would know that Hazaras were at the right side. I hope after this day the peace loving communities who have the power would help Hazaras to maintain peace in areas Hazaras live both in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
    About Hazaras in Afghanistan And Pakistan:
    1. Peaceful Locally. Security. No foreign troops are harmed.
    2. Education Loving Community
    3. Cleanliness
    4. Discipline
    5. Trust Worthy (Men of Word)

    Best regards. And thanks to Rumi

  • Tolgha

    I would like to draw readers attention over this sensitive issue between Hazaras and Kuchis which could escalate to further blood shed if not stopped .Kuchis or Pashtuns or in other words Talibans ,they have been cruel and barbaric towards Hazaras for the past 200 years.History is the witness of all those crimes,evil acts and genocides that Pastuns have inflicted on Hazaras.Today it is believed that that the active UN bodies and G8 countries are concerned for safety, food,shelter ,peace and progress of Afghan nation.But this incident makes me feel like that Talibans were active in their evil deeds against the Hazaras before the foreign invasion and even today .In all probability President Karzai being a Pashtun and somehow a naive person is favoring the Kuchis and keep on ignoring this bone of contention which infact is being heard for the past few summers.This is absolute ANARCHY.
    A question arises here that what credibility do the Kuchis have to keep weapons like AK47 on them and Hazaras can not have weapons in their possession to defend their house and family.I guess ISAF needs to treat the Kuchis as equal to taliban since they are terrorizing innocent civilians and trespassing on their pastures and killing their children and looting their house holds .
    Regards.

  • […] Global Voices – But sometimes ethnic rivalries boil over into outright disputes. In Wardak province, just west and south of Kabul, the Hazara have a long-standing feud with the nomadic Kuchi over land rights. On Tuesday, July 8—the day after the horrific bombing at the Indian embassy in Kabul—a band of Kuchis moved into the Behsud district of Wardak and killed several Hazaras, taking at least four hostage and claiming the “right” to use their land. […]

  • […] Global Voices – But sometimes ethnic rivalries boil over into outright disputes. In Wardak province, just west and south of Kabul, the Hazara have a long-standing feud with the nomadic Kuchi over land rights. On Tuesday, July 8—the day after the horrific bombing at the Indian embassy in Kabul—a band of Kuchis moved into the Behsud district of Wardak and killed several Hazaras, taking at least four hostage and claiming the “right” to use their land. […]

  • ZALMAI

    Hazaras are as much Afghan as any other Afghans. But recently we have seen so much hatred from majority of Hazaras towards Pushtoons. It is very obvious and clear that most Hazaras hate pushtoons you can see that in their publications online. People have not forgotten the crimes that Hazaras have commited during Prof. Rabani’s govt. Hazaras cut women’s breasts, stuck nails in pushtoons’ heads they have commited crimes that was unheard of before in the history of Afghanistan. These are the same people who commited these crimes.
    I am not judging all Hazaras there are good people in hazaras. Same way there are bad people in pashtoons, Tajeks and Uzbeks like Rasheed Dostum who killed 1000s of people and still terrorizing the people of Mazare Sharif. He is like a gangster

  • ZALMAI

    IN RESPOSNE TO SHANAM’S COMMENTS ABOUT AMERICANS AND RED INDIANS. i HAVE TO SAY IT IS NOT A CORRECT ANALOGY. HAZARAS IN AFGHANISTAN ARE MORE LIKE ILLEGAL MEXICANS IN UNITED STATES, WHICH THE US GOVT. IS ACTIVELY PERSUING A POLICY OF DEPORTATION. THEY WANT TO GET RID OF THESE ILLEGAL AND MOSTLY ILLITERATE MAXICANS WHICH PUTS A LOT OF PRESSURE ON THE ECONOMY AND TAKING JOBS AWAY FROM ORDINARY AMERICANS. NO BODY WANTS ILLEGAL ALIANS AMONGST THEM. SPECIALLY WHEN THEY ARE NOT NICE AND APPRECIATE THAT THEY ARE ALLOWED TO LIVE IN SOMEONE ELSE’S COUNTRY.
    THANK YOU

  • ZALMAI

    AND ALSO I WANT TO ASK THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY NOT TO LISTEN TO WHAT HAZARAS ARE SAYING ABOUT KUCHIS THEY ARE NOT TALIBAN. I ASK THE ISAF AND COALITION FORCES NOT TO FALL A PREY IN THIS LAND DISPUTE AND BE USED BY FACIEST HAZARAS WHO HAVE VARIOUS AGENDAS.

  • Shaman

    Zalmai enough is enough. Please be honest and tell me do you have the licence to kill Hazaras? Did you give them the lives they live? Do you think Islam allows killing human beings? Ask your Pashtuns and any one who kills Hazaras if he believes in Islam? If they did, they had started jihad against mistreating Pashtuns and others.
    Hazaras can help you. Just let them help you and you will see Afghanistan progress.
    Your comparison is also wrong. Mexicans who enter US without papers are not educatted. But today Hazaras have the highest education rate in both Afghanistana and Pakistan. Zalmai time will pass and let not the tomorrow be a regretful tomorrow for all of the enemies of Hazaras.
    We want PEACE and Eual Rights. We respect honourable humans. An honourable human being can not be unjust.
    Best Regards.
    Powerful Shaman.

  • Tolgha

    Zalmai you don’t need to put anything for the International community rather than admitting the fact that what you guys are doing or had been doing through out the history. Everyone knows that Pashtuns are the trouble maker in form of Talibans,Kuchis,Waziristanis,Pakhtuns or Pashtuns ,you all are chips of the same block and the act of barbarism and cruelty is the symbol of your pride.
    The way I see president Karzai with a very little knowledge and his fake English accent ,honestly he makes me laugh since he talks stupid and acts stupid.I don’t see much difference between him and a street hawker in terms of his mental approach towards international relations and handling the global politics.So called a president.

  • Tolgha

    ZALMAI let me define one more thing to you .Have you ever noticed that how politically incorrect you name ZALMAI is ,driven from ZALM which means CRUEL.
    How biased and naive are you in terms of the comparison of Hazaras with the illegal Mexican immigrants in US.You strictly need to go through the history pages again that where the Hazaras came from .As a matter of fact we are the people who build the largest land empire on the face of the earth and what motives we carried behind those wars were to defeat feudalism ,Aristocratism,Anarchisms,and that zeal resulted the Mongols to conquer the Central Asia and other parts of the world and what our ancestors conquered in 25 years ,the Romans took 400 years.Here I admit the fact that the past 200 years we Hazaras suffered alot and lost almost 65% of our people by those gruesome acts of genocide inflicted to us by Pashtons .But guess what today things are changed ,and our current generation has more educated people and intellectual heads percentage wise compared to others in our surroundings .which already give you people the indication of defeat with the new era’s requisites .
    Regards.

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