With the arrival of pasturing season, once again the Kuchi-conflict in Behsud and Daimirdad districts of Maidan Wardak Province has erupted. Last week on Saturday, a clash was reported between armed Kuchis and local villagers in Sheikh Qila Arab area of Behsud, where hundreds of residents have escaped to neighboring villages leaving behind their livestock and other belongings.
President Karzai has held meetings with elders of Behsud in Kabul in the last couple of weeks to avoid the conflict flaring up once again this year. Hundreds of armed Kuchis have reportedly arrived in Behsud and small skirmishes are being reported. The clash can get very violent like previous years if President Karzai does not resolve the issue to avoid bloodshed.
Last year in June, violence spread out of Behsud and Diamirdad districts. Five people were killed in Nahur District of Ghazni and several dozen houses were burnt in the clashes. Saturday’s skirmish in Behsud is the beginning of this conflict which occurs every year in summer, and dozens of people are killed.
The Government has been arranging temporary resolution when violence peaks. It has now become a serious conflict getting deadlier. Armed Kuchis, the so-called nomads, come for grazing on the pastureland of Hazarajat in early summer every year. Locals complain that they bear the freezing temperatures of winter in the mountainous highlands for the good times when pastures get green in summer, but Kuchis come with their cattle on the scarce grazing land.
Under law, Kuchis are allowed to keep small arms as part of their traditional nomadic lifestyle. It has caused several armed clashes resulting in death of dozens every year. The Government has failed to find a permanent resolution to the issue. Local villagers are fed up with the annual skirmishes and there is extreme resentment not only against armed Kuchis, but also Government’s failure to stop the conflict. They regret having volunteered for the DDR and DIAG disarmament processes.
It is feared that the conflict will get violent in coming days. Already some s deaths are reported in several villages of Behsud and Diamirdad. It will spread all the way to Malistan and Nahur districts of Ghazni. The violence reached to capital Kabul in 2010 when six were killed in Kuchi-Hazara clashes in West Kabul. Followed by a mob protest, demonstrators started pelting stones on Police, who returned fire and several were killed.
In 2010, the US Forces in Maidan Wardak province distributed aid to Kuchi families to stop them from going to the grazing lands of Behsud and Daimirdad. The move was aimed at avoiding the clash and violence. It was a temporary solution and even then violence erupted later.
Kuchis claim that pasture rights were given to them by late kingdoms of Afghanistan. While local people reject the claim saying they bear the hardships during the entire year in harshest winter for six months under heavy snowfall. It is their right for pasture on the grazing land during the very short period of summer. Local people say if Kuchis come and live in the area permanently during all the seasons of the year, they don’t have any problem. They also refute the Kuchi claim of ownership right on some pasture hills in Hazarajat.
The central highlands are mountainous where the only mean of livelihood for local people is agriculture and natural pastures. Locals have their native and legal rights on grazing lands for pasture after they make the barren lands harvestable at the cost of deadly hardships and climatic challenges. They say that the pasture grazing is the only mean for their livestock.
According to official statistics of 1960-61, Kochi population was shown as 9.5 % of the total. The Government estimated Kuchi population about 2 – 2.5 million in the 60s, 70s and early 80s. According to a recent study by the UN’s World Food Program, it has shrunk to 1.3 – 1.5 million. Kuchis used to move across Afghanistan and Pakistan since long ago but were disallowed to do so in Pakistani territory when India was partitioned. Seeing the sensitivity of the situation, late King Zahir Shah planned for permanent settlement of Kuchis. A large number of them were settled down in fertile lands of Northern and Western Afghanistan on permanent basis through government support. Kuchi population has been living in severe circumstances. According to the UN, none of their children attend school. Literacy rate is almost zero.
Kuchi tribes were strong supporters of the Taliban during their rule, both ideologically and providing human resource for them. Thus enjoyed much favors during the brutal Taliban era. Today most of the clashes on grazing rights between Kuchis and local residents of Behsud, Daimirdad, Nahur and Malistan are because of Taliban’s permission to Kuchis to enter Hazarajat for pastures under the “Farman” of the Amir-ul-Momaneen Mullah Omar.
Due to their tribal and nomadic lifestyle, Kuchis carry weapons with them all the time. They are not bound under DDR and DIAG to submit their weaponry to Government. Seeing the opportunity, some drug mafia and smugglers try to use them to smuggle hereon and weapons across the country.
This conflict needs a permanent solution. The conflict should be resolved through legal, judicial and political channels. The Government should take serious steps in this regard. Kuchi lifestyle should be improved and they should be permanently settled. The Government should seek assistance from the UNAMA to resolve this conflict.
This year it might spread to other districts and inflame ethnic sentiments across the country causing serious trouble for the International Security Assistance Forces too.
Abbas Daiyar is a staff writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at Abbas.email@example.com He tweets at http://twitter.com/#!/AbasDaiyar