Debating Identity in Afghanistan

There have been a number of stumbling blocks so far.


Sabtu, 09 Jan 2016 15:51 WIB


Mudassar Shah

Protest in Kabul related to Afghan word in Afghan ID Card. (Photo: Mudassar Shah)

Protest in Kabul related to Afghan word in Afghan ID Card. (Photo: Mudassar Shah)

The Afghan government announced a computerized national identity card system would be rolled out in 2010, five years ago.

But the cards are still yet to be issued. 

There have been a number of stumbling blocks so far, but the inclusion of the word ‘Afghan’ has been the most controversial obstruction.

From Kabul, Mudassar Shah has this report.

Hundreds of people, almost all men, have gathered here at this rally in Kabul. The angry protestors are demanding the word “Afghan” be included on the proposed National Identity Cards.

Shah Muhammad, 26, is among the protestors. He is a shopkeeper but closed his store to attend the rally.

“I earn money for my family from the shop and we can survive for few days or so even if the shop is closed, but ‘Afghan’ is my identity. It is the history of our ancestors and like a treasure for all of us. It is a trust (deposit) from our ancestors to pass on to next generation so I can’t compromise at all on not including it on the computerized card,” he says.

The police employed water cannons at the rally to stop protestors from entering government offices. 

In response, the demonstrators started dancing on the Pashtun Watt square, in the center of Kabul.

Young men dancing in defiance… 

Khalil Kakar is a lawyer. He practices in Kabul and joined the rally.

“The President of Afghanistan is the custodian of constitution but he has failed act according to the constitution. The constitution says that people who live in Afghanistan are Afghans, therefore the president is supposed to issue a decree to include word Afghan.”

Those who joined the protest say they are angry the issue has not be raised in parliament. 

The rally leader, Faiz Ahmad Zaland, says they will never compromise on their demand to have the word “Afghan” included on the card.

“We will gather more people in front of Parliament and will block all main high ways leading to Kabul, if our demands not taken seriously,” Faiz says.

The plan to make computerized identity cards was first proposed in 2010.

But the launch has continued to be delayed after ethnic minorities voiced opposition to the inclusion of the word “Afghan’.  

They say that word will see ethnic minorities become politically marginalized.

Latif Abbasi is an ethnic Hazara. He argues the word ‘Afghan’ does not apply equally to everyone.

“The word Afghan is used solely for Pashtuns, while people of other clans and tribes also live in Afghanistan. So why should ‘Afghan” be written on their identity card? No other country has mentioned ethnicity in their identity cards so why should Afghanistan?” 

Ethnic minority groups say Pashtuns are not a majority, even though they are politically strong, and that is why they have resisted holding a census for several decades.

When the cards are finally rolled out, around 30 million Afghans are expected to get new ID cards in the initial stage.

The new system is expected to help improve security and ensure fair elections. 

Shinkai Karokhail is a parliamentarian and political activist, from the Pashtoon tribe. 

But first, she says, she is Afghan.

“This is has become a political issue among Afghans…If the majority wants it then why are some of the people resisting not to have word Afghan? First, I am Afghan then I am Pashtoon, Tajak or Hazara or Uzebk or whatever,” Shinkai says.

But not all ethnic minorities are against the plan.

40-year-old Mujib Azizi is a researcher in Kabul. He is Tajik but does not see any issue with using the word Afghan.

“I am Afghan Tajik, therefore it should not be a big issue if the word Afghan is written on my identity card. I feel proud to be known as an Afghan and opposing the ‘Afghan word’ is only for political scoring. Afghanistan has numerous other issues and it is not time that we should oppose and fight teach other.”

Pervez Khan is a university professor who lectures in political science. The line has to be drawn somewhere, he says, otherwise the issue will get ridiculous. 

“People who oppose the word ‘Afghan’ will also oppose the name of the country, Afghanistan, and later they will also object over currency, which is called ‘Afghani. So will we change the country and currency names too to make them satisfied,” he asks?

There is no doubt the debate over Afghan identity is set to continue.



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