Eurasiacritic.com has published an article about Behsud Kuchi Crisis by Lenard MILICH. Here are some must-read paragraphs to save your time.
Not only severely hampered by weak government and judicial branches, a barely nascent civil society, and the Taliban insurrection, Afghanistan now also faces inter-tribal skirmishes in its formerly peaceful (and pro-government) Central Highlands, where transhumant pastoralists known by the term “Kuchi,” the vast majority of whom are ethnically Pashtun and Sunni, bring their flocks each summer for highland grazing in the homeland of the Shi’a Hazara. The great danger of these armed clashes, which have left a few score people dead on both sides, Hazara houses burned, and last year generated some 60,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), is that both sides are exhibiting an intransigence that bodes ill for the future. The Hazara have been among the most pro-government of Afghanistan’s tribes, and have willingly acceded to the drive for disarmament. They feel betrayed by government inaction, and are preparing themselves for escalating the conflict with the Kuchi as necessary this summer. That perhaps one-quarter of the capital’s residents are Hazara threatens to bring Kabul to a standstill, as occurred last summer for one day when an estimated 50,000 Hazara demonstrated in the city center.
See here our coverage of last years crisis and pictures of the mass protest in Kabul against Kuchi Invasion of Behsud. Usage of the projected-word Central Highlands for Hazarajat/Hazaristan throughout this report is offensive. All the readers are requested to send protest emails for this projected-word to the writer Lenard MILICH. His email address is available on the original source of the article.
At first sight, the Kuchi-Hazara conflict seems to be a quintessential struggle over access to ecological resources – that is, summer grazing. As with so many aspects of Afghanistan, competition over grazing is only the surface veneer. The roots of the conflict go back much further. Nor can the conflict be separated from the very real, but never acknowledged, issue of burgeoning population, coupled with a relatively slow rural-urban migration. Most of Afghanistan’s population remains rural – an estimated 80%. Were the country endowed with superior soil and water attributes, this would not necessarily be a contentious issue. But it is not – just 5.5% of the land area consists of irrigated land. As a result, sedentary farming populations subdividing irrigated plots over generations has forced the rural populace into attempting rainfed agriculture on the surrounding hill slopes whenever the residual soil water content from winter snows and spring rainfall permit, which has been infrequent over the past decade in many parts of the country. It is this agrarian expansion that impinges on the use rights of Kuchi pastoralists, fomenting conflict as crops are damaged and grazing areas reduced in size. In turn, the Kuchi believe that all descendents of the families granted grazing rights are entitled to bring their livestock to the summer grazing grounds.
This paper reports on the themes and details covered by a series of key informant interviews conducted by staff of the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit in late 2008 and early 2009 among prominent and ordinary Kuchis and Hazaras, as well as high-placed Afghan civil servants, international and national staff of UN agencies, and involved NGOs.
Background: Elements of the Conflict
Afghanistan, as is well known, has suffered through repeated cycles of violence and warfare for more than two millenia. The current Behsud conflict can be traced back to Royal policy of the late 19th century. Abdur Rahman Khan, Emir of Afghanistan between 1880 and 1901, is justifiably known by the appellation “The Iron Emir,” for he crushed, not only suppressed, any attempt to question his authority. In 1892, Abdur Rahman put an end to the Hazara insurrection, which had started in the late 1880s. To assist with the pacification of Hazarajat, Abdur Rahman dispatched Sunni clerics to the area, in an attempt to rid it of Shi’ism; he instituted burdensome taxation on the Hazaras; and his divide-and-rule policies abetted the sale of Hazara men and women into de facto slavery – a situation formally ended by a declaration of the illegality of slavery in 1923. To justify his actions, he is said to have gathered Sunni mullahs in Kandahar, after which they declared the Hazara to be kaffir, i.e., infidels. To gain political control over the fractious Hazara, the Iron Emir commenced the “Afghanization” of Hazarajat, encouraging the settling of the land and use of its pastures by Pashtu speakers, notably from the Ghilzai tribe. His local administrators issued firmans (royal decrees) that formalized access rights of Pashtun Kuchis to summer pasture land. Within these firmans, boundaries were delineated, and individual families having these access rights were listed.
Examples of firmans and two pages from Volume 3 of Seraj-al Tawarikh by Faiz Mohammad Kateb that discusses deeded Pashtun lands in Hazarajat.
