Home South Asia Afghanistan Afghanistan: The growing ethnic tension has its roots in history

Afghanistan: The growing ethnic tension has its roots in history

ethnic tension
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Ishaq Ali |

The government’s decision to issue computerized ID cards and mentioning the nationality as “Afghan” on the cards fueled a new political and ethnic tension anew in the country. The Afghan government with the financial assistance of foreign NGO decided to issue Computerized Identity cards to its citizens eight years ago but could not succeed in launching the multi-million-dollar project because of widespread differences over the issue.

Who is an Afghan?

One might think that the issue may have risen due to technical reasons but one would be surprised to hear that the issue is merely due to the word”Afghan”. Who is Afghan and who is not, is the main impediment in the way of launching the project as a majority of non-Pashtoon nationalities do not historically consider themselves Afghan. They are against the word “Afghan” that the government wants to make sure is written on their ID cards.  

All the three partners–Afghanistan, US and the international community have not only failed in providing security to the people but likewise did not succeed in containing rising unemployment, wide spread corruption and severe human rights abuses.

The Ghani led government says that apart from the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, it would also add a column (i.e. national—Afghan) on the ID cards for every card holder but the non-Pashtoon nationalities oppose the notion and consider the word ‘Afghan’ a synonym of ‘Pashtoon’. Unlike the government, they demand the name of nationalities, like Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek and Afghan/Pashtoons etc be written on the identity cards. They are of the view that there is no need to mention ‘Afghan’ as the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan would already be written on the top of the ID cards.

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The Historical National Contradictions

It is not the first time that a political crisis has erupted in the country on national/ethnic lines. The mystery and secret of these national/ethnic tensions are deeply confined in long history of Afghanistan.

The country which is now known as Afghanistan has historically remained parts of the greater Khorasan Empire and central Asian countries for centuries. The territory was ruled by Alexander the great, the great Mughal conqueror Changez Khan, by Zahir Uddin Babar andthe Iranian king Nadir Shah Afshar as well.

Following the assassination of the King of Persia Nadir Shah Afshar, his successor Ahmad Shah Abdali for the first time announced a new state comprising of Kandhar, Kabul and adjacent areas in 1747. Ahmed Shah Abdali was a committed and trustworthy soldier in Nadir Afshar’s kingdom due to which he soon rose to become the commander of his own Pashtoon-Abdali clan.

Apart from foreign invaders and interferences, the emergence of the newly born state led to contradictions in national identity and raised questions over Afghanistan’s territory as it was not as united as it seems to be today. Outside its boundaries, various independent nationalities had been living in self-proclaimed sovereign states with their distinctive languages and cultures. Later many Afghan rulers made several efforts to bring the neighboring areas under the domain of Afghanistan but in vain.

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 When King Abdur Rahman Khan, an ethnic Pashtoon came into power at the end of 19th Century with the help of the British Empire, he made efforts to coerce the non-Pashtoon nationalities to join his kingdom. The king ordered his Army to invade those areas, particularly the Hazarajat and Kafiristan (Nooristan),that openly beingpart of the Afghan state.

It is in such a situation that whenever governments, especially of the third world countries failed to deliver, they forge artificial crises and resort to the old but famous tactic of divide and rule in order to divert the attention of the populace from more pressing issues.

Though King Abdur Rahman had succeeded in integrating the sovereign and independent non-Pashtoon areas into Afghanistan but alienation, deprivation and discrimination continued unabated. Consequently,, various uprisings and national struggles against suppression and discrimination rose from the very beginning. However, they were mercilessly suppressed by various Afghan rulers– from Ameer Abdul Rahman Khan till King Zahir Shah, the so-called Father of nation.

In January 1929, Habibullah Kalalkani, an ethnic Tajik succeeded in overthrowing and forcing King Amanullah Khan to escape towards Kandahar. Habibullah remained king for merely nine months when Nadir Shah’s forces with the assistance of tribal people of Waziristan managed to reoccupy Kabul and arrested King Habibullah. The Tajik king including his brother and aides were later executed in the capital i.e. Kabul.  Majority of Tajiks regard Habibullah Kalakani as their hero while the Pashtoons consider him a dacoit and a thief.

The Hazaras, who were once the largest nation in Afghanistan now rank third, constituting 20% to 25% of total population of the country. Hazaras historically confronted grave discrimination, ethnic cleansing, enforced confiscation of agricultural lands and mass migration during successive afghan rulers. According to some historians, 60% to 63% of Hazaras were massacred when Hazaras went to war with the Afghan king Abdur Rahman (1888-1893).

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Another people’s uprising was observed in 1944, when Ibrahim Khan Alias Gaosawar (The Bull Rider) launched a widespread movement against King Zahir Shah’s discriminatory and prejudiced policies and enforced taxation on the people of Hazarajat. Thepeople’s movement proved to be efficacious and compelled the government to annul the draconian taxation decree.

Following 9/11 and the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan by United States and its allied forces, the people of Afghanistan, particularly the deprived and oppressed nationalities, pinned great hopes on them for perpetual peace and stability and wide ranging reconstruction and development in the country.

We do not need to go far into history. During the 1990s when the Soviet Union decided to leave Afghanistan, various Mujahideen factions who had jointly struggled against Soviet occupation, soon after managing to seize Kabul, became divided on ethnic lines and started waging war against one another as they failed to reach a consensus for greater power sharing. Later during the Taliban regime, the divide further expanded and the country experienced endless war and bloodshed that still continue and it does not seem that this bloodletting will end in the near future.

Post 9/11 Afghanistan

Following 9/11 and the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan by United States and its allied forces, the people of Afghanistan, particularly the deprived and oppressed nationalities, pinned great hopes on them for perpetual peace and stability and wide ranging reconstruction and development in the country. But over the span of 17 years, with billions of dollars that were expended, the US, the international community and the Afghan government, neither managed to bring peace and stability nor succeeded in nation building in the country.

Once again the old national divisions and contradictions, which had been temporarily put under the red carpet, have rapidly reemerged over several issues and subjects ranging from ethnic discrimination to identity crisis. The route of the multi-billion dollar power line project TUTAP was deliberately altered from Hazara dominated provinces of Bamyan and Madan Wardak to Salang Pass.

Apart from foreign invaders and interferences, the emergence of the newly born state led to contradictions in national identity and raised questions over Afghanistan’s territory as it was not as united as it seems to be today.

When the people pour out to the streets against the decision of the government for the alternation of the project route, they were killed by suicide bombers and explosion that resulted in at least a 100 deaths. Despite spending billions of dollars the government and its security forces have failed to pursue the true essence of democracy and human rights. The security forces have violated the basic human rights several times by spraying peaceful protesters with bullets, killing several people and injuring many others.

Read more: Is Daesh in Afghanistan benefiting from the mistrust between Islamabad and…

It is in such a situation that whenever governments, especially of the third world countries failed to deliver, they forge artificial crises and resort to the old but famous tactic of divide and rule in order to divert the attention of the populace from more pressing issues —the lack of security, unemployment, rampant corruption and violation of basic human rights. All the three partners–Afghanistan, US and the international community have not only failed in providing security to the people but likewise did not succeed in containing rising unemployment, wide spread corruption and severe human rights abuses.

Conclusion

In a nutshell, any strategy that does not take into confidence all the stakeholders is set to fail. To resolve  the present political crisis and  old historical ethnic rifts, a comprehensive, vibrant and fair strategy is absolutely necessary. The mistakes committed during the 1990s that ignored the grave ethnic divide in Afghanistan, if repeated, would once again plunge the country into civil war that could endanger the very foundation of the Afghan state.

The views expressed in this article are authors own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space. 


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