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From “A Hazara’s Diary”
The title is borrowed from living legend Bob Dylan’s famed song written in October 1963, which depicted the change taking place in the American society with the African-American Civil Rights Movement and the opposition to the Vietnam War at its peak in the US. The song tried to relay to the establishment to wake up and accept the change as the will of people cannot be ignored and subdued. Although Bob wrote this song in the 1960’s but the message behind is ever green and can apply to all times and eras; where a people wake up and realize their true potential and march towards their destiny. These days if one listens really hard, one can hear the song reverberating in the plains and mountains, the valleys and steppes, the cities and villages of Afghanistan, where a change is brewing and has the potential to shift the tectonic plates of the country’s socio-political landscape.
A Hazara political-cultural-social renaissance is in the making!
Now how can we give credence to the statement above? – some will label it as emotional sloganeering and others might just think that it is an optimists dream; but this can be proved with ample evidence. In order to grasp the magnitude of change we must go through the bygone eras as this will help us put things in perspective. To understand this better we will take a journey which will take us from the peaceful days (before 1880) to one tyrant’s (Abd al-Rahman) rule, then to the other tyrant’s (Nadir Shah) rule and then fast forward to the current day scenario where the Hazaras have become a potent force in the political sphere.
The days of Peace(before 1880):
In the 19th Century; the Hazara community was based on the landed class-peasant class model; more of a feudalistic society. The landowners were given the titles of ‘Mir’, ‘Khan’ and ‘Sultans’. The relationship between the land owners and ruled social classes were based on the ownership of the means of production (livestock, land and water). Political and military power remained an exclusive monopoly of the Hazara nobility. Hazara chiefs had their own private armies and regular armed men. The chiefs collected taxes from the peasantry with the aid of their paramilitary followers. The supremacy of the chiefs had been legitimized by the clerics who issued religious edicts in their favor. Most clerics were on the payroll of Hazaras chiefs and later became owners of endowed land and received religious taxes. Clerics also occupied important administrative posts and presided over judicial and legal matters.
Hazaristan’s affairs were run exclusively by the Hazara nobility and therefore had autonomy. The relations between Hazaras ruling class and Afghan monarchies were based on the principle of mutual cooperation. The Mir was expected to pay annual taxes to the king and to ensure the security of the trade routes within his territories. He was also required to send a member of his family to lead a group of armed men to serve the king in terms of war and social crises. The king reciprocated by granting Hazara chiefs the right to exercise political power in their respective regions.
Learning from this era:
1) The Hazaras had autonomy in their region and because of this autonomy there was peace amongst the ethnic nations of the country.
2) The trade routes passed through Hazaristan – as it is in the centre of the country and commercially it makes sense to take the shortest route for trading. The same applies today; but the Pushtun establishment has as a policy bypassed Hazaristan by depriving it of a decent infrastructure which could support trading and transportation.
3) The clergy even back then were used as a tool to control the masses by the ruling class – this trend is even prevalent today where we see that the masses are divided along sectarian lines to ensure that the ruling elite’s position is secured.
Curse of Abd al-Rahman (1880-1901):
Hazaras lost their autonomy when the British-backed Abd al-Rehman (1880-1901) defeated the Hazara tribes one by one; primarily due the British fire power on his side. Eventually the entire Hazarajat was occupied and forcibly incorporated into the Afghan state in 1893. To protect its interests in the Indian-subcontinent the British worked to establish a strong central government in Kabul. For this reason they supported Abd al-Rahman in the subjugation of national communities throughout the country. To mobilize public opinion in support of his war on Hazaras Abd al-Rehman encouraged religious leaders to travel to the villages and entice people into a jihad (religious war) against Hazaras. Hazaras did not want to become an easy prey for Abd al-Rehman’s mercenary army and like other national communities; they were willing to help enemies of the Kabul rulers. Since their defeat in 1893, Hazaras have been enslaved and subjected to state sponsored discrimination and oppression.