The Kuchis contend that their transhumance has been occurring for 300 or more years, and that the firmans merely formalize their activities. They believe that the firmans grant the right to all descendants of the original families list to use the pastures, and claim that these pastures’ boundaries are being violated by Hazara encroachment, both for rainfed agriculture and for grazing.
While these firmans were imposed from top-down on the Hazara population, for many decades thereafter, there was little in the way of resistance to Kuchi entry to summer grazing lands. Demoralized and marginalized, the Hazara chose in the main to accept the status quo, while many focused on education and/or migration as a means to a better life. Moreover, Kuchi pastoralists were often the sole source of contact for geographically and socially isolated households in the Central Highlands, arriving each summer with goods to sell or trade, albeit often the terms of trade were unfairly skewed in their favor. The inability of the Hazara to repay Kuchi loans not infrequently resulted in additional land coming under Kuchi ownership.
It is alleged that former Finance Minister Ahadi provided grants of US$10,000 to Kuchi families in order for them to purchase the livestock necessary to resume a traditional transhumant lifestyle. Whatever the impetus, the Kuchi first returned to Behsud in 2003, then again each year thereafter, but well-armed and prepared for conflict in 2007 and 2008, with the express intent of reclaiming their perceived rights. That this return coincided with a factional divide within the Hazara’s Hezb-e Wahdat political movement, a Hazara ethno-nationalist renaissance, and a time when the central government was focused on shoring up its own support, allowed for a political game to ensue, one where the interests of both Kuchi and Hazara are being sacrificed for the personal political gain and/or because of discrete animosities of powerful individuals.
Subsequent discourses with Kuchis and their representatives, both independent and government-affiliated, show strong support for integration into Afghan society as a settled population. There seems to be little desire to continue what is, after all, a rigorous traditional transhumant lifestyle, one where it is difficult to receive health and education services. There is mention of the intent to “settle” the Kuchi in Article 14 of the Constitution, a clause that, assures one Kuchi leader, they themselves insisted upon inserting.
Concomitantly, the common themes among the Hazaras interviewed are that the firmans are illegitimate, having been issued in an era of despotism; that the Kuchi “are not the original Kuchi” – meaning that there are both non-Kuchis embedded in the incoming groups (this accusation is primarily focused on the belief that the Kuchi have been accused in the past of supporting the Taliban) as well as many non-Kuchi animals that are being collected for pasturing in Hazarajat; and that in any case, population growth among the Hazara has increased the demand on arable land, grazing, and water resources such that there is no longer the carrying capacity to supply food and water to both groups and their animals. In other words, Kuchi transhumance is perceived as adversely affecting the Hazara’s right to a decent and secure livelihood, and this is exacerbated by the view that Pashtun Kuchis (as opposed to Arab Kuchis, who pay a head tax per animal for summer pastures in Yawkawlang) act with impunity, not taking sufficient measures to prevent damage to Hazara crops by their animals. There is, it appears, a growing sentiment in Hazarajat – at least among the educated classes as well as traditional and political leaders – that Kuchi transhumance will no longer be tolerated. Conversely, many Hazara state that Kuchi landowners are welcome in Hazarajat, but many also add the proviso that they should reside there year-round.
Most Hazara informants believe that as far as Behsud is concerned, both the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the government-appointed Sabaoun Commission (tasked with investigating the conflict) are biased in favor of the Kuchis. On the other hand, several praised the work of the Afghan National Police (ANP), pointing out that not only did the police protect individuals but also in areas under their control, they maintained cultivated land and livestock left behind by IDPs.
Information provided by national staff working for the United Nations is that Hazaras now contend that the current Pashtun-dominated government has always favored the Kuchis; the government’s credibility is at rock-bottom in Hazarajat. The Hazara people have abandoned hope that the government is benevolent, and are taking steps to defend themselves. One Agency has heard of “commitments” from individual businessmen “abroad” (i.e., outside of Hazarajat) to help in this defense. Another marker of escalation is that many Hazara communities have continued to pay rent to their Kuchi landlords, and now some agitation is commencing to persuade people to stop these payments. There is an allegation that a “land tax” is being imposed to gather the financial resources to buy weapons and pay for militias. These are early signs that a conflict that breaks out in Behsud this year could rapidly spread across the Central Highlands, but not necessarily stop there, as connoted by the large Hazara demonstration in Kabul last year against the killings in Behsud.
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