The Social Wandering of the Afghan Kuchis: Changing patterns, perceptions and politics of an Afghan community
A traditional kuchi tent, made from black felt and - according to different Pashto dialects - called a kegdey or kezhdey. seen in Paktia province in spring 2004. Photo: Thomas Ruttig
The latest AAN report, ‘The Social Wandering of the Afghan Kuchis: changing patterns, perceptions and politics of an Afghan community,’ by Fabrizio Foschini, explores the major impact of changing social, economic and political conditions on the Kuchi community over recent years and its consequences for their position in Afghan society.
Afghan nomads have always aroused considerable interest among international scholars, resulting in a substantial body of literature about their livelihoods, customs and social structure. Relatively few scholars, however, seem interested in, or able to study the Kuchis’ current participation in their country’s politics. Instead, in post-2001 Afghanistan, at both national and international levels, Kuchis have been mostly viewed through either the lens of humanitarian concern or that of ethnic conflict, without much attention being paid to linkages between their situation and political and economic exploitation. This paper is a response to this lacuna.
In the first part of his paper, Foschini discusses the dynamics that have affected the Kuchis in recent history, focusing on the waves of expansion and decline in their socio-economic activities in the face of Afghanistan’s political and economic changes. He explains how these changes have led to the recent and increasing trend towards their sedentarisation. The second part of the paper examines land conflicts involving Kuchis, as well as the patterns of Kuchi voting during recent electoral consultations. It also assesses the importance of the state’s political recognition of the Kuchis in the emergence of a particular class of Kuchi powerbrokers.
In his discussion, Foschini identifies two, seemingly contradictory, dynamics. On the one hand, the insecurity caused by decades of war, coupled with periods of drought, has led an increasing number of Kuchis to abandon their nomadic lifestyle. The lack of jobs and social services has meant that many now live in dejected conditions on the outskirts of major Afghan cities. On the other hand, simultaneously, the Kuchi community has experienced a high degree of political mobilisation, facilitated by the Karzai administration, which took several initiatives to enhance the Kuchis’ political profile including their recognition as a separate electoral constituency.
The political leadership brought about by this change, however, seems to be largely comprised of powerbrokers who use their position as a tool for patronage rather than as a mechanism of democratic representation. Foschini argues that this opportunistic attitude threatens to preserve a stalled crisis situation in which some Kuchi leaders are able to channel Kuchi anger to their advantage in exchange for small benefits to parts of their constituencies. Rather than resulting in an overall improvement in their access to education, health care and employment, the Kuchis’ new found political assertiveness arguably feeds into the humanitarian crisis situation in which they live by worsening their relations with other sectors of Afghan society. Foschini finally argues that although the factors causing the sedentarisation trend may be too large to tackle, it is important to seek to improve the conditions of settlement for those Kuchis who can no longer cope with a nomadic lifestyle, and to do so, not through the mediation of the usual powerbrokers, but through state institutions, in a non-partisan and neutral way.
The full report can be downloaded here.
The executive summary can be found here.
A dispatch discussing the main findings of the report can be found here.
To listen to a podcast of a more extensive interview with the author Fabrizio Foschini go here.