This week thousands of ethnic Hazaras from Afghanistan took to the streets of Kabul to demand the government include them in a multi-million dollar power transmission line.
Demonstrators called on the government to change the planned route of the project, so that it would run through areas with large Hazara communities.
Shadi Khan Saif has more on the controversy from Kabul.
Thousands marched here in the capital, chanting and demanding justice and equality.
It all started a few days back when the cabinet gave the green light on a 500 Kilovolt (Kv) power line, to carry much-needed electricity from Central Asia, via the northern provinces of Afghanistan.
But the Hazara community, based in country’s center, said the plan excludes them from any benefits. The largely Shia Muslim minority has long faced persecution in Afghanistan.
The Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani was touring England last week when the protestors were in full swing.
While Ghani was addressing a gathering of intellectuals and researchers at the Royal United Institute of Security (RUSI) in London, a protestor interrupted him and accused of him racism, of excluding the Hazaras, with the power line project.
Here’s how he responded.
“The decisions on the project were made in the year 2013, a decision was made to pass the transmission line via the Salang Pass rather than the Baimyan valley, it was the wrong decision at the time but meanwhile three years of work have gone to prepare the Salang Pass, 6 million people would benefit from this transmission line compared to 10,000 to the alternative, but you have to take young men seriously and I appreciate their anger because if you don’t have the tolerance for peoples’ legit anger you cannot guide the destiny of a nation.”
The events in London left marks on the state of affairs back in Afghanistan, with critics condemning the disrespect to Ghani and others calling for order and harmony.
Here in Kabul, when the Hazara community held massive rallies, and gathered outside the presidential palace, the city was locked down by security forces.
All major roads leading to the palace were sealed with shipping containers. And the protestors were granted only a single corridor for their rally.
Murtaza Jafferi, a Kabul resident, joined the demonstration.
He says this government is even worse than the last.
“It was much better during the previous government, people had jobs and were happy, but now all the youth are running away from the country, people are compelled to protest but see they have erected so many containers and stopped us from marching towards the Preisdential Palace,” Jafferi told me.
Karim Khalili, the vice president three years back when the decision over the transmission line was made, demanded the government discard the plan.
Public opinion is divided over the route of the project.
But the government claims any change would cost millions of dollars and be hugely delayed. And that provinces such as Bamyan will get enough electricity from the line, even if it doesn’t run though it.
Struggling to stabilize, the project has become a test of Afghanistan’s progress and a sign of ethnic tensions that underlie the country’s political stability.
Professor Latif Nazari, an expert on political affairs says more political maturity is needed to ensure a smooth transition towards peace and democracy.
“People must ensure during such sensitive and high times to ensure not to damage the image of the country or allow external forces to exploit such situations, we need to move towards national unity day by day.”
Subject to frequent blackouts, only about 30 percent of Afghanistan has electricity.
Under current plans, the project will go ahead in 2018.