Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Ethnic Groups of Afghanistan

Numbering between 13 million and 15 million, in southeastern Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan. Pashtuns are also known as Pushtuns or Pakhtuns. Until the term Afghan came to mean any native of Afghanistan, Pashtuns were called Afghans. Pashtuns are the majority of the population in Afghanistan and the largest ethnic minority in Pakistan .Pashtuns are organized into more than 50 tribes, each divided into sub tribes, clans, and subclans.
Tajiks comprise between 27-34% of the population of Afghanistan. They predominate three of the largest cities in Afghanistan (Kabul, Mazar-e Sharif, and Ghazni) and the northern and western provinces of Balkh, Parwan, Kapisa, Panjshir, Baghlan, Takhar, Badakhshan, and Ghor, large parts of Konduz Province, and they predominate in the city of Herat and large parts of Farah Province. In addition, Tajiks live in all other cities and provinces in Afghanistan.
In Afghanistan, the Tajiks do not organize themselves by tribes and refer to themselves by their region, province, city, town, or village they are from; such as Badakhshani, Baghlani, Mazari, Panjsheri, Kabuli, Herati, etc.Physically, most Tajiks resemble the Mediterranean stock. The average Tajik has dark hair and eyes with medium to fair skin. Light hair and eyes are relatively common, particularly in northern regions such as Badakhshan
The Hazaras are a Persianized Eurasian people who reside mainly in the Hazarajat region. The Hazara seem to have Mongolian origins with some admixture from surrounding indigenous groups. Linguistically the Hazara speak a dialect of Persian and sometimes their variant is interspersed with more Mongolian words. It is commonly believed by many Afghans that the Hazara are descendants of Genghis Khan's army, which marched into the area during the 12th century.
Most likely the Uzbeks migrated with a wave of Turkic invaders and intermingled with local Iranian tribes over time to become the ethnic group they are today. By the 1500s the Uzbeks had settled throughout Central Asia and reached Afghanistan following the conquests of Muhammad Shaybani. Most Uzbeks are Sunni Muslim and are closely related to the Turkmen who can also be found in Afghanistan. The Uzbeks of Afghanistan are usually bilingual, fluent in both Persian and Uzbek.
The Turkmen are the smaller Turkic group who can also be found in neighboring Turkmenistan, Iran particularly around Mashad and Pakistan. Largely Sunni Muslim, their origins are very similar to that of the Uzbeks. Unlike, the Uzbeks, however, the Turkmen are traditionally a nomadic people (though they were forced to abandon this way of life in Turkmenistan itself under Soviet rule).
The Bloch ate another Iranian ethnic group that numbers around 200,000 in Afghanistan. They are most likely an offshoot of the Kurds and reached Afghanistan sometime between 1000 and 1300 BCE. Mainly pastoral and desert dwellers, the Baloch are also Sunni Muslim.
The Nuristani are an Indo-Iranian people, representing a fourth independent branch of the Aryan peoples (Indo-Aryan, Iranian, Nuristani, and Dardic), who live in isolated regions of northeastern Afghanistan as well as across the border in the district of Chitral in Pakistan. They speak a variety of Nuristani languages. Better known historically as the Kafirs of what was once known as Kafiristan (land of pagans), they were forcibly converted to Islam during the rule of Amir Abdur Rahman and their country was renamed "Nuristan", meaning "Land of Light" (as in the light of Islam). Many Nuristanis believe that they are the descendants of Alexander the Great's ancient Greeks, but there is a lack of genetic evidence for this and they are more than likely an isolated pocket of early Aryan invaders.They are largely Sunni Muslims.

Conflicts between the Hazaras and the Pashtun Kuchis

In recent Afghan news, villagers have been forced out of their villiages by "gunmen said to be allied with the talibans." In the province of Wardak, Behsood there are dozens of deserted villages due to the Kuchis-Pashtuns wanting to claim the Shi´a Muslim Hazaras´ land as their own. In this article, the Hazaras are convinced that the attacks are because of the revenge the Taliban seek for the Hazaras. However, representatives of the Kuchi Noman say that the attacks have nothing to do with Taliban sympathies, and claim that it is "entirely to do with long-standing competition between Hazaras and Kuchis. Around a dozen Hazaras have been reported killed or injured in fighting and hundreds of livestock stolen in Kuchi raids. Another eight Hazaras were reported missing yesterday(08/07/2007)". Another problem is that the Hazaras have already informed their government, after not sending any troops to Wardak even one month after the attacks began, but until now they have had no success. Obaidullah Sabawoon stated, "There is a lot of fear in Wardak but the fighting has not been heavy, there have been reports by the Hazaras of schools being burned and the Taliban flag being raised but we have not found evidence of this." Also, Haji Naim Kuchi, a representative of the Kuchi Nomads in Kabul affirms that "The Hazaras are using these lies about the Taliban to try to get the international community on their side. These areas are Kuchi lands and we have the documents to prove it." He also claimed that it was the Hazaras that were brutally attacking the Kuchis causing the death of a young man.

