The birth of 57 new ethnic groups: a deconstruction of ethnic politics in Afghanistan
In modern day Afghanistan models of ethnic configuration have influenced and shaped ethnic politics. Successive Afghan governments have tried hard to consolidate Afghan nationalism that has loosely acted as an umbrella for nation-building project in the country. Though the country is a diversity of languages and identity groups, state nationalism has shown little flexibility to embrace the diversity of Afghanistan. But in an unprecedented move, the National Statistics and Information Authority (NSIA) has added a new list of 57 subdivisions of mostly non-Pashtun tribes as new models of ethnic configuration in the database of e-Tazkira.
Findings by Kabul Now suggest that contrary to recommendation made by a committee assigned by the President to identify ethnic groups living in Afghanistan, NSIA has, out of the blue, added 57 subdivision tribes of some ethnic groups as “independent ethnic groups” to the database of e-Tazkira.
Afghanistan’s Constitution has recognized 14 ethnic identities as registered ethnic groups in Afghanistan. With the newly created 57 groups, the so-called current ethnic groups total 71 in the country.
As the issue of newly created ethnic groups in database became a controversial debate in the country, a statement issued by NSIA said the NSIA authorities had decided to register the 57 new ethnic groups after repeated requests made by respective elders of the groups and interpretation of the article four of the Constitution by the Supreme Court. Some evidences that Kabul Now has read show that the NSIA authorities have deliberately ignored recommendation made by the president-assigned committee that was tasked to verify new models ethnic configuration.
The newly created models for configuration of the 57 groups, that are added to database list of national ID card and the applicant who—for example is a Hazara from Thaiman tribe would then be asked to write his ethnic identity as Thaiman, not Hazara—led to a widespread criticism by people from all walks of life with some seeing the move as an attempt to divide the non-Pashtun groups and consolidate the dominance of ethnic Pashtuns in Afghanistan.
Why did NSIA ignore recommendation made a presidential committee?
On September 05, 2017, President Ghani assigned a committee to verify those so-called new ethnic groups who were not recognized by the Constitution. “The nation of Afghanistan is composed of all individuals who possess the citizenship of Afghanistan. The nation of Afghanistan shall be comprised of Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, Turkman, Baluch, Pachaie, Nuristani, Aymaq, Arab, Qirghiz, Qizilbash, Gujur, Brahwui and other tribes,” part of the article reads.
Under the chairmanship of Abdul Basir Anwar, the then justice minister, the committee was comprised of representatives from the Ministry of Border and Tribal Affairs, Ministry of Information and Culture, Academy of Sciences of Afghanistan (ASA), the NSIA, the Population Registration Department, and the Independent Commission for Overseeing the Implementation of the Constitution (ICOIC).
Later in October of the same year, the presidential committee came with a conclusion: 1- all 14 ethnic groups mentioned in the Constitution should be mentioned in e-Tazkira as well; 2- since no credible and scientific ethnographic study has been done so far in Afghanistan, inclusion of “other tribes” in e-Tazkira will become problematic; Lastly, two lists of ethnic groups prepared by the ICOIC and the Ministry of Border and Tribal Affairs handed over to the presidential office and the authority to make decision regarding it lies with the President.
The debate over this issue got more controversial after some ethnic groups called for official recognition of their ethnic identities. President Ghani tasked the High Council of Supreme Court that came up with a conclusion: as the Constitution recognizes “other tribes” mentioning their names in national Tazkira shall not be legally prohibited.
Months after the committee submitted its report to the President, the then justice minister who headed the committee, in a letter, wrote the President that comments made by the committee members were not based on scientific studies and there was no solution to the problem. In presence of the Second Vice President Sarwar Danish and then Chief Executive of the government Abdullah Abdullah, the committee members decided to include only 14 ethnic groups in e-Tazkira and an academic committee was needed to be formed in order to conduct the required scientific research and then add names of “other tribes” in e-Tazkira.
The recommended committee, however, was never formed.
Following the submission of the committee’s report and a written letter by the committee’s chairperson, it however, remains anonymous what decision did President Ghani make. Despite repeated call by Kabul Now, the relevant institutions including the Office of the President refused to comment on this topic.
