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Thursday, 9 May, 2002, 16:08 GMT 17:08 UK
Afghan nomads feel the cold
Kuchi boy with camel
The Kuchi nomads fear for their future
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By Peter Greste
BBC correspondent in Kabul
line

Afghanistan's nomadic Kuchi tribes say they are the most under-valued and most widely-abused ethnic minority in the country.


Mines kill the children, the animals. Everything. Fighting is always a difficulty for us

Kuchi elder
The tribes that roam the country have always been a significant part of Afghan culture, but nobody knows their exact numbers.

Their ancient lifestyle has made few concessions to the 21st century, but they have been hit hard by the relatively modern war of recent decades.

And now they fear that they will be under-represented in the Loya Jirga, or gathering of Afghan elders, which is due to meet in June to appoint Afghanistan's new administration.

Heavy price

Each year the Pashto-speaking nomads load their possessions onto camel trains.

Kuchi chiefs
Kuchi chiefs feel they are under-represented

Then they drive their flocks of sheep and goats from the warm winter pastures in the lowlands to the high green fields of the Hindu Kush for summer.

Their annual migrations have taken them across front lines and through minefields, and they have paid a heavy price.

One Kuchi elder, Allah Gul, said their families and their flocks have been cut to pieces.

"It all causes us problems. Mines kill the children, the animals. Everything. Fighting is always a difficulty for us," he said.

"And then there's been the past seven years of drought. It's been very hard."

Representation

But the fact that they are constantly on the move across the length and breadth of the country means that they are almost impossible to count.


There is a general consensus that the outcome of the Loya Jirga will be accepted by all Afghans

Abdul Satar Murad
Former diplomat

And without a clear idea of how many they number, nobody knows how many seats to allocate them in the coming emergency grand council meeting.

The Loya Jirga will be choosing Afghanistan's first legitimate government for decades, and everyone wants to be involved.

The Kuchis allocation is 26 seats out of a total of 1501.

"During [former President] Najibullah's government, we Kuchis received about five million identity cards, and now we've grown to be about eight million," said Allah Gul.

"The seats they've given us are not enough, and our leaders say we need more. They're very worried about it," he said.

Fair share

Thomas Ruttig, a political affairs officer for the United Nations Special Mission to Afghanistan, says the Kuchi figures are probably exaggerated.

Kuchi boy
It is difficult to know how many Kuchis there are

Mr Ruttig, one of the key officials on the Loya Jirga commission responsible for organising the meeting, says they have done their best to keep the process fair and open

"We can only work with what we have," he said.

"We have been working with scientists from the academy of sciences, we have historians, we have law professors, and they have used all available material to find out what every group's share is.

In the case of the Kuchis, they have taken the example of the former parliaments and former Loya Jirgas and allocated a percentage as it was before," Mr Ruttig said.

He admits the process is far from perfect, but he also insists that it is working.

Consensus

Other candidates, like former Afghan diplomat Abdul Satar Murad, say it is the best arrangement that they could hope for.

"There is a general consensus that the outcome of the Loya Jirga will be accepted by all Afghans," Mr Murad said.

Kuchi camp
The nomad lifestyle has not changed in centuries
"And the fairness of the process of the Loya Jirga - comparatively it's fair, but you cannot compare it to the process of democracy in other countries," he added.

The Kuchis say despite their concerns they may be willing to accept their allocation, if only for the sake of national unity.

There has been too much war and fighting for one group to destroy the process because it feels under-represented.

And elders like Allah Gul admit that to disrupt the process could mean unravelling the fragile peace.

It is better to have a government they can negotiate and work with in peace, he said, than one which is too preoccupied fighting battles to care for its people.

See also:

07 May 02 | South Asia
Warning on Afghan factionalism
06 May 02 | Business
Aid donors 'failing Afghanistan'
15 Apr 02 | South Asia
Afghans start key reform process
31 Mar 02 | South Asia
Date set for key Afghan forum
25 Jan 02 | South Asia
Q&A: What is a loya jirga?
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