(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

US military aid thwarts grazing land clashes

An old Pashtun man
Salih/IRIN

The US military has stepped in with humanitarian aid supplies in a bid to outflank a brewing conflict over grazing land between Afghan Kuchi nomads and ethnic Hazaras in a district in Wardak Province, some 30km from Kabul.



According to a statement by the US military, representatives of 15-20 Kuchi families agreed not to encroach on pasture land in Daimirdad District after receiving sacks of beans, sugar, flour, rice and tins of cooking oil, and the promise of more aid in future.



"Three weeks ago, we went to Daymardad [Daimirdad] and it was a very positive step for us. The Kuchi elders said they would not migrate [to the area] if they were given food, water and vaccination supplies for their animals," Joe Asher, a US military officer, was quoted in a statement as saying.



The statement said tents, water and veterinary supplies would be distributed in future so that Kuchis do not need to enter the contested area.



“We hope this demonstrates that we're saying `hey, we're taking the steps to alleviate your problems,'" said the 12 June statement.



“The Kuchis won't have to move their livestock, because they will have what they need,” the statement added.



Over the past few years, disputes over access to public pasture land between Kuchis, who are Pashtun nomads, and ethnic Hazaras, who live in central parts of the country, have often led to armed clashes.



Traditional rights?



The Kuchis say the Hazaras have denied them their traditional right to grazing land in central Afghanistan, while the Hazaras say Kuchi animals deplete the already limited natural resources in the area and often damage agriculture land.



Thanks to this new aid deal, Kuchi herders may hold off for a while, but their dispute with the Hazaras will need a longer term solution, say aid experts.



“The assistance provided addresses the immediate needs of the Kuchis this season, but the underlying issue regarding access to communal land versus land privatization is not addressed by this intervention,” Niamh Murnaghan, regional director of the Norwegian Refugee Council, told IRIN in Kabul.



Elizabeth Mathias, a US military officer, told IRIN solving the problem of Kuchi grazing land is up to the government: “Our role is not to ‘solve’ the grazing land disputes but to work hard in securing a peaceful environment, assisting the Afghan government, and to facilitate economic and infrastructure development.”



Despite recurrent tensions between Kuchis and Hazaras in Behsood and Daimirdad districts, the government has so far only called on the two communities to avoid conflict.



“The government must solve the issue of grazing land through legal, judicial and law enforcement channels… People need to know whether there is such a thing as public grazing land in the country or not,” Ajmal Samadi, director of the Afghanistan Rights Monitor, a Kabul-based rights watchdog, told IRIN.



Aid workers concerned



Aid workers are concerned about the increasing involvement of the military in humanitarian and development activities which, they say, blurs their independent identity and places their staff at greater risk.



Dozens of aid workers were killed or kidnapped, and many humanitarian and development projects suspended in different parts of Afghanistan, as a result of insecurity and armed attacks in 2008, according to the UN and some NGOs.



NGOs acknowledge the need for the military’s involvement in aid delivery only as a “last resort” and in the absence of any other entity capable of performing the task.



Given that Wardak Province is so close to the capital, aid in this case could have been distributed by the government or the Afghan Red Crescent Society, aid workers said.



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