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Clashes over pastures threaten to ignite further conflict

Kochi children stand near their tent (nomads) in Behsood District in Afghanistan’s central Wardak Province.
(Akmal Dawi/IRIN)

Afghanistan will become embroiled in another violent armed conflict, this time between two ethnic groups, if grievances over access to grazing land are not immediately and appropriately addressed, warns the country’s human rights commission.

Since early June, clashes between Pashtun Kochis (nomads) and Hazara settlers of Behsood District in Afghanistan’s central Wardak Province over access to pastures have culminated in the death and injury of several people and displacement of hundreds, Afghan officials confirmed.

On 15 July, a provisional ceasefire agreement, brokered by the UN, was inked by both parties to the conflict, which demands Kochis temporarily withdraw from the area.

“The agreement is only a short-term call for a ceasefire which ignores the very long-term complexities of the problem,” remarked a UN official who was involved in multilateral efforts to end the conflict.

''The agreement is only a short-term call for a ceasefire which ignores the very long-term complexities of the problem.''

UN official

July 2007 marked the fifth post-Taliban year in which Kochis, who lead a nomadic life through animal husbandry, have engaged in deadly clashes with Hazaras from central Afghanistan.

Farid Hamidi, a commissioner at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), blamed the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai for not doing enough to end the conflict once and for all.

“We have been witnessing this growing conflict every year,” Hamidi told IRIN on 22 July in Kabul.

Entrenched positions

IRIN interviewed representatives of both parties in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, who warned the conflict would gain momentum should the government fail to find an immediate, acceptable and viable solution to the problem.

Hashmat Ghani Ahmadzai, a leader of the Kochis’ tribal council, said access to pastures was a means of survival for Kochis who have been grazing livestock for centuries.

''Although this is an unjust and biased [ceasefire] agreement we will comply with it only for the time being.''

Kochis representative

“Although this is an unjust and biased [ceasefire] agreement we will comply with it only for the time being,” said Ahmadzai, emphasising that next year Kochis would not compromise their livelihoods.

A Hazara representative, Kazem Waheedy, echoed a similar warning. “We will not let Kochis graze their flocks in Hazarajat [areas where most settlers are Hazara] any more,” said Waheedy, adding that the Hazaras would use all means to stop the intruders.

These are not empty threats, the AIHRC has found. The problem of access to grazing land has the potential to turn into a major conflict, the country’s human rights entity warns.

Blame

Hazaras and Kochis blame each other for turning disputes into violent clashes.

Hazaras and some media outlets in Kabul have accused Kochis of deliberately destroying schools, houses and farmland belonging to settlers in Behsood.

''We will not let Kochis graze their flocks in Hazarajat [areas where most settlers are Hazara] any more.''

Hazara representative

However, the findings of a joint mission - comprised of UN, AIHRC and government representatives, who visited the area - challenged reports of widespread destruction.

“Most of the reports have been exaggerated,” said Trevor Martin, head of the UN Assistance Mission (UNAMA) office for central Afghanistan, involved in management of the conflict.

Meanwhile, Kochi elders accuse the country’s human rights commission and other senior government officials of being biased, and having their own political agendas.

“Karim Khalili [second vice-president] has deliberately exacerbated the situation in his own political interests,” Parween Momand, a member of parliament in the lower house of the National Assembly, told IRIN.

A senior AIHRC official, though, rejected criticism of the watchdog’s role in collecting and disseminating facts on the Kochi-Hazara dispute.

Disputed documents

After the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan in December 1989 and subsequent chaos in the country, the movements of Kochi families were restricted to eastern and southern parts of the country where the Pashtuns are in a majority.

''It is a very complex situation and it is not going to be solved easily… It will require a great deal of patience from both communities.''

UNAMA head

Many Kochis hold documents issued by former rulers of Afghanistan which indicate their right to graze flocks in some parts of the country, including central regions where most Hazaras live. Some Kochis also say they have legal documents proving ownership of large swaths of land in other provinces of the country.

According to UNAMA’s Trevor Martin, the Kochis’ desire to resume access to pastures in central regions has now been “rejected and resisted” by Hazara settlers.

Hazara people question all documents that allow Kochis to graze flocks in their region, saying the area does not have the capacity to accommodate outsiders any more.

Intolerance and mistrust between the two tribes, exacerbated by the current political situation, is manifest, analysts say.

“It is a very complex situation and it is not going to be solved easily… It will require a great deal of patience from both communities,” Martin said.

Nationwide solution needed

Both Kochis and Hazaras as well as others are demanding the government find a viable solution in accordance with the country’s constitution. Article 14 requires the government to “develop agriculture and animal husbandry… [and] improve the nomads’ livelihoods”.

''We believe a viable solution will be a multidimensional approach - economic, political, social and legal - which should tackle the grievances of both sides.''

Human rights official

Ali Samimi, a Hazara community leader in Kabul, said the problem of Kochis’ access to public grazing land is not limited to central Afghanistan. “There needs to be a nationwide solution to the problem,” Samimi said, adding all nomads should be given land to establish a settled life.

However, Kochis doubt that the mere distribution of land will radically transform their way of life.

“What can these destitute people [Kochis] do with a piece of land in a desert?” asked Shirani Lalak, a spokesman for Afghan nomads.

Kochis will also require alternative livelihoods and a basic infrastructure to provide crucial services if they are to give up their nomadic life, AIHRC said.

“We believe a viable solution will be a multidimensional approach - economic, political, social and legal - which should tackle the grievances of both sides,” Fareed Hamidi of AIHRC said.

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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