Abd al-Rahman partitioned Hazarjat into three provinces; Kabul, Bamiyan and Qandahar. In so doing, his main objective was to eliminate once and for all the Hazara’s sense of unity and independence and to create divisions within the Hazara nation. By suppressing Hazaras, Abd al-Rahman intended to teach a lesson to other ethnic communities that they will experience a similar fate if they attempt to rebel against his rule.
Abd al-Rahman used to remind his subjects that they should be thankful to him as he enslaved the Hazaras otherwise, they would have had to work like Donkey’s if it were not for the enslaved Hazaras”. There was also a forcible conversion from Shiasm to Sunnism and as a result of this oppression many Hazaras fled to British India, Russia and Iran.
Learning from this era:
1) Clergymen were again used by the sitting monarch to further tighten his grip on the people – this is still happening in the country where extremist Mullahs are pleased and used to gather support.
2) Hazaristan was divided into different administrative regions to ensure that the unity amongst the Hazaras is broken. This trend has not been reversed and Hazara dominated areas are still demarcated in such a manner that the unity and strength of the Hazaras is not reflected. As a result of this unfair demarcation, the votes of the Hazaras are wasted as they are casted in Pushtun dominated areas.
Post-independence Era (1901-1929):
Ammanullah was a protagonist of bourgeois development and tried to modernize Afghanistan based on European model of development. In 1923 he introduced a new constitution, which abolished slavery and granted equality to every citizen of the country. Amanullah was overthrown by British supported Habibullah in 1929. Hazaras supported Amanullah and fought to restore him to the throne. After nine months General Nadir Shah defeated and executed Habibullah Kalkani a.k.a Bache Saqaw. General Nadir Shah although promised to restore Amanullah to the throne but did otherwise and declared himself the king.
Nadir’s government appointed Pushtun administrators to Hazaristan and tried to build Pushtun nationalism by promoting Pushtu language and popularizing its culture in Hazarjat while simultaneously condemning Hazara culture and history. Nadir’s brutal reign was brought to an end when he was assassinated by Abdul Khaliq Hazara to avenge the decades of oppression on the Hazaras by Nadir Shah and his fore fathers.
Abdul Khaliq Hazara by assassinating a sitting tyrant monarch has immortalized himself amongst the Hazaras and other oppressed nations. He is a celebrated hero amongst the Hazaras who see him as a liberator and who showed the Pushtun establishment that even after utilizing every single method to subjugate the Hazaras from genocide to slavery, from state discrimination to annihilating the Hazargi identity; the fascist elitist Pushtun establishment has failed miserably in its nefarious designs.
Learning from this era:
1) The Pushtun dominated establishment systematically tried to destroy Hazaragi identity and culture by promoting Pushtunisation of Hazaristan. This trend even continues today where we see that Hazaras and other ethnic groups like Uzbeks and Turkomen have virtually no significant presence in the affairs of the state.
2) The assassination of a Nadir Shah by Abdul Khaliq Hazara shows that even though the Hazaras were suppressed by the state even then they did not give up and kept fighting for their survival as they have a fighter’s souls in them. Even today, despite of being neglected for over a hundred years the Hazaras are trying rigorously to catch up in all fields to compete with other ethnic groups.
From King’s subjects to King Makers!
The journey from pre 1880 to 1929; basically showed how the Hazaras went from being an independent, autonomous peace loving people to an oppressed people by the Pushtun establishment primarily due to the interference and support of the British. It is amazing to see how the Hazaras have bounced back from the oblivion back into the political spotlight against all odds. This simply goes to show the resilient genes and never-say-die attitude of the Hazaras.
The elections are scheduled to take place on 20th August and with each passing day the campaign fever is gripping the country. This year’s election will not bring any new face at the top of the power pyramid in Afghanistan as Hamid Karzai (against America’s wishes) is all set to retain his position for another term in the office. It’s noteworthy to investigate deeper what is ensuring Karzai’s electoral victory.
