Within Afghanistan ethnicities are not geographically grouped together as a result of their voluntary decisions, or desire for brotherhood and unity.  They are together under one national umbrella because someone else has imposed it on them.

The Power of State

Forcing internal stability by playing ethnic cards causes conflicts.  Afghanistan’s history is filled with such attempts.  For example, in the 1880s, King Abdur Rahman Khan (r.1880-1901), a Pashtun, sent thousands of southern Pashtuns to settle in the north to strengthen the state’s power on the frontier, the present-day provinces of Faryab and Jowzjan.  This decision has changed the regional ethnic mosaic and created the Pashtun-Uzbek animosities that still continue among their descendants.  In the south, he violently removed Hazaras from their lands in 1893 and settled the area with Pashtuns, which has also created almost irreversible animosity.

Trying to accommodate ethnic groups through patch work is mainly trying to mask the greater problems.  During the Soviet occupation, hoping to preserve the state the Afghan government tried a different, more administrative approach.  It created a new, predominantly Uzbek, Sar-i Pul Province from Jowzjan’s territory to accommodate then-General and now-Vice President, Abdul Rashid Dostum (who is currently commanding a fighting force against the predominantly Pashtun insurgents in Faryab).  That decision did not sit well in the south, which led to creation of Khost Province—carved from Paktya Province—as another Pashtun southern province.  And it also did not help prevent the Communist regime’s ultimate fall and subsequent civil war (1992-1996) fought, unsurprisingly, along ethnic lines.

In 2004, Panjshir valley was separated from Parwan and became a new (Kohistani) Tajik dominated province, while Daikundi was split from Uruzgan to form a Hazara dominated province.  This was the last province created in an attempt to accommodate ethnic issues.  Provincial governors, however, are appointed and budgetary restrictions are controlled from the capital, greatly reducing local self-governance.


Future (?)Actions

A number of other provinces are currently split along sharp ethnic lines.  Among them Maidan Wardak, Ghazni, and Kapisa, are of particular importance.  Along with Kabul City and Kabul province, they form Afghanistan’s backbone and the border between the Pashtun dominated south and the north where their influence is rather limited.  A future division of these provinces along north-south lines could be the first step in the disintegration of Afghanistan.


The nation’s capital is the best example of ethnic division and represents a microcosm of Afghanistan. Tajiks, Hazaras, and Pashtuns (in order of demographic dominance) form three distinct ethnic clusters in Kabul City.  Just as in the countryside, people here are well aware of their ethnic differences.  I recall a street conversation with a resident of Kabul City who explained that no differences exist among the people in the neighborhood.  As we talked about the neighborhood he emphasized how nice it is to live where nobody cared [emphasis mine] who was who: “See, we have everyone here. The Tajiks live over here, Pashtuns down the street, Hazaras around the corner, we have some Turkmen over there….” He listed his neighborhood’s ethnic structure better than a census taker or an officer of secret police.  This was not a single such instance during my fieldwork on the streets of Kabul City.

In an earlier post on Ukraine, I brought to attention the significant emphasis on ethno-linguistic differences, where in reality there are very few.  Since the military intervention in Afghanistan in 2001—a country where ethno-linguistic and regional (and sectarian) differences have always been rather prominent—official discussions about the future of this area and its ethnic geography have been exceptionally rare, particularly by Western officials.  Perhaps that discussion, nearly fourteen years too late, may eventually begin, but I am afraid that it may end in another 1992-type civil war.

Maps and Misalignment of Political and People-Perceived Boundaries (Part 3)
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