In March 2021, three years after the presidential decree, the NSIA added the list of ethnic groups prepared by the Ministry of Border and Tribal Affairs to the database of e-Tazkira. However it remains unclear if the NSIA and the President have reached on an agreement in suggestion made by the Ministry of Border and Tribal Affairs. Should the NSIA have made a decision under the directive of the President to add the names of 57 tribes in the database of e-Tazkira, it is contrary to the recommendations made the presidential committee.
Ahmad Tariq Sediqi, the deputy chairperson of NSIA, told Kabul Now that he is not aware if the President made any decision regarding it, adding that the NSIA has not received any directive from the Office of the President regarding inclusion of the new ethnic groups and the authority has added these ethnic groups according to the list prepared by the Ministry of Border and Tribal Affairs. He claimed that on the bases of repeated calls made some ethnic groups, the Ministry of Border and Tribal Affairs and NSIA decided to mention the names of these groups in database of e-Tazkira. “These tribes have made written requests and referred tens of times to the NSIA, Ministry of Borders and Tribal Affairs, Parliament, State Ministry for Parliamentary Affairs, Administrative Office of the President, the Independent Directorate of Local Governance, and other agencies. In addition to the tribes, the Parliament also made calls and requested inclusion of these tribes,” he said.
How did Ministry of Borders and Tribal Affairs prepare its list?
On October 09, 2019, the Ministry of Border and Tribal Affairs handed over a six-page report titled “Comments and recommendations of the Ministry of Borders and Tribal Affairs on verification and identification of other tribes” to the committee assigned by the President. The proposal made by MBTA was attached to the report of the committee and was handed over to the President. More than three years later, the tribes listed in this report emerged as “independent ethnic groups” in the database of the e-Tazkira.
The MBTA said that after talking to 67 tribal elders and under the request by these elders, the Ministry listed the names of tribes to be mentioned in e-Tazkira. Though Kabul Now tried to have the Ministry’s comment on how it developed such a list, the Ministry avoided to comment.
Documents obtained by Kabul Now indicate that the Ministry has not done any significant evaluation while it has proceeded with the very list submitted by some tribal councils. In one case, as the Ministry writes in its report, Turkic Community Council have handed over a list of Turkic sub-tribes to the Ministry and it has only deleted some tribes already mentioned in the Constitution from the list.
Though the Ministry’s list is officially stamped and handed over to the committee by its authoritative representative, deputy minister of the Ministry, Mohammad Yaqub Ahmadzai, told Kabul Now that neither the Ministry have any procedure for verification of ethnic identity groups, nor verification of the ethnic groups are related to its mandate, nor the Ministry has a list of ethnic groups. Mr. Ahmadzai added that the NSIA has not made any official request for information about Afghanistan’s ethnic groups.
However, the Ministry has written in its report that elders of some “tribes” included in its list have asked for their ethnic identity to be recognized independently. Kabul Now submitted two application forms asking the Ministry to share the requests of these elders, but the Ministry did not share it. The NSIA showed several official letters it received from the Ministry regarding the issue – revealing the Ministry’s lies and violation of the Access to Information Law.
In its list, the Ministry has classified 67 “ethnic groups” and their sub-tribes to four categories. In the first category, it has included 14 ethnic groups mentioned in the article four of the Constitution. The Ministry has proposed adding these ethnic groups in the e-Tazkira database right away. In the second category, the Ministry has singled out 10 tribes and sub-tribes explaining that these tribes do not have any common identity roots with the ethnic groups mentioned in the Constitution, therefore, they should be added in the e-Tazkira database as independent ethnic groups. In the third category, the Ministry has classified six ethno-linguistic groups living in Pamirs of Padakhshan, recommending that these tribes should be added under the “Pamiri” ethnic group. In the fourth category, the Ministry has listed 37 sub-tribes with common Turkic roots making three recommendations: 1- Those tribes who have referred repeatedly and provided evidences for registering their tribes as independent should be added as independent ethnic groups. 2- Those subtribes of Turkic people who want themselves to be recognized as independent should be included as a subtribe of Turkic ethnic group albeit with names of their tribe. 3- All these subtribes should be added as independent ethnic group considering a certain ethnographic principle and criteria.
