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Afghanistan's forgotten conflict

In the shadow of the war between Afghan and international forces, hundreds of years of conflict between poor peasants and displaced nomads continues. The Afghan Committee has visited one of the villages the world has forgotten.


Every summer, nomads migrate to the highlands of central Afghanistan in search of pastures for their flocks. And every year, many people are killed as a result of the seemingly insoluble conflict between the nomads and the settled peasants. Even more live in fear of each other and of the future. We visited a small, weather-hardened rural community in the Nawur district and talked to the poor farmers about how they experience the conflict with the nomads. Conflicts between peasants and nomads are neither a new phenomenon nor unique to Afghanistan. This has been a problem for many thousands of years.

The fact is, however, that the problem is growing in many places around the world. The reasons are many: explosive population growth, lack of focus on rural development among the political elite nationally and internationally, limited access to cultivated land, and lack of grazing areas. In addition, there is the drought and the other consequences of climate change, which are increasingly affecting countries such as Afghanistan. The people of the small, isolated, poor village of Bala Sarbarykak in the Nawur district in the far north of Ghazni province live in fear of the conflict that arises every spring, when the nomads come with the sheep in their eternal hunt for pastures.

isolated. In recent years, Ghazni province has had far less snow and rain than usual, and the drought and extreme temperature differences characterize the area. The winters are icy cold and long, since large parts of the province are at well over 3000 meters above sea level, while the summers are hot and dry. Mountains, rocks, high mountain valleys and huge moors characterize the incredibly beautiful but barren landscape in the Nawur district. The village of Bala Sarbarykak is closed to the outside world from December to March each year due to snow. There are no roads, only paths and footpaths where people can only get there on foot, with donkeys, horses or four-wheelers from mid-April to the end of November – before winter again isolates the few families living in the small village, and in the many small neighboring villages.

In 2014, the Afghanistan Committee contributed humanitarian aid to the 200-300 people in the village. This year, they will receive assistance for a more lasting improvement in their living conditions. They will get help to build a village well with money from private donors in Norway, and the farmers will get help to get started growing vegetables instead of just wheat and barley. In a village where most of the children are clearly malnourished, a more varied diet will lead to major improvements in health and development. In the years ahead, the committee will work with local and regional authorities to raise the standard of living for children, women and men, both in Bala Sarbarykak and other surrounding villages struggling with similar problems.

This includes public information about health, hygiene and nutrition, development of simple irrigation and irrigation systems, establishment of small women-run agricultural and craft cooperatives, and last but not least education in the form of reading and writing training. In addition, it is planned to invite dialogue between farmers and nomads, so that they can live peacefully side by side and jointly utilize the limited natural resources in a more sustainable way sometime in the future.

Lack of schooling. Many of the most affluent families have long since left the village and settled in Ghazni city, Kabul and other major cities. Only the poorest have been left, with no alternative but the hard life in the Afghan countryside. The people of Bala Sarbarykak are happy and proud of the village, where previous generations have worked and toiled and created a small community with great unity and close ties. The Afghanistan Committee visited the village on the road between Kabul and the Jaghori regional office further south in Ghazni province.

We interviewed some of the children, women and men in Bala Sarbarykak about the challenges they face in everyday life, about what thoughts they have about the future and about the dreams they have for themselves and the small village. None of the girls in the village go to school, as the nearest primary school is an hour's walk away and none of the parents dare to let the girls go on the long and dangerous school road. The parents have a lot to do on the farms during the intense spring and summer months when the school is open.

Due to the snow and winter cold, schools in this part of Afghanistan are closed from mid-November to the Afghan New Year at the end of March each year. The school offers tuition from first to sixth grade. The nearest secondary school is too far away for there to be a real offer for the kids in the village. Most of the boys have been in school for a few years, and have basic skills in reading, writing and arithmetic.

The conflict with the nomads. Evaz is 45 years old and lives in the village. He has eight children – two boys and six girls. He says that the Afghan authorities have not done anything for the village for as long as he can remember, the inhabitants feel forgotten and overlooked by everyone, he says. He goes on to say that life has always been difficult in this part of Afghanistan, but that it has deteriorated dramatically in the last three to four years.

The biggest challenge he and the others in the village have is lack of security, drought and lack of arable land. In addition to growing wheat and barley on the fields in the valley below the village, they grow ancient, hardy wheat varieties on small plots of land up in the dry hills around the village. The work effort is great, but the crops are small. When kuchinomads come with their livestock, they often eat up the wheat so that the farmers have little or nothing left for all the toil.

It is difficult to blame the nomads for this – the hills and mountains are their traditional and traditional pastures. The farmers are afraid of the kuchinomads, who have hunting weapons, while the farmers themselves have nothing to defend themselves with. Two years ago, Evaz says, the nomads came almost completely into the village. Then the inhabitants fled up into the mountains, where they hid for over two days until the nomads had traveled on. When the villagers returned, most of the crops were eaten by the nomads' sheep, and many of their few possessions were gone.

When the cuchinomads come with their livestock, they often consume the wheat so that the farmers have little or nothing left for all the wear and tear.

At the same time as the farmers are afraid, it is also a fact that the nomads are constantly being displaced from area by area they have used as pastures for ages. The conflict between the indigenous peasants of the Hazara people and the nomads has lasted for hundreds of years. The problems worsened when the Afghan king Abdul Rahman Khan introduced a land reform in the late eighteenth century. At the same time as the indigenous peasants expanded their agricultural lands and many Hazaras were encouraged (or forced, as some claim) to move from the southern cities to the high plains of this part of Afghanistan, the nomads also gained expanded grazing rights. This resulted in new conflicts in many parts of the country that have largely been ignored by later governments, including the Karzai government.

Great distress. Abdul Hamid is a five-year-old village boy, one of six siblings. Due to malnutrition, he has problems using his legs. Only this winter did he learn to say "mom" and "dad". The family had to sell several of their sheep and borrow money from relatives and friends to take the boy to a doctor in Kabul. The doctor told them that the boy was not getting enough food and vitamins, and that a lack of food and hard physical work during the pregnancy had led to the boy not developing in the same way as most other children. The doctor's advice was that the boy should eat both more and healthier food.

That's easier said than done. Golsum, the mother of six children, is not quite sure how old she is – but she is probably in her late twenties. She finds it difficult to express what she wants both for herself and for her children; this is a traditional society where women do not so easily talk to people from outside, especially not with foreign men. But after a while she says in a low voice that she would very much like to learn to weave, so that she can make blankets from the beautiful sheep wool they have in the village. The rugs could be sold at the market in the district center, or even in Ghazni city or Kabul, says Golsum. It could provide much-needed income for the family, and a welcome employment through the long winter months when there is little to do and the village is isolated from the outside world.

Golsum's idea has led the Afghanistan Committee to start vocational training for youth and women in Bala Sarbarykak and the other small villages in this part of the Nawur district. Golsum also has a hope that the authorities would build a small health center in the area, as the nearest one is located in the center of the neighboring district of Behzud. It is a long way to Behzud, at least a long day's journey on foot or by donkey, possibly three to four hours by car if you can afford to pay someone to pick them up the long way from the neighboring district. No one in the village even has access to a car or motorcycle. What the new coalition government under President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah will do to bring about a solution to the conflict between nomads and peasants is still unclear.

Meanwhile, Abdul Hamid, Golsum, Evaz and all the others in the small village of Nawur continue to hope that they will be heard and consulted, that the future may bring peace, and that there will be opportunities for a new and better life for the people. in this secluded part of the beautiful but war-torn Afghanistan.

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