Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 April 2014, 14:04 GMT

Afghanistan: UNAMA supporting efforts to end dispute over grazing land

Publisher Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Publication Date 13 May 2009
Cite as Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Afghanistan: UNAMA supporting efforts to end dispute over grazing land, 13 May 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4a0bdbcac.html [accessed 17 April 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

KABUL, 13 May 2009 (IRIN) - The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) is supporting an initiative to try to resolve a long-running dispute over access to grazing land between Pashtun nomadic herders, known as Kuchis, and ethnic Hazaras living in central Afghanistan.

UNAMA spokesman Dan MacNorton said: "UNAMA is supporting the presidential commission and the governor of Wardak Province in their initiative to find a solution and we are engaged with both communities, and have held several meetings with a wide range of interlocutors in Kabul and in Wardak."

He said it was too early to speculate whether conflict was imminent in the area.

The onset of spring traditionally marks the influx of Kuchi (Pashtun nomad) herders into central and northern parts of the country. But over the past three years ethnic Hazaras from the central highlands have opposed the practice. Hazaras are mainly Shia and some estimates say they comprise about 9 percent of the population.

Some Kuchis say Hazaras have seized their land in Maidan Wardak and Bamiyan provinces in central Afghanistan. Both groups say clashes could break out unless the government steps in to resolve the dispute.

Several people reportedly died and some families were displaced in clashes between Hazaras and Kuchis in May-June 2007, before a temporary ceasefire was brokered by UN officials.

As in the past, the flashpoint areas are Behsud and Daimirdad districts in Maidan Wardak Province, central Afghanistan, where mainly Hazaras live.

"We will drive our flocks into Behsud and other areas in 20 days," Haji Paray, a Kuchi leader, told IRIN on 13 May, saying his tribesmen was prepared to resort to force if local people tried to block them.

Qorban Ali Fasehi, head of the local council in Behsud, told IRIN: "We're fully prepared to block the Kuchis' entry to our land," adding: "The government should solve this problem or bear responsibility for the consequences."

Lack of clear government policy

According to the UN Refugee Agency's (UNHCR's) World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples, the lack of clear government policies on land tenure and pasture rights was leading to prolonged disputes between settled Afghans and Kuchis.

The traditional system of pasture rights seems to have been eroded and replaced by the power of the gun. Many Kuchis still hold documents indicating their right to use pastures and parcels of land (some of which are over a 100 years old) but their current value is questionable, the UNHCR World Directory said.

In 2007 the president set up a commission to find a viable solution to the problem of access to grazing lands and land ownership disputes to prevent future clashes.

Government assurances that a legal solution would be found helped prevent Kuchis from entering Hazara areas in 2008, but there has been no official ruling to permanently resolve the disputes.

"The government has failed to address tensions over grazing land and allegations of land seizure... We are very concerned about imminent conflict in the area," Zia Langary, an official of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, told IRIN.

"It is turning into a dangerous ethnic conflict," he said.

No willingness to compromise

Wahidullah Sabawoon, head of the commission set up to look into the matter, told IRIN no solutions had been found so far because neither side was willing to compromise.

"Both sides are inflexible and as a result we have been unable to find a solution," he said, adding that the dispute had been "highly politicised".

"It can only be resolved by presidential decree," he said.

Some aid agencies said in April that the government in Kabul may be too preoccupied with the upcoming presidential elections on 20 August to make a serious effort to defuse the conflict.

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