If we look at the ethnic mix of the country following figures will be a good estimation (as no updated census data is available and previous population censuses are all controversial):
- Pushtun 35-38%
- Tajik 30-35%
- Hazaras 20-25%
- Uzbek 10-15%
- Others 5-10%
Pushtuns and Tajiks have been the traditional elite of the country with a large representation in both the bureaucracy and military and they have been rivals as well. Pushtuns, of course have always been controlling Kabul with the exceptions of Habibullah Saqaw and Burhanuddin’s short stints. This Pushtun and Tajik rivalry is personified in the modern day in the shape of Karzai vs. Abdullah’s campaigns for the presidential election 2009. The numerical strength of Pushtun and Tajiks neutralize each other out (35% vs. 30%) in the ballot paper and this means that the winning candidate will have to have the support of the third largest group; Hazaras
This mathematical equation; places the Hazaras in a very formidable position. This position of strength of the Hazaras is further boosted by the Wahdat-Junbish(WJ) alliance which basically makes this duo the King Maker of Afghanistan’s political chess board. Karzai being a shrewd politician has realized the fact that he cannot win without the support of Hazaras and Uzbeks and this is the reason he had invited them for talks and accepted their demands. It is very important to note here that the Hazaras and Uzbeks will be a potent force only till they are united – the day when these two camps part ways their political power will vanish. If the deal goes through without any hiccups and both sides keep their part of the bargain then Karzai gets to keep his position as president and the Hazaras and Uzbeks will get on a road which ensures to give them their rightful place amongst the other groups of Afghanistan.
If we gather all the learnings mentioned above in each era; we will come to realize that the central government is still using the ages old policies to control other ethnic groups of the country which include:
Previous Regimes brutal policies
Change demanded by the people
|– Economic Blockade||The previous regimes did not allow any economic activity to prevail in the areas of other ethnic groups and as a result; Hazaristan is deprived of infrastructure and industries which is required to uplift the living standards of the populace||Wahdat-Junbush(WJ) list of demands include that a proper transportation network is established throughout Hazaristan and once this is completed then economic activity will pick up.|
|– Corrupt Clergies||All the regimes since the past hundred years have been using religion as a tool to cement their grip on the people. The government can force corrupt clergy in issuing fatwas by bribing them so that the religious policies support them.||As both Wahdat and Junbish are nationalist-secular parties they oppose the role of mullah in running the affairs of the state.
As the WJ alliance gets stronger the grip of the clergy will be loosened and they will not be able to exploit the people in the name of religion any more.
|– Culture wars||One of the main weapons of the Pushtun dominate establishment has been a systematic state sponsored process of ‘Pushtunisation’ of other nations; be it Hazaras, Uzbeks, Turkomen or Tajiks.||One of the main demands of WJ alliance is to demand promotion of Hazaragi and Uzbek language and culture by the state. Once this program is initiated the Hazaras and Uzbeks will get their most revered treasure back; their cultural identity.|
|– Administrative Ploys||All previous regimes have used their administrative authority to forge national statistics in population census and also demarcate boundaries of provinces in such a manner which favors the Pushtuns.||The WJ alliance has also demanded that the state recognizes the actual numerical strength of Hazaras (25%) and Uzbeks (15%) and also they have demanded additional provinces with Hazara and Uzbek majority areas which are currently merged with Pushtun dominated areas.|
The Hazara-Uzbek (40% of population) bloc has become the largest vote bank in the country and by supporting a particular candidate they can ensure his/her victory even before the elections. By supporting Karzai, and pushing their charter of demands the WJ alliance has changed the political fault lines of the country forever. This strength has come through the democratic process; which ensures equality and justice for all.
The journey from being ethnic minorities to king makers of the country has been a long and an arduous one for the Hazaras but one thing is for certain that they are here to stay as long as democracy is given a chance in the country and the world will realize that ‘The Times They Are A-Changing’ in Afghanistan!
The political reawakening of the Hazaras is leading to a social and cultural re-awakening…the next part of the article will be dedicated to what the role of the Hazaras and the Hazara Diaspora can be to act as catalysts for this change.
- Help has been taken from the book ‘Afghanistan’s Internal Security Threats’ by Musa Khan Jalalzai for the three eras mentioned in the beginning