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The Hazara Wars


The probability of ethnonationalist conflict increases with the number of prior conflicts fought in the name of the same ethnic group.1
Historically, there have been two opposing political and societal forces functioning in Afghanistan, the “urban modernists” seeking to create a modern nation-state and the “rural traditionalists” who prefer to avoid central control in order to maintain their tribal forms of government. The divide between these two approaches of governance has been the primary force driving the long-running conflict in Afghanistan since 1947. The tribal leaders know that in order for the urban modernists to succeed, the rural ethnic groups and their constituent tribes must fail in their efforts to maintain traditional forms of governance. This broad and deep fault line is ancient and was likely in place well before Ahmad Shah Durrani was able to unify the southern Pashtun tribes to take control of Afghanistan.

The separation between the two groups has existed primarily because of the type of governance that is viewed as acceptable by the various ethnic groups. In the case of Afghanistan’s numerous ethnic groups, nearly all of them tend to accept a “top-down” form of leadership, normally in the form of a powerful leader and his extended family that supports him. This is the case of the Tajiks, Uzbeks, Baluch, Hazaras, Pashai, and Brahui.

A leadership hierarchy is also generally acceptable to many Pashtuns, especially those identified as “qalang” by the knowledgeable Akbar S. Ahmed.

Ahmad accurately describes two forms of Pashtuns and his description tends to show the results of a gradual evolution from nomadic groups that are in a continuing process of settling into fixed communities. His “qalang” description fits the settled “urban modernists” represented today by Hamid Karzai and in the past by a series of deceased leaders, Daud, Taraki, Amin, Karmal, and Najibullah who tried to impose their centralized view of Afghanistan upon the traditionalists identified by Ahmed as “nang.” The conflict is intensified with the fact of the non-Pashtun ethnic groups being far more “qalang” than “nang” and generally allied with the “centralizers.”

Generally, Ahmad defines “nang” – honor2 – tribes as an egalitarian society characterized by three critical variables not seen in other groups:
a low material standard of living, absence of political authority, and a rigid adherence to customary laws. “Qalang” groups are settled, pay taxes, “qalang,” and represent a hierarchal society differing from their nang cousins by having centralized political authority, a complex and prosperous economic life, and an impersonal legal system.3 This concept and the development of the urban vs. rural split within Afghanistan’s Pashtun society provide some very useful insights into the violent nature of Oruzgan Province.4 Nang describes the tribal nature of Afghanistan’s mountain Pashtuns and qalang’s description fits the settled Pashtuns very well – and Oruzgan Province is a location where Pashtun settled groups were a distinct minority with the Shiite Hazaras in a majority. The nang Pashtuns, however, had little land of their own and were soon to remedy that situation at the expense of the Hazaras.

The purpose of this paper is to show the connection between the suffering of the Hazaras of central Afghanistan and the waves of invading Pashtuns who raided, looted, killed, and enslaved their way to gaining control of southern Oruzgan Province. The unending tension and occasional conflict, particularly in the transition zones between Pashtun and Hazara territories, combined with understanding that nang groups did much of the raiding explains a great deal about the animosity between the two ethnic groups. The relationship of the two large Hazara political groupings may be explained by the decisions made by their leaders in the 1880’s when Abdur Rahman declared the Hazaras kafirs, or infidels. Generally, two Hazara
“clusters” formed, one supporting Abdur Rahman and the other joined in the rebellion. Again, in general, two large Hazara political groups exist today and their separation may have their roots in the 1880’s when one group supported Abdur Rahman’s goals while the other Hazaras formed a violent opposition to Afghanistan’s central government. While a great deal additional research into archives that don’t exist is needed, there are general indications that Karim Khalili’s powerbase in the vicinity of Wardak Province may have been the descendents of Hazaras who managed to avoid destruction or exile by accommodating with Abdur Rahman’s wishes. Mohammad Mohaqeq’s Hazara supporters from north central Afghanistan are probably the descendents of Hazara exiles who were allowed to return and were provided land grants. History from a century and a half ago may also help explain the animosity the Hazaras of today’s Daikundi Province feel toward their former governor, Popalzai Durrani Pashtun Jan Mohammad Khan, a nang Pashtun whose clan or family was probably among the Pashtun groups that were involved in the ethnic cleansing of their ancestors when Pashtuns invaded Oruzgan.

Words tell us a lot, especially if we take the time to listen carefully. In many cases, the history of origins of a place name can tell us a lot about its history and in the case of Afghanistan’s Oruzgan Province, its’ very name explains a great deal about the reasons that the area is so unstable and violent. Its lowermost districts were once the southern boundary of the region called the Hazarajat, or the region of Afghanistan inhabited by
the Hazaras. More importantly, these districts were inhabited by a Hazara tribe whose name lingers where they are no longer found in significant numbers because the Oruzgani Hazaras were forced into migrations to Persia’s Mashed and British India’s Quetta after daring to resist the control imposed upon them by Abur Rahman Khan, Afghanistan’s “Iron Amir”. The Hazara tribe located to the northeast of the Oruzgani, the Jaghuri, was also active in the revolt against the Iron Amir and those Hazara survivors who couldn’t escape were captured for the auction block while their wives and daughters were often relegated to the harems of Abdur Rahman’s Pashtun generals and supporters.

Abdur Rahman was determined to create a modern nation-state to be governed from Kabul. In order to accomplish this goal, the various tribes and ethnic groups had to be subjugated. Once he gained control over his own people, the Pashtuns, he planned to use them to dominate the remainder of Afghanistan’s ethnic groups. According to Niamanullah Ibrahimi:

“In return for conceding the foreign affairs of the country to the British Empire, the Amir gained a great level of autonomy and significant British subsidies for the running of domestic affairs and strengthening of state institutions. Under an agreement with British India he vowed not to establish any diplomatic relationship with any other power and that his external affairs would be managed through British channels. As such, he embarked on an ambitious plan of creating a state by building modern institutions and expanding his control over the previously semi-autonomous regions of the country. “

“However, the process of expansion and consolidation of state control over these regions resulted in extensive military confrontation with several regional, tribal and ethnic groups that refused to concede their traditional autonomy to the state. During the 1880s the process resulted in several military confrontations with local Pashtuns in the south and east of the country. The Amir broke the resistance of several tribal groups and local influential persons who defied his authority. He managed to subjugate all Pashtun tribes through several military and political campaigns that heavily relied on the ruthless use of force and the manipulation of local tribal and personal rivalries. Having successfully crushed tribal and personal foes among the Pashtuns, the Amir focused his attention on the other ethnic groups, confronting the Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, and Turkomans. However, this expansion of the war went through a dramatic change. Through this, the Amir mobilised tribal warriors and religious zealots of all Pashtun tribes so that they would fight the other groups on behalf of the state.” 5

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