Hindus and Sikhs live mostly in urban centers throughout Afghanistan. Theyare merchants and moneylenders. In 1978 they numbered about 30,000. Many left in1992, but are slowly returning to such cities as Ghazni and Jalalabad. TheJewish community of Kabul is totally depleted. One family remains in 1996 tocare for the synagogue which partially remains in an area otherwise pulverized.
Afghanistan's ethnic mosaic has no precise boundaries; nor is its nationalculture uniform. Few of its ethnic groups are indigenous; few maintain racialhomogeneity. Many zones overlap and interactions broadened as the economicinfrastructure improved and educational opportunities widened.
Resentment rising out of wars and conquests remains long after the power ofconquerors dissipates. This is true with regard to the Uzbeks. The distrust anddiscrimination between Hazara and Pushtun set during late nineteenth centuryconfrontations is still abundantly present. The causes of prejudice against theQizilbash go back to the eighteenth century.
Kabul's political policies also had long-term effects in aggravating ethnictensions. This is most evident in the successive movements of thousands ofPushtun into the northern areas, beginning with the forced relocations of AmirAbdur Rahman's Pushtun opponents in the late nineteenth century and againemployed as late as 1947-1949 following revolts among the Safi Pushtun ineastern Afghanistan. Competition with local populations occasioned considerablestress.
Equally significant were the effects of successful land reclamation projects,beginning in the 1930s, which offered attractive incentives to new settlers.These invariably favored the Pushtun over local populations. The land settlementschemes in the Hilmand in the southwest, begun in 1910 and massively extendedafter 1946, were similarly disruptive. Settlers from all parts of Afghanistanwere recruited into this predominantly Pushtun and Baluch area, creating newtensions not only among the new disparate groups, but also among new and oldPushtun groups.
Local conflicts in all areas, within all groups, most often erupt overdisputes concerning property or access to resources, whether it be land, water,money, business or government opportunities, bridewealth or inheritance.Naturally evolving demographic pressures accompanied by competition form thebasis of other conflicts. Also, the tendency of past governments to initiatepolicies enhancing Pushtun prominence, increased the traditional Pushtunmilitary and numerical dominance which allowed them to assert their will overother ethnic groups and maintain their status as the nation's most prestigiousgroup.
Thus, there have always been tensions between groups, from petty squabbles tofeuds lasting for generations, rising from a variety of causes but rarely fromintrinsic attitudes of ethnic discrimination. Considering the disparate andvolatile ingredients that exist, Afghanistan's history records remarkably fewinternal explosions that are specifically focussed on ethnicity.
During the Soviet-Afghan War, the shared goals of the mujahidin--oppositionto nonbelieving atheist invaders and group solidarity--were reminiscent offamilial, tribal, and ethnic group construction. As such, the appeal of the mujahidinwas a strong and familiar rallying cry and source of solidarity for Afghans intheir struggle for national liberation.
Afghan ethnic identities emerged more clearly during the Soviet-Afghan War.Five groups could be easily distinguished: Tajik, including all Sunni Darispeakers; Hazara; Uzbek; Durrani Pushtun; Ghilzai Pushtun and Eastern Pushtun.Fighting among Afghans in the years following the fall of Najibullah'sgovernment in 1992 exceeded levels of violence experienced even during the warsof Amir Abdur Rahman against the Hazara and the Nuristani between 1891 and 1896.Some would say that these conflicts are evidence that Afghan society must now befragmented between groups identified by religious, ethnic, or regional labels.There is no doubt that the Soviet-Afghan War severely disturbed the delicatesocial infrastructure constructed over many centuries, yet according to manyAfghans the present turmoil is driven more by political greed and externalinterference than by ethnic, religious or regional considerations. Whiletraditional structures were not equitable for all Afghan citizens, they didpermit extended periods of civic stability. Even in the mid-1990s, there wasample evidence in a number of areas outside the present arenas of conflict tosuggest that a return to the old order could occur.
Elements of material culture are used by all ethnic groups to build pride anda sense of social superiority, particularly in mixed ethnic zones. The Nuristaniare the most unique in dress, diet and architecture. In other areas distinctionshave softened over the years as the improved infrastructure encouraged greatermobility.
The most striking differences are noted in dress, particularly in headgear.Turbans are characteristic of the Pashtun. The shape of caps, round, conical orpeaked, their material and decoration are distinctive indicators between andwithin many groups. Chapan, loose sometimes quilted coats of cotton orsilk with stripes of varied colors to indicate specific regions, are worn in thenorth; pattu, shawls, are preferred in the south. For women, color, thewidth of the skirt, and the type of embroidery are meaningful distinctions.
Diet also changes from group to group, although bread and tea are dietarystaples everywhere. Some bread is round, some oval; some prefer black tea,others green. The Uzbek include many pasta dishes in their cuisine. Dwellings ofsedentary groups, mostly made from pressed mud or sun-dried brick, may be domedor flat-roofed, modestly enclosed behind walls or hidden within toweringfortress-like enclosures, although open villages do exist in the Hazarajat.Tents used by the nomads vary in shape, material and structure from group togroup.
Each group uses folktales to reinforce the uniqueness and superiority of theone over the other, as well as to describe their individual ideals.
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