It is spring again and the Pashtun nomads (aka Kuchis) are heading towards the Hazara villages in Wardak province and elsewhere in Hazarajat. For many people of the world spring means the season of flowers and colors where the sun arrives with a big smile, for the Hazaras of Afghanistan however; it is the time of clash and conflict when the Kuchis arrive with loaded guns.
The Hazara-Kuchi conflict is an annual incident which unfortunately as all other issues related to the Hazara people receives very little attention from the international media. This year, only the UN Dispatch has published an article about this conflict which is of course authored by a Hazara man. The western scholars and the media have always pictured the Kuchis in a romanticised way. It seems that westerners are yet to give up their sweat illusions about the Kuchis.
A couple of months ago I wrote a homework essay about the Hazaras in which the Kuchi issue was briefly discussed. For a better historical discussion of the conflict please refer to the bibliography:
For centuries each spring the Pashtun nomads, known as Kuchis, with their large number of camels and flocks, arrive mostly from the other side of the border towards the south-central regions of Afghanistan. They have always been in conflict with sedentary agrarian populations, particularly the Hazaras. For years, the nomads “had to fight their way … by frequent raiding … since the [Hazaras] opposed them (Kakar 1979, p. 125-6). But after the 1891-93 campaign of Amir Abdur Rahman, in which the Pashtun nomads massively took part in subjugating the Hazaras, “all pastures throughout Hazarajat, which had been commonly held by the Hazaras, were declared state property” (Kakar 1979, p. 126) and “as a reward” were given to the Pashtun nomads to use as grazing lands (Canfield 2008, P. 295, for a in-depth review of the issue see Mousavi 1997, pp. 133-138). As Kakar notes, “the loss of pastures by Hazaras led to the destruction of their flocks [and most of them eventually] abandoned their fields and lands” (p. 126) and a great number of them found their ways to Kabul (Jung1972, pp. 9-10).
The nomads never intended to settle on the Hazara lands, or any others’ lands (Kakar 1979, p. 127) because they were ignorant about agriculture and unable to farm arable lands (Ferdinand 1962, p. 125) they only wanted to use these cultivated lands as grazing fields, so the agricultural productivity and animal husbandry in Hazarajat upon which the life and economy of the Hazara people were based, be destroyed (Mousavi 1997, p. 133) and people would flee and leave the entire area for them.
When the Hazarajat region was opened to Kuchi incursions in late 19th century, they found another way to acquire further more of the Hazara lands and make them flee their homes: “they began to bring goods for trade, especially cloth, which they sometimes forced on the Hazaras in order to perpetuate debt dependency” (Canfield 2008, P. 295). This was a continuous nightmare throughout 20th century for Hazaras, many of them lost their lands and fled the area. The French group who surveyed the Hazarajat in 1960s confirmed that due to this “administrable urged Pashtun movements” in some areas of the Hazarajat, as many as 60 to 90 percent of the population is indebted to the Kuchis. The “insuperable” interest rates ranged from 25 to 36 and the Hazaras being caught in a “snow-balling effect” gave their lands as their only collateral, to the nomads, to the extent that in some areas Kuchis owned up to 20 percent of the lands. The Hazaras having no other options, left the villages for cities particularly Kabul. The report says that some areas in Hazarajat “have become virtual mountain deserts”. (Jung 1972, pp. 9-10)
The traditional century-long Hazara-Kuchi conflict largely remained unnoticed until very recently, especially since the collapse of Taliban that the Hazaras have more access to means of communication. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) has been collecting comprehensive evidences from both sides of the conflict in the past few years. In 2010 AIHRC released the result of their fact-finding missions in an extensive report.
According to this report, due to attack of Kuchis in the Hazara districts of Maidan province in 2008, 11 Hazara villagers were killed, 15 injured and 1,900 families were displaced. In 2009 attack, 24 Hazaras were killed, 11 injured, 6,000 families were displaced, 84 houses were burned down, many more were looted and fields were destroyed. In 2010 attack, 6 Hazaras were killed, 6 more were wounded, 340 villages “were totally deserted” (p. 4), 2,791 families were displaced. According to the report, the majority of displaced families refuged in Kabul. The Kuchis also “claimed that thirty men of them were killed and forty two others were injured, but they did not present any documents to prove their claim and no independent sources approved this claim”. (p. 2) According to the AIHRC delegation to the ground, the Afghan National Army (ANA) was deployed in the area to prevent further conflicts, but while the Kuchis burned the houses and looted the Hazara properties the ANA did not do anything to stop them, when asked by AIHRC officials, the solders said “they have been ordered not to intervene and they should act impartially” (AIHRC 2010, p. 10).
AIHRC (Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission) (2010/1389). Report on the Case of Conflict between Kochies and the Local People In Behsood (Hessa-e-Awal, Hessa-e-Dowm) and Diamirdad districts of MaidanWardak province. Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission: Kabul. Available online: http://www.aihrc.org/2010_eng/Eng_pages/Reports/Thematic/REP_KOCHI_CONF_25_sep_2010.pdf
Canfield, R., L. (2008). [review]. Afghan Nomads: Caravans, Conflicts and Trade in Afghanistan and British India 1800–1980. By KLAUS FERDINAND. (Copenhagen: RhodosInternational Science and Art Publishers, 2006). The Journal of Asian Studies. Vol. 67, No. 1,pp. 295-6
Ferdinand, K. (1962). Nomad Expansion and Commerce in Central Afghanistan: a Sketch of Some Modern Trends. Folk. Vol. 4, pp. 123-159
Jung, C., J. (1972). Some ObservationsonPatterns and Processes of Rural–Urban Migrations to Kabul. The Afghanistan Council of the Asia Society (Occasional Paper, No. 2): New York
Kakar, H. (1979). Government and Society in Afghanistan: the Reign of Amir Abd al-Rahman Khan. University of Texas Press: Austin
Mousavi, S. A. (1997). The Hazaras of Afghanistan: An Historical, Cultural, Economic and Political Study. New York: St. Martin’s Press