Unfortunately, the ethnic fight between Hazaras and Kuchi (who in the most part are Pashtuns) is no where near an end. Not only is there a international war going on but also a civil war between two groups of people who live in the same country. And possibly the gravest of all problems is that people are being killed and the government is not assisting those in need because of the lack of evidence.


Presentation- Pashtuns in Afghanistan

Pashtuns are an ethno-linguistic group that consists of several populations that mainly live in the area of southeastern Afghanistan, northwestern Pakistan and eastern Iran. There are also important Pashtun communities in India, composed of Afghan refugees, and in Europe and North America, as well. The main metropolitan centers of Pashtun culture are Peshawar and Kandahar. It is estimated that Pashtun in Afghanistan represent 42% of the national population, with 13 million people, and about 15%of Pakistan population.


Pashtun group is the largest and most politically powerful ethnic group in Afghanistan. The origins of the Pashtuns are eastern Iranian. It is believed that they moved to the area around Kandahar, where they were in close contact with other Iranian tribes such as Persians, and with Indian, Zoroastrians, Shamanists, and later Buddhists communities, until the invasion of Muslim Arabs who brought Islam, in the seventh century.
'Pashtun' has always been considered a synonym of 'Afghan', until the rise of the modern Afghanistan and the arrival of the British, who divided the Pashtun territory. Pushtuns have provided the central leadership for Afghanistan since the eighteenth century. They played an important role in defending the independence of the country in the nineteenth century, during the so-called Great Game between British Empire and Russia- the rivalry for the supremacy in Central Asia. The second largest Pushtun tribe, the Ghilzai, dominated the leadership of the secular Democratic Republic of Afghanistan after 1978. Pashtuns gained world-wide attention with the rise and fall of the Taliban regime, because they were the main ethnic group in the movement. In fact, Taliban movement was a Pashtun nationalist movement that established a scrict interpretation of Sharia Law and Pashtun tribal code.


Pashtun society is composed of tribes and clans which were rarely politically united. The most important tribal groups are seven: the Durrani, Ghilzai, Jaji, Mangal, Safi, Mamund, and Mohmand. There are an estimated 60 major Pashtun tribes and more than 400 clans. The Pashtuns still identify themselves with various clans, but the worldwide trend of urbanization has begun to alter their society. The tribal system has several levels of organization: the tribe, is divided into kinship groups called, each consisting of extended families. An important Pashtun institution is the Jirga or 'Senate' of elected elder men, that make decisions in many aspects of tribal life.


Pashtuns speak Pashto, an Indo-European language, which belongs to the Iranian sub group of the Indo-Iranian branch. Pashto is written in the Perso-Arabic script and is divided into two main dialects, the northern ‘Pukhtu’ and the southern ‘Pashto’.


Pashtun society is not homogenous by religion: they are Muslim, but most Pashtuns are Sunni Muslims, while some follow Shia Islam or other sects.

Cultural aspects

Pashtun culture is based on Pushtunwali, a code of behavior that determines social order and responsibilities. It regulates all aspect of Pashtun life, including tribal affairs and individual behavior. It establishes a set of rules that focus on some fundamental values, such as honor, solidarity, hospitality, mutual support, shame and revenge. The central element is honor, and every Pashtun has to defend it. According to this code, men has to protect women and land. Pashtuns usually practice a form of hypergamy which for a man consists in marrying a person within his ethnic group or below it. Women marry only other Pashtuns who belong to their group or to groups that have a higher status in the society.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Presentation - Hazaras

"The Hazara's Mongolian features stand out among the many people groups of Afghanistan. The term “Hazara” is believed to have come from the Persian word “Hazar,” meaning one thousand. Some say after the Mongol ruler Genghis Khan conquered this region, he left part of his army here to protect his new holdings. The “Thousand” refer to the those warriors who were left behind."


Presentation - Hazaras, Afghanistan's Outsiders

"Born to Hazara parents who escaped to Iran, 12-year-old Fiza and her family have returned to Afghanistan “to be in our own country,” says Amin, her father."