Though the ethnic classification by the Ministry lacks any scientific base, the NSIA has also violated even the classification in its turn. The Authority has added all the tribes and sub-tribes as independent ethnic groups increasing the number of ethnic groups from 67 – proposed by the Ministry – to 71. For instance, Pamiri and its sub-tribes are each classified as independent ethnic groups. So has happened with the Turkic ethnic group and 37 of its sub-tribes. Formulies who are not even mentioned in the Ministry’s list are classified as an “independent ethnic group” by the NSIA.
When asked about why the NSIA has registered sub-tribes as ethnic groups, Ahmad Tariq Sediqi told Kabul Now that they did so for elders of these sub-tribes had repeatedly asked for their recognition as independent ethnic groups. “They said register us as independent ethnic group, otherwise ‘we will never take e-Tazkira’.”’
How did ASA prepare its list?
In its report to Office of the President, the President’s assigned committee says that the Academy of Sciences of Afghanistan (ASA) presented information about 35 ethnic groups in one of the committee’s meeting. Kabul Now has found that the ASA’s list is taken from an article written by Doctor Khalilullah Ormal. Some of the data provided in the article are taken from Wikipedia almost with no changes in its content. The article published by the ASA, however, has not provided its source.
The article has classified 35 ethnolinguistic groups considering their languages, arguing that the ethnic groups are distinguished mainly according to their certain languages in Afghanistan. It also considers religion and ethnicity as other two factors determining in ethnic classifications.
Moreover, the article mentions in its last part that no broad scientific study has so far been done in areas of linguistics and ethnology in Afghanistan.
A likely collusion to divide non-Pashtun ethnic groups
Amid a complicated bureaucratic chaos, it seems the NSIA, the Office of the President, and the MBTA have made a collusion to create 57 new models for ethnic configuration. Despite repeated calls, Kabul Now failed to receive details from the institutions that are behind this decision. Majority of these institutions refused to provide the documents and the requested information. All the documents and data used in this report are mostly provided by unofficial sources and sources who preferred not to be named.
Office of Chief of Staff to the President denied having any document, even in its archive, related to inclusion of the ethnic groups in e-Tazkira database while it has officially received two reports – report of the committee assigned by the President and report by the former Minister of Justice – and lists provided by the Ministry of Borders and Tribal Affairs and list prepared by the sciences academy.
The Ministry of Borders and Tribal affairs denied having prepared any list of the ethnic group or tribes and ignored to share written requests made by tribal elders though the ministry’s deputy had pledged to share them with Kabul Now.
The Academy of Sciences of Afghanistan and Administrative Office of the President also avoided sharing the requested information.
Though the NSIA officially shared some related information with Kabul Now at the beginning, it refused to do so when we made a second request asking for further required documents. Ahmad Tariq Sediqi, The NSIA’s deputy chairman, showed some requests made by some tribal elders urging for their tribes to be recognized independently.
Some employees of public relations of the agencies confirmed to Kabul Now that the requested documents and information do exist within the agencies but their top officials do not want to share it with Kabul Now.
After the NSIA added 57 new ethnic groups to the e-Tazkira database, it provoked widespread reactions among the ordinary, influential figures, political leaders, and government officials.
Describing it a “mistake” Chief of the High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah noted that the NSIA must correct it considering the unity of the Afghan people.
Second Vice President Sarwar Danish said the decision questions the credibility of the government and it divides the nation. Verification of the ethnic identity groups is a professional, scientific, history, and cultural undertaking and must not be done hastily, he stated calling for review of the decision. “This is not true to introduce tribes and sub-tribes of one ethnic group as several independent ethnic groups.”
Rahman Rahmani, the Parliament Speaker, also reacted against the NSIA act, calling it a “pre-planned move” aimed at dividing the ethnic groups at village and district levels. He blamed a “known circle” for this plot that divides the country.
In response to the reactions and subsequent claims that it is part of an attempt to make Pashtuns a majority in Afghanistan, the NSIA deputy director, Sediqi, said there is not any ethnic-oriented motive behind it. Few tribes who were counted as Pashtuns in the past have also been included as “independent ethnic groups”, he denoted.
He added that the list for the addition of new ethnic groups is open in the e-Tazkira database and any group who wants to be recognized as independent ethnic group will be added albeit they should be approved as independent ethnic groups by the authoritative agencies.