Disclaimer: This article was first published elsewhere and is republished here with recommendation and full permission of the author.
By Mushtaq Rahim
Afghanistan has been a nation comprised of tribes, ethnic and religious groups, intra religion fictions, people with different languages and diverse political ideologies. The diversities and differences have remained a part of Afghan society over centuries where people have lived in harmony and the country has remained together tied up to the notion of one nation i.e. Afghan Nation. Though there have been individuals and groups trying to raise the issue of right of certain groups, it has not been pursued by all as a concept and as such has remained curtailed to certain parameters.
While the Afghan nation has remained together during different phases of Afghan history, the ongoing conflict has wrecked its one nation theory over the course of last nearly four decades. The nation has seen its split up into ethnic groups, intra-ethnic groups, religious groups and intra-religious groups, language based groups and intra-language based groups and even into regional groups. Also the nation has gotten divided into political ideologies where communists and seculars are standing against Islamist and Islamists are again divided in different groups opposing one another. People have been getting mobilized and forming groups not based on ideologies but ethnicities, common language and regions causing divisions within divisions.
At a time when Afghanistan has been trying to be on path of reconstruction and return to normalcy, the conflict legacy continues to hound the country. Demarcations based on ethnicities, tribes and regional groupings remain a challenge glaring the national unity of Afghanistan. Groups continue to be formed based on bias rather than ideologies and issues of national interest. Hate language is prevalent on social media from all sides and the issue of strengthening one’s own group and serving society based on their ethnic alignments has been rule of the game. In the meantime, the legacy is being transferred to the next generation by promotion of the idea of alliance and loyalty to their own groups among youth. Clashes at schools and universities have been recorded over the course of last few years testifying the fact that the cancer has spread to the next generation. Politicians are also exploiting the national divide in their favour and as such country continues to suffer in all spheres.
Afghan nation’s demarcation begun during the conflict starting in 1979; yet, the process peaked during civil war of 1990s. The warring groups fighting for their personal benefits and power struggles used ethnicities as tool for mobilization of support base. The opportunity was cashed in on by neighbouring stakeholders of the Afghan conflict and fuelled the issue to the maximum possible as part of the regional power politics.
While national demarcation and divide remain a treacherous challenge to Afghanistan, turning a blind eye to the fact is graver a concern. The Afghan Government has been doing cosmetic arrangements to hide the reality and portray as if all is fine. Ex-President Karzai mixed Pashtoon and Tajik traditional wearing while blending the two national languages in order to demonstrate presence of national unity. The current Government that was established on the back of a long and ugly ethnicity based wrangling was named National Unity Government (NUG) giving a false sense of national unity. However, the reality is that the nation is fully divided at the moment as ethnic groups, language based groups and region based entities. Public have been voting on the bases of ethnic alliances rather than political agenda and programs. Electronic and print media can easily be recognized as Pashtoon, Tajik, Hazara focused and owned and meant for the related ethnic group. Even sports have been demarcated where cricket is seen as Pashtoon game and football is associated to Tajiks.
A problem can only be solved once it is recognized as a problem. Unfortunately, in Afghanistan, none of the relevant entities is ready to recognize and pronounce the national divide as a problem and as such nothing is being done beyond fake presentation of national unity. The government is not ready to recognize the issue as social ill and national challenge. The cosmetics arrangements is seen as if it represents the ground realities. The continuous state of denial is, however, leading the nation towards calamity where nation is not prepared to trust one another and as such division has been deepening to an alarming level.
The civil society is usually seen as an entity independently identifying social ills and advocating at public as well as government level to mobilize resources for dealing with them. However, the civil society too remains divided and aligned on ethnic grounds. The source that could recognize the problem independently and could work for its elimination is already part of the problem and as such is not in a positon to work for change.
Political elite, on the other hand, has interest vested in the divide. Many of the Afghan political leaders are present on the political scene just because of the split among the nation as otherwise, they might vanish due to lack of political visioning and agenda. Hence, they continue to fan the fire in pursuance of their own political gains.
Religious leaders are a source widely respected among general public. However, a large number of the religious leaders do not recognize their social role and as such are not able to work against the bias that is strictly prohibited in the Islamic teachings.
The status quo vis a vis the problem cannot continue any further. There is urgent need for recognizing the problem and the fake mask of national unity made out of cosmetic actions of the government and patriotic songs has to be relinquished. Ignoring the problem as a national tragedy will continue weakening Afghanistan as a nation. Turning a blind eye to the evil will not vanish the problem rather allow it to strengthen its bases further in the Afghan society. Afghanistan cannot withstand national divided amidst all other problems it is facing.
The time has arrived that we, as a nation, recognize the big hole present in the Afghan society. Policy level consideration has to be given to the problem by the Government and as such ways of curing the disease to be identified. Dealing with the issue has to be prioritized as part of pursuing national interest agenda on emergency bases; else, the country might not be able to progress towards stability, security and prosperity. The government has to recognize the problem, make a national strategy for dealing with the national problem; else fight for own ethnic groups, tribes and geographical areas will leave the entire nation search for their identities in the wreckage of a fallen nation.