Ethnic Groups and languages in Afghanistan

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Khaled Hosseini interview

This interview clarifies some aspect of the novel and provides information about the author that may be interesting for our analysis of "The Kite Runner"......
"If my book generates any sort of dialogue among Afghans, then I think it will have done a service to the community"- Khaled Hosseini
In The Kite Runner, do you create characters and events that are based on personal recollections or is the story purely fictional?
The story line of my novel is largely fictional. The characters were invented and the plot imagined. However, there certainly are, as is always the case with fiction, autobiographical elements woven through the narrative. Probably the passages most resembling my own life are the ones in the US, with Amir and Baba trying to build a new life for themselves. I, too, came to the US as an immigrant and I recall vividly those first few years in California, the brief time we spent on welfare, and the difficult task of assimilating into a new culture. My father and I did work for a while at the flea market and there really are rows of Afghans working there, some of whom I am related to.
I wanted to write about Afghanistan before the Soviet war because that is largely a forgotten period in modern Afghan history. For many people in the west, Afghanistan is synonymous with the Soviet war and the Taliban. I wanted to remind people that Afghans had managed to live in peaceful anonymity for decades, that the history of the Afghans in the twentieth century has been largely pacific and harmonious.
What are your recollections of the last days of the Afghan monarchy and the subsequent invasion of the Soviet forces?
Kabul was a thriving cosmopolitan city with its vibrant artistic, intellectual and cultural life. There were poets, musicians, and writers. There was also an influx of western culture, art, and literature in the '60s and '70s. My family left Afghanistan in 1976, well before the Communist coup and the Soviet invasion. We certainly thought we would be going back. But when we saw those Soviet tanks rolling into Afghanistan, the prospect for return looked very dim. Few of us, I have to say, envisioned that nearly a quarter century of bloodletting would follow.
Is Amir's youth synonymous with your adolescence?
I experienced Kabul with my brother the way Amir and Hassan do: long school days in the summer, kite fighting in the winter time, westerns with John Wayne at Cinema Park, big parties at our house in Wazir Akbar Khan, picnics in Paghman. I have very fond memories of my childhood in Afghanistan, largely because my memories, unlike those of the current generation of Afghans, are untainted by the spectre of war, landmines, and famine.
Can you shed light on the role of women at the time?
I came from an educated, upper middle-class family. My mother was a Persian and history teacher at a large high school for girls. Many of the women in my extended family and in our circle of friends were professionals. In those days, women were a vital part of the economy in Kabul. They worked as lawyers, physicians, college professors, etc., which makes the tragedy of how they were treated by the Taliban that much more painful.
Your novel touches on internal strife before and during the Taliban government but lacks a strong focus on women.
My own background is fairly liberal and so this notion of 'protecting women from outside intrusion' is not in my nature, nor in my upbringing. The Kite Runner is a story of two boys and a father, and the strange love triangle that binds them. It so happens that the major relationships in the novel are between men, dictated not by any sort of prejudice or discomfort with female characters, but rather by the demands of the narrative. The story of what has happened to women in Afghanistan, however, is a very important one, and fertile ground for fiction. I have started a second novel set in Afghanistan, and so far all of the major characters are shaping up as women.
Given the present state of politics and the American agenda in the region, how do you perceive the future of Afghanistan ?
I returned to Kabul this past March, after a 27-year absence. I came away with some optimism but not as much as I had hoped for. The two major issues in Afghanistan are a lack of security outside Kabul (particularly in the south and east) and the powerful warlords ruling over the provinces with little or no allegiance to the central government. The other rapidly rising concern is the narcotic trade which, if not dealt with, may turn Afghanistan into another Bolivia or Colombia.
Equally important is the lack of cultivable land for farmers, a profound problem when you take into account that Afghanistan has always largely been an agricultural country, and that even before the wars destroyed lands and irrigation canals, only 5 per cent of the land was cultivable. A great deal remains to be done in Afghanistan and the jury is out as to whether the international community has the commitment and the patience to see the rebuilding process through.
This last month, though, I have seen some cause for optimism. The Bush administration tripled its aid package to Afghanistan. Karzai finally (and courageously) announced that warlords will be forbidden from holding office in the future government. And finally, NATO agreed to expand the peacekeeping forces to troubled areas outside of Kabul.
Why did you return after 27 years?
I returned to Afghanistan because I had a deep longing to see for myself how people lived, what they thought of their government, how optimistic they were about the future of their homeland. I was overwhelmed with the kindness of people and found that they had managed to retain their dignity, their pride, and their hospitality under unspeakably bleak conditions.
I did see plenty that reminded me of my childhood. I recognised my old neighbourhood, saw my old school, streets where I had played with my brother and cousins. And, like Amir, I found my father's old house in Wazir Khan.
Lastly, what were the reactions of Afghans in exile in the US after reading your novel?
I get daily e-mails from Afghans who thank me for writing this book, as they feel a slice
of their story has been told by one of their own. So, for the most part, I have been overwhelmed with the kindness of my fellow Afghans. There are, however, those who have called the book divisive and objected to some of the issues raised in the book, namely racism, discrimination, ethnic inequality etc. If this book generates any sort of dialogue among Afghans, then I think it will have done a service to the community.
By Razeshta Sethna, 2003

