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Assessment for Uzbeks in Afghanistan

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Uzbeks in Afghanistan, 31 December 2003, available at: [accessed 20 January 2018]
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.
Afghanistan Facts
Area:    6,522,250 sq. km.
Capital:    Kabul
Total Population:    24,782,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

The political situation of Uzbeks in Afghanistan changed radically in 2001, when the United States led a coalition in overthrowing the Pashtun-dominated Taliban government. Although led by a Pashtun, Hamid Karzai, the interim government set in place by 2002 also included ethnic Uzbeks, including General Abdul Rashid Dostum. Uzbeks are unlikely to rebel against the central state so long as they maintain representation. However, Tajiks continue to be involved in intercommunal warfare, primarily with Pashtuns. Until the central government is strong enough to contain warlordism, such clashes are likely to continue.

Uzbeks have not been engaged in protests since the overthrow of the Taliban regime.

Analytic Summary

The Uzbeks, who are Sunni Muslims, are ethnically and linguistically Turkic. They occupy the northern agricultural region of Afghanistan, across the border from their ethnic kin in Uzbekistan. They moved into the area during the raids of Turkic people across Central Asia in the sixteenth century. Large numbers of Uzbeks also moved into Afghanistan in the 1920s and 1930s from Central Asia as those countries underwent Sovietization.

In addition to agriculture, Uzbeks have also been involved in Afghanistan's textile industry since its inception. Uzbek women are renowned for the carpets they make, which historically have provided Uzbeks with substantial supplementary income. These economic advantages have also historically led to political advantages for Uzbeks, who have occupied senior positions in various Afghan governments and the civil service. In addition to Uzbek service in the central government, Uzbeks also maintained a good deal of autonomy for their own region (AUTPOW90 = 3), a feat achieved in part due to their economic self-sufficiency. However, Pashtun settlers have made inroads into traditionally Uzbek areas, with major pushes beginning in the 1880s under the first Afghan king, Ahmad Shah, a Pashtun.

The Uzbeks are represented primarily by the National Islamic Front headed by General Abdul Rashid Dostam. Dostam maintained the regional autonomy of the northern Uzbek-populated regions, partially by supporting the Communist government until 1992 (REB92 = 7). (His defection contributed to the Najibullah regime's fall later that year.) Dostam briefly supported Rabbani (until early 1993), when he withdrew support because of the narrow construction of Rabbani's government (REB94 = 5). Dostam returned to his stronghold in the northern provinces and effectively ruled them for the duration of Rabbani's rule. When the Taliban threatened to overrun the country in late 1995 and early 1996, Dostam again allied with Rabbani and his Tajik forces (REB96-01 = 7). The Taliban did gain Kabul, evicting the Rabbani government. However, Dostam managed to stave off attacks on his territories. With the fall of the Taliban, Dostam reentered the central government in 2002.

The Uzbek are organizationally cohesive, with only one major party - the National Islamic Front - representing them (ORGCOH94 = 7). They are territorially concentrated and closely aligned with their kin across the border in Uzbekistan. Both factors contribute to their cohesive identity (COHESX9 = 5). In comparison to other groups in Afghanistan, they suffer less demographic stress. Although affected by the drought that hit Afghanistan in the late 1990s, they were in a better position to withstand it, in part because they have been less affected by fighting in their home region.

Uzbek grievances center on greater political participation in the central government and greater control over Uzbek-majority areas. They also desire equal status for the Uzbek language and greater economic opportunities.

Uzbeks have not engaged in violence against the government since the overthrow of the Taliban regime (REB02-03 = 0) and have also not engaged in protest (PROT01-03 = 0). However, ethnic Uzbeks have clashed with Tajiks and Pashtuns (COMCON02 = 3).


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