The Kuchi are a nomadic tribal people in Afghanistan. Like nomads everywhere they tended to get the short end of the stick in Afghan politics. With no land or settled areas, it’s hard to be a constituency. After all, why would a politician (or warlord) expend capital (political, economic, etc.) on you if you’re only going to be around to support him part of the year. And then for the rest of the year, some other guy gets the benefit of your largesse when the Kuchis are moving through his territory.
Much easier to exploit the nomads and divide their spoils among your full time constituents.
The Afghan Analysts Network has a piece of the current status of the Kuchi. I can’t speak directly on where they are in 2014 but I did have the opportunity to interact with one tribe back in 2003. The land surrounding Bagram airfield had large swaths of uninhabited and pretty barren terrain. On one particularly large area the coalition forces marked off an area for shooting ranges for all sorts of ordinance.
There was concerns that ‘ACM’ (anti-coalition militias…the term used at the time to refer to anyone who would…well, attack coalition forces), might set up an attack or, more likely, set IEDs or booby traps for soldiers training. In addition, there was (and is) a market for unexploded ordinance. Shells that don’t explode can be broken down for their materials (specifically their explosives) and sold for all sorts of reasons. When I was there, those explosives were used frequently for mining. The local Kuchi tribe was hired to observe the area and keep out the riff raff when they were in the area.
It’s dangerous work but if you’re dirt poor you might be inclined to consider anything. As Coalition forces begin pulling out the money used to keep these ranges will dry up and the temptation to scavenge will increase.
As the US military and its allies shut down bases and ranges, the number of civilian casualties has risen sharply, according to Abigail Hartley, program manager for the independent United Nations Mine Action Service in Kabul. She says 33 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded on US or coalition ranges last year, up from 23 in 2012 and just one in 2011.
In fact, it sound like not much has changed at all:
That is not true of kuchis, some of whom live in ragged tents near the range, Afzal said. “You can’t find a healthy kuchi,” he said. “They are missing their arms or legs, their eyes. They know this place is dangerous, but they run out there after every firing to grab the shells.”
Gol, the kuchi who lost his leg, said 11 people in his village had been killed and 80 had been wounded over the years by ordnance and mines. Most kuchis migrate with the seasons, but Gol said his neighbors had lived in the nearby village of Barikaab off and on for years.
The Kuchi were in a rather odd predicament. Even though they are ethnically Pashtun they didn’t seem to be particularly trusted by any community 1. The (settled) Pashtuns didn’t trust their wandering ways (Who are they talking to when they aren’t around us?) and the other ethnic groups saw them essentially as Pashtun spies. So everyone basically shit on them.
On the one hand, the insecurity caused by decades of war, coupled with periods of drought, has led an increasing number of Kuchis to abandon their nomadic lifestyle. The lack of jobs and social services has meant that many now live in dejected conditions on the outskirts of major Afghan cities. On the other hand, simultaneously, the Kuchi community has experienced a high degree of political mobilisation, facilitated by the Karzai administration, which took several initiatives to enhance the Kuchis’ political profile including their recognition as a separate electoral constituency.
- I’m obviously talking in generalities here so caveat emptor ↩