Peoples and Ethnic Groups – Inter-Ethnic Relations
Afghanistan’s ethnic diversity does not mean that the members of the different ethnic groups do not interact. There is a substantial amount of intermarriage between the ethnic groups. This intermarriage tends to blur lines of loyalty between different ethnic groups. For example, the main Tajik commander around Mazar-e-Sharif, Atta Mohammed, is married to a Pashtun and owes his life to his in-laws who were able to smuggle him out of the area when the Taliban took over. Intermarriage also means that physical characteristics may show up in surprising combinations. Red or blond hair can often be found with the high cheekbones and other features common with the Mongoloid races. Afghanistan’s ethnic diversity is also complicated by the fact that the Afghan notion of ethnicity is different than the view commonly held in the West. Ethnicity or identity, known as qawm in Afghanistan, is not only defined by a common cultural or genetic group, but also by tribes, families, and geographic regions, or even occupations. In fact, in many instances an Afghan will not primarily define himself as a “Pashtun” or a “Tajik,” but as a member of the “Zadran” tribe or an inhabitant of the “Panjshir” valley. These types of identifiers include a sense of loyalty to a group that is essential to live.
During the Soviet war, the various ethnic groups were united in a common cause. The post-Soviet struggle for political power created ill will among ethnic groups. By the time the Taliban arose, the ethnic groups were already split and fighting against each other. Since Soviet withdrawal, Pashtun political dominance and Taliban brutality have created resentment among the Uzbek, Tajik and Hazara.
However, the Shi’a minority Hazara have faced discrimination and even death at the hands of their fellow Afghans. The Taliban were especially hard on the Hazara, and for this reason the Hazara were among the first tribes to join the Northern Alliance. After the fall of the Taliban the situation for the Hazara improved slightly. Many young Hazara look to the Civil Rights struggle in the U.S. for a sign of hope and a brighter future for themselves and Afghanistan.