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Pashtuns and Hazaras

In the Kite Runner we get a glimpse of the the way of life and traditions of both the Pashtuns and Hazaras as well as the relationship between the two groups. Here is some further info...
(...) The largest and most politically powerful ethnic group, the Pashtuns (or Pakhtuns, in northern Pakhtu dialects), is very diverse. It is composed of at least seven tribal groups: the Durrani, Ghilzai, Jaji, Mangal, Safi, Mamund, and Mohmand. The Pashtuns have been the subject of several scholars' research. Anderson reports that because Pashtuns have historically dominated government, other ethnic groups have had to learn to deal with them on the Pashtuns' own terms. He refers to the "Pashtunization" of the country's public behavior. Being a Pashtun, at least a male Pashtun, centers around Pashtunwali, or "doing Pashtu." "Doing Pashtu" connotes adherence to a code of behavior stressing honor (namus) and its defense, autonomy, bravery, self-respect, and respect for others. It is probable that Pashtunwali is shared by all male Pashtuns. A man's namus is expressed through his ability to dominate and defend his property, including his household and his wife and female relatives. A Pashtun who has suffered a blow to his honor is expected to seek revenge in the form of physical retaliation or compensation in property or money. Such a code of behavior is often in opposition to strict interpretation of sharia. When a conflict occurs, Pashtuns tend to "do Pashtu" instead of following Sunna, believing as they do that Muslim and Pashtun are equivalent.
In matters other than Pashtunwali, there may be regional differences. Richard Tapper reports that to be classified as Pashtun in the Saripul district, a man must speak Pashtu, be a Sunni, trace his ancestry to Qays, and marry his sisters and daughters to other Pashtuns. Most Pashtuns in the country tend to follow this marriage pattern. It is a form of hypergamy and is also practiced by other ethnic groups, i.e., a woman may marry within her ethnic status group or above it, but she may not marry below it. Males may marry within or below their group. Because ethnic groups in Afghanistan are ranked in terms of their status and all Pashtuns consider themselves the top ranked ethnic group, Pashtun women marry only other Pashtuns.
Hazaras are the largest, predominantly Shia group in the country, although some Hazaras are Sunni. Twelver Shia Hazaras occupy Hazarajat, the central mountain massif in the midsection of the country; Ismaili Hazaras are associated with the Hindu Kush. Hazaras are reportedly ranked very low in relative ethnic status. Many Hazaras immigrated to Kabul from rural areas in the second half of the twentieth century. These migrants have been very successful in keeping their ethnic identity intact, perhaps because their low status prevented other groups from marrying them. Hazaras in Kabul tend to follow the same unskilled labor occupations, so that some jobs have come to be known as Hazara occupations.
Canfield reports that among the Hazaras he studied in the Shebar region of Bamian, generosity giving to agnatic and affinal kin?is highly valued. Men usually build their reputations on their generosity, although other factors are also important. These factors include possessing a good government job or being gifted at Quranic or poetry recitation. To establish a reputation or "big name," a man must be able to dispose of considerable wealth. He also notes that in the past Hazaras "seemed constantly embroiled in feuds and internecine raiding." Canfield observed the interesting phenomenon of sect changing by Hazara families, from Ismaili Shia to Twelver Shia or vice versa. These sect changes resulted from feuding within the sectarian community. They occurred in Hazara areas that depended on rainfed land instead of irrigated fields (so that no major community cooperation was required) and where members of the other Shia sect lived in close proximity. Such "conversions" are based on political alliance. Canfield even observed one instance of a family from one of the Shia sects that converted to Sunnism. Wealthy families may ally themselves with Sunnis to win a court case. The courts, as the rest of government, are dominated by Sunnis. That religious fluidity between Shia and Sunni is rare is easily understood, given Hazara history. Under Abdur Rahman, jihad was declared against Shia Hazaras and other Shia of the area. The war between the Kabuli Sunni regime and the Hazaras of central Afghanistan was extremely violent, but it served to unite Hazaras for the first time.

