The recent addition of 45 ethnic groups in the national database of identification card at the National Statistics and Information Authority in Afghanistan has caused a widespread opposition of political and social leaders who believe that this will further widen ethnic division in Afghanistan.
The Office of the Second Vice President Sarwar Danish in a statement said that what has been published by the National Statistics and Information Authority, as a list of ethnic groups, to be included in the national identification card is nether practical nor professional. The statement further stated that it is correct that Afghanistan is a multi-ethnic country and multiplicity is a cultural and social beauty of our country. “Every ethnic group is entitled to be recognised in its own, and it is not correct that different branches and sub-branches of an ethnic group is recognised as an independent and separate ethnic group,” the statement said.
General Ata Mohammad Noor, Chief Executive of Jamiat-e Islami Afghanistan and former Governor of Balkh Province, said that this institution [National Statistics and Information Authority] does not even understand that there is a huge difference between an ethnic group and the place where the group lives and that there is no way to count the local residents of an area, as an ethnic group, just by the name of the area.
The National Statistics and Information Authority in response to the oppositions of the political leaders said that its decision was based on the request of people. Including the names of ethnic groups in the identification card is based on the request of representatives of ethnic groups and it is not a personal decision by the National Statistics and Information Authority.
Article number four of Afghanistan constitution has listed 14 ethnic groups, but the recent addition of additional 54 ethnic groups in the electronic identification cards database has led to a widespread opposition and public outcry. The database has classified all Pashtun tribes as a single ethnic group while it has divided the rest of the ethnic groups, such as Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks, to branches, sub-branches and in some cases even named them after the place where they live.
Residents of Sheikh Ali District in the northern Afghan province of Parwan recently issued a joint declaration with regard to adding Sheikh Ali as an independent ethnic group in the e-ID database. The declaration says: “The majority of Sheikh Ali residents are Hazara. We people of Sheikh Ali with all our capacity will foil this ill-designed political sedition and resist the decision of the Population Registration [Department] and we clearly declare that from the ethnicity points of view we are Hazaras and the name of the place where we live is Sheikh Ali.”
Many Afghans think that the inclusion of ethnic groups on the e-ID will further widen ethnic divisions among different ethnic groups in Afghanistan where ethnical discrimination is one of the main drivers of violence.
The inclusion of the word “Afghan” and later on the inclusion of ethnicity in the national e-ID have always remained a serious bone of contention in Afghanistan. In July 2013 Afghan lawmakers, after several rounds of hot discussions, discarded one the Population Registration Act articles which was urging the inclusion of ethnicity group name on the national ID card.
In April 2016, the government once again changed the controversial article of the Population Registration Act and the office of the Second Vice President in a statement said that Nationality and Ethnicity of the e-ID card holder will be included in the card based on the new amendments. The statement further added that the distribution of e-ID card would start after it is passed by the parliament.
Many Afghans believe that President Ashraf Ghani used all options, including using ethnic groups in any way possible to solicit their support and votes, to remain in power. President Ghani in an emotional address to a gathering of Sadat ethnic group at the presidential palace on 12 March 2019 said: “A legislative decree is going to be issued to recognise Afghanistan’s Sadat as an ethnic group, congratulations, congratulations.” He further stated that tomorrow an official decree will be issued with regard to inclusion of Sadat ethnic group in the electronic identification card.
This move by the President was nothing more than just using inclusion of certain ethnic groups names in the national data based of e-ID as a means of soliciting their support. However, many other consider it as a calculated move to divide the ethnic minorities and pave the way for the dominance of certain ethnic groups.
Sawabuddin Makhkash, the Vice President of Directorate of Monitoring and Evaluation at the Administrative Office of the President, had developed an employment guideline in 2017in which he emphasised the need for the elimination of non-Pashtun employees. The leakage of the guideline caused widespread public condemnation and many, particularly from the ethnic minorities, called it an ethnic cleansing effort. After public uproar, Makhkash was referred to the Attorney General and the court in early 2019 awarded him two years suspended imprisonment for violating the ethnic and religious equality act.
All these have led to a significant trust gap between public and the government and many Afghans consider the inclusion of ethnicity in the e-ID card as an organised effort on the part of some individuals and groups within the President’s close circle who promote their own ethnical and linguistical agenda. Their activities will certainly contribute to the existing racial discrimination in Afghanistan where a study by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission in 2019 found that racial discrimination was a key factor behind the rising level of violence in the country.
Former Vice President Marshal Abdul Rashid Dostum who is also the head of the National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan has recently said that the decision [to include ethnicity in the e-ID card]is against the national interest of the country and it will open the way for another era of ethnic totalitarianism which will not have good consequences.