By failing to bridge the widening rift between Kuchis and Hazaras in Behsud and Daimirdad, the authorities have created new fault lines of conflict.By failing to bridge the widening rift between Kuchis and Hazaras in Behsud and Daimirdad, the authorities have created new fault lines of conflict.
Simmering tensions between Hazara villagers and Kuchi nomads in Behsud and Daimirdad (Maidan Wardak province) erupted in west Kabul on August 13, the first weekend of Ramzan.
The capital city’s 13th District saw fighting and arson attacks by both sides that were put down by the police. Reports suggest as many as Hazaras may have been killed, most of them in indiscriminate police firing, while dozens of people were injured and many buildings including shops were vandalized.
Like in Behsud and Daimirdad the trigger for the dispute in Kabul was land. The Kuchis were claiming the land of a graveyard at the foot of Qoureq mountain and the local people, mainly Hazaras, were opposing Kuchi construction.
Lieutenant General Khalilullah Dastyar, aide to the security commander for Kabul province, told reporters that the Hazaras were the first to launch an attack on Kuchis who then reacted.
The background to the Kabul clashes is the long running dispute between the two ethnic groups over grazing rights for Kuchi animals in high mountain pastures in Maidan Wardak. The tensions escalated into violent clashes in 2008 and more recently in May 2010. Over a week at least 2,000 Hazara families from Behsud and Daimirdad became internally displaced people’s (IDP) in Kabul with most sheltering in the city’s west.
Politics of identity
The Pashto-speaking Kuchi nomads who are Sunnis say they have a legal claim to the grazing lands to which they take their animals in the hot, dry summer months. The Hazara villagers speak Dari and are Shi’ah Muslims.
Government inaction has only deepened the crisis, and is the reason for the lengthy clashes in Kabul. Angry Hazara mobs that gathered in the Pul-e-Khoshk area (in Dashte-Barchi) went on a rampage in Kot-e-Sangi and Pul-e-Sokhtia areas firing at police posts and tearing up parliamentary election posters and billboards.
The situation was brought under control by riot police, and security officials imposed a curfew in the affected areas.
Did political elites and warlords once again take advantage of the bitter rift between the two ethnic groups to engineer trouble in Kabul ahead of parliamentary elections in September? Most people believe that once again these powerful and influential men are seeking to retain political control by putting up candidates, many of them young men, who will protect and promote their narrow interests.
Mohammad Karim Khalili, Afghan Second Vice President, appeared in the embattled area during the rioting. He has not made it clear what the purpose of his visit was. Political commentators wonder if he was there to restrain the two tribes or encourage his Hazaras.
A few months ago at the time of fighting between Hazaras and Kuchis in Behsud and Daimirdad, Mr Khalili visited the area, but only confused people when he said that his blood should be spilt on the ground. Kuchis had occupied the greater part of Daimirdad district, along with chunks of neighbouring Hissa-e-Awwal Behsud (Behsud 1) and Markaz-e-Behsud (Behsud 2).
Meanwhile, Kuchi representative in Parliament, Mullah Tarakhil, who is running for re-election, has claimed that he stopped Kuchis from retaliatory attacks on Hazaras in the eastern parts of Kabul. Is he trying to win brownie points ahead of the elections after the bad press when his bodyguards shot dead two people and injured seven in Kabul last month?
Historically problematic relations
It is obvious that the bad blood between Kuchis and Hazaras in Behsud and Daimirdad can spill over into other parts of the country as long as the roots of the conflict are not thoroughly investigated and a solution that is seen as just is not implemented.
The conflict will be fundamentally solved when neutral elders and tribal leaders in coordination with the office of the Afghan Attorney General, courts of law and other security officials ensure justice and fairness according to the Afghan constitution. Transparency in the process will ensure there is no charge of conspiracy and collusion by powerful men from two sides.
Failure to act will mean a repetition of incidents like in Kabul. It could erupt in Helmand tomorrow and in Herat the day after tomorrow. Ordinary Afghans will be victimized by powerful men who have taken advantage of their position and money for years to encourage tribal factionalism and pit one Afghan tribe against another.
This situation has made it possible for foreigners to meddle in Afghanistan.
There is no reason why the conflict over grazing rights for Kuchi animals, which has regularly resulted in brawls and the killing of livestock – the large scale violence and displacement are recent features – cannot be dealt with by the authorities.
Interviewees quoted by The Afghanistan Analysts Network say the Hazara residents of Daimirdad were “completely taken aback” by the military-style attacks by Kuchis this year.
Sayyed Shah Abdul Qahar, a representative from Garnab, described the attack on his village on May 15 in great detail. “Kuchis arrived en masse (from Chak district and the Pashtun-dominated parts of Daimirdad), maybe a thousand of them … riding horses, motorcycles and in pick-ups. We were able to put up a defensive fight against them … We thank the mujahedin who did the fight …”