Source :http://www.gl.iit.edu/govdocs/afghanistan/EthnicityAndTribe.html

Facts about children in Afghanistan

  • Children constitute one third of Afghanistan’s population.
  • There are hundreds of thousands of orphans living in Afghanistan.
  • One million Afghan children suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome.
  • The infant mortality rate declined to about 135 per 1,000 live births in 2006, from an estimated 165 per 1,000 in 2001.
  • One Afghan woman dies in childbirth about every half-hour and 20 percent of children never make it to their fifth birthday.
  • Though six million Afghan children are now enrolled in school, millions of others are not, due either to security concerns or employment demands.
  • Many Afghan children, especially girls, still do not have access to education.
  • An estimated 80 percent of school buildings across the country are damaged or destroyed.
  • About a quarter of all children seven to fourteen years old are forced to work to support their families.
  • Approximately 30 children are killed or maimed by landmines each month in Afghanistan.

Source : http://www.ayendafoundation.org/

Questions to Khaled Hosseini

I would like to ask him:
-How is it like to be an Afghan living in the U.S.A particularly after September the 11th , and if he ever experienced any form of discrimination or prejudice based on his origins;
-If the Kite Runner is based on true events or if it is pure fiction;
-If the characters are based on real people;
-How did the Afghan community react to the novel and later to the film.
-Which are his personal views and opinions about the film. Does he consider it to be true to the novel?

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Controversy of the Movie

This article appeared in the Guardian on Tuesday December 04 2007 on p16 of the International section

Kite Runner's Afghan child stars forced into hiding

Four Afghan boys aged 11 to 14 have been spirited out of Afghanistan to a haven in the Middle East to protect them from potential reprisals ahead of the world release this month of a Hollywood movie in which they star.
The boys and their guardians have been taken to an unidentified town in the United Arab Emirates where they have been placed in a school with many other Afghan children. Paramount Pictures, the studio behind the film, The Kite Runner, has promised to care for the children during the release period and possibly up to the end of their schooling.
The film includes a rape scene involving individuals from two rival tribes. Although the scene is sensitively portrayed, with the unstrapping of a belt rather than graphic action, it has prompted fears of possible ethnic unrest. Paramount Pictures delayed the release of the film by six weeks to December 14 to give time to guarantee the boys' safety.
The four boys include Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada, now 13, who plays Hassan, a low-caste member of the Hazara tribe; and Zekeria Ebrahimi, 11, who is cast in the role of Hassan's best friend, a relatively rich Pashtun called Amir. In a key scene Amir fails to intervene when Hassan is raped by a Pashtun man - a betrayal that develops through the film and lies at its emotional core.
Ahmad's characterisation of Hassan has been highly praised. The New York Times has said it "ranks among the great child performances on film".
Mr Klein said Paramount had recognised it had made an error in casting local Afghan actors. "A mistake was made. It was unintentional - the situation was not fully understood in terms of Afghan culture and history and the relationship between the Hazara and Pashtun people."
Most cinemas in Afghanistan were destroyed by the Taliban, but pirated copies of major films are easily available in the country. Security has deteriorated since the relatively stable period during which the roles were first cast.
The boys' families have complained they were misled over the controversial rape scene before filming began in a region of China bordering Afghanistan. They say they thought the film was literally about kite-flying.
Ahmad Mahmidzada's father has told reporters that they were not told about the scene until shooting was about to begin, and that promises had been made to remove it from the final cut.
Hosseini, who left his native Kabul in 1980 and now lives in California, recently supported Paramount's decision to relocate the boys. "Afghanistan has become a pretty violent place within the last year," he said. "If the boys and their families think there is a reasonable risk of threat to them, then you have to take all of the steps that you can to make sure they are OK."

If you wish you can access the full version of this article at : http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/dec/04/film.books

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Major Themes

Personally I think that the narrative is based mainly on the themes of relationships, loyalty, jealousy and redemption. The story takes it´s tragic turn when Amir observes statically as Hassan is raped. From that point on everything in their life changes, and Amir will fight an inner battle between his heavy consciousness and the desire to forget and carry on with his life, but many years later he is granted the chance to “make good again”…
From another perspective and reading level, we get an insight of the Afghani society and culture ,before and after the Russian invasion and the Taliban oppressor Regime.
Altogether I think this book tells a great story, that could really take place in any part of the world but with this particular context and scenarios, it gets a greater dimension. After I finished reading the book I became much more curious about Afghanistan culture and history, which led me to some researches and readings that made change some pre conceived ideas.