Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Afghanistan's Ethnic Curse Returns

For centuries it sat astride the major trade route connecting the western world with the east.  The result today is a country plagued with tribalism resulting from ethnic division.  They're Pashtun, Hazara, Uzbek and Tajik with a smattering of other tribes.  Ethnically they're the people of South Asia, Persia, Arabia, the Caucasus and the Steppe as well as East Asia.  For the most part they've retained their distinct culture, language and ethnicity which, in turn, fuels plenty of paranoia and distrust.  Now, as western forces prepare to depart Afghanistan, ethnic tensions are again on the rise.

Pashtuns are the rulers and owners of Afghanistan; they are the real inhabitants of Afghanistan,” said Gen. Abdul Wahid Taqat, a former intelligence official. “Afghanistan means ‘where Pashtuns live.’ ”
The words ignited protests in Kabul in December. Social media erupted. To contain the uproar, President Hamid Karzai, a Pashtun, had General Taqat arrested and chastised the news media for trying to whip up hatred, something he said many outlets were increasingly doing.
The president warned his fellow Afghans, with their bitter memories of ethnic conflict, of what they stood to lose: “If it were not for the national unity of the people, you wouldn’t be able to live in Kabul for a second.”
Although there has been little ethnic violence across the country lately, in political and news media circles, nerves are raw and tempers have been flaring. Shouting matches over ethnic issues in Parliament and on radio programs have started to erupt into fistfights, a troubling reminder that the fragile ethnic détente here, sustained by foreign troops and billions of dollars in aid, could easily shatter. And with the American-led coalition preparing to withdraw, a long-term security agreement in doubt and a presidential election looming, many Afghans feel vulnerable about the future.
The New York Times article offers hope that young Afghans may not be as vested in ethnicity issues as their elders but their ability to forge a new, "Afghan" identity may not be able to prevail against a warlord power structure that depends heavily on ethnic militias and is inherently violent.  In January reports emerged that veteran mujahedeen leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, one of the most brutal warlords of the lot has decided to become involved in the upcoming Afghan presidential elections.

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