Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Afghan Ethnic Tensions Rise in Media and Politics -- KABUL, Afghanistan — It started with a heat-of-the-moment comment on a partisan television talk show, drawing an ethnic line that was bold even by Afghan standards.-- “Pashtuns are the rulers and owners of Afghanistan; they are the real inhabitants of Afghanistan,” said Gen. Abdul Wahid Taqat, a former intelligence official. “Afghanistan means ‘where Pashtuns live.’ ” --- More than 100,000 people died during the civil war that followed the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989, a conflict that broke largely along ethnic lines, among the Pashtuns and the smaller Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek populations. -- Although there has been little ethnic violence across the country lately, in political and news media circles, nerves are raw and tempers have been flaring. Shouting matches over ethnic issues in Parliament and on radio programs have started to erupt into fistfights, a troubling reminder that the fragile ethnic détente here, sustained by foreign troops and billions of dollars in aid, could easily shatter. And with the American-led coalition preparing to withdraw, a long-term security agreement in doubt and a presidential election looming, many Afghans feel vulnerable about the future. -- The television and radio dials in Afghanistan are crowded with partisan stations that glorify their leaders and fire up their followers, and many of them have seized on the ethnic debate that the general’s remarks reopened. The ethnically mixed Karzai administration has a history of pushing back when debate turns into the fanning of ethnic hatreds; in 2010, it forced one station, Emroz TV, to shut down. -- The government is acutely conscious of the danger, to the point that it has made inciting ethnic strife a crime. Many of its senior officials took part in the brutal civil war, and few officials doubt that if Afghanistan were to fall into civil unrest again, much of the violence would erupt along ethnic lines, even within the country’s own security forces. -- Lawmakers have been arguing for months, sometimes violently, over what it means to be an Afghan. Many members of ethnic minorities believe that the word refers only to Pashtuns and want their own ethnicity listed on new national identity cards, but some Pashtun leaders are objecting. -- “We are defending the Afghan Constitution, which says that every single citizen, regardless of his or her ethnic group, is called an Afghan,” said Aryan Yoon, a Pashtun member of Parliament, and the wife of one of the founders of Zhwandoon TV, the channel that aired General Taqat’s comments. --- Others see the issue differently, including workers at Mitra TV, a channel for Tajiks that was recently opened by Atta Muhammad Noor, the governor of Balkh Province. --- Ethnic issues appear to loom largest with older people who witnessed the civil war firsthand, while younger people’s attitudes are more fluid and their identities more complex, especially in Kabul. Lotfullah Dost offers himself as an example: His family is Pashtun, but he grew up in a Tajik neighborhood and speaks only Dari, the language of Tajiks. -- “There are a lot of people like me,” he said. “I’m in the middle. I cannot claim to be a Pashtun because I don’t speak Pashto. I can’t claim to be a Tajik, either, because I’m not.” - More, NYTimes, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/19/world/asia/afghan-ethnic-tensions-rise-in-media-and-politics.html?hpw&rref=world


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