Afghanistan was once home to the one of the largest nomadic populations in the world, but decades of war have decimated their unique wandering lifestyle.
Kabul’s efforts to rehabilitate millions of Afghan nomads, locally called Kuchis, by granting them special representation in the parliament appears to have done little to alleviate their woes.
Officials say members of Afghanistan’s nomadic communities face challenges in participating in the October 20 vote. Kuchi leaders claim that some candidates aspiring to represent an estimated 5 million nomads are not part of their community.
Ramzan Kuchi, a nomad leader, says that some among the 44 candidates competing for the 10 seats reserved for Kuchis in the 249-member Wolesi Jirga, or lower house of the parliament, are not Kuchis.
He says candidates are only participating in the election for the perks and privileges enjoyed by lawmakers.
“They are using us as a bridge to reach the corridors of power,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan on October 11. “There are some men and women among these candidates who have only heard of Kuchis; they don’t know anything our traditions and customs.”
Ayub Khan, another Kuchi tribal leader, says the lawmakers elected to special nomad seats have done little to uplift the community during the past two terms of the parliament.
“Some of our previous representatives were elected because they had played leadership roles in our communities, but once in the parliament they only pursued their personal interests and paid little attention to our problems,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan.
This, he says, has prompted many former Kuchi lawmakers to now run in the election on general seats.
Afghan law requires candidates competing for the Kuchi seats to carry identity papers to verify they are part of the community. It also stipulates that three of the 10 Kuchi lawmakers be women. Khan says some Kuchi women candidates are not from their community.
In Kabul, Mehrabuddin Solaimankhel disagrees. He runs the campaign for one of the female Kuchi candidates, Maryam Solaimankhel. He told Gandhara RFE/RL that they have met all the legal requirements of running in the election.
“I think it is wrong for individuals to question the identity of individual candidates, because they have met legal requirements to run in the polls,” he noted.
Zabihullah Sadaat, a spokesman for the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan (IEC), agrees. “Most of the candidates vying for the Kuchi seats are Kuchis because they are met all our requirements,” he said. “They are required to have identity cards that clearly identify them as Kuchis.”
IEC estimates that only half a million eligible Kuchis are registered to vote.
Most of Afghanistan’s Kuchis come from the country’s largest ethnic groups, the Pashtuns. Parts of more than one dozen tribes of the Ghilzai confederacy are considered nomadic.
Wars, modernity, ecological changes, and urbanization have decimated their lifestyle, which involved livestock herding and trade. Most Afghan nomads typically migrated to cooler pastures in the Hindu Kush highlands in the summers and moderate lowlands along the Indus river in today’s Pakistan and northern Afghanistan during the winter.
Solaimankhel says most of the transnational nomadic movements have ceased as many tribes now migrate within Afghanistan. He says Afghan nomads are finding it hard to adjust to sedentary lifestyles.
He says that it “broke their hearts” to see the conditions many nomadic communities are living in.
“Kuchis still do not have the necessities of life. Everywhere we went, people asked us to help provide clean drinking water,” he said. “We saw little evidence of any development projects such as a mobile schools or clinics that could cater to nomads.”
Unlike other candidates who typically run from a provincial constituency, the nomads have one constituency across the country. This means that most campaigning takes place by making telephone calls, word of mouth, and over the Internet.
“Many voters express their willingness to vote for us when they learn our candidate was not previously a lawmaker,” Solaimankhel said, noting the widespread disappointment with previous representatives of the group.
Abdul Rahman Tasaal, a young Kuchi activist, is urging voters to elected educated representatives for the community.
“Our conditions might change if our representatives are able to raise their voices for our rights in the parliament,” he noted.