Ethnic Baluch claim they are marginalised
The Baluch, ethnically closer to the Persians of Iran, live in Char Burjak, Kung, Chakhansoor, and Zaranj districts, and most are farmers. They number about 1.5 million out of the province’s population of 2.5 million.
Yet, despite their numbers, they say the government has neglected to provide them with transportation links, roads, education, water canals and job opportunities for both men and women.
They are also worried about the state of their language and culture. As a majority of people speak Baluchi in Nimroz, it should be considered a third language under the constitution and therefore protected and encouraged, they say.
“We speak our native language at home, but we do not study it at school,” said Mirwais, a student in 12th grade at Farukhi High School.
He urged the government to translate the curriculum into Baluchi as they have done in some of the northern provinces where a majority speak Uzbeki.
Khair Mohammad Gumshadzai, a Baluch writer in Nimroz, said there had been efforts over the past two years to translate the curriculum into Baluchi.
He said the curriculum for the first eight grades had been finished and the rest would be completed by the end of this year.
Gumshadzai said there are a number of Baluch writers helping to translate books and school text books into their native language.
Gul Agha Ahmadi, press advisor at the Ministry of Education, said there were plans to translate the school curriculum into several third languages, including Baluchi, but that the text books would not be finished until late 2011 or 2012.
However, he said the education department lacked people who could teach in those languages.
Mir Ahmad Baluch, a Baluch tribal leader, said the school curriculum had not been translated into their language. He said a Baluch Academy had been set up in Nirmroz, financed by local people, costing $400,000.
About 500 people, including 30 women and girls, had studied English, computer skills, tailoring and carpet weaving at the academy, he said.
In Kung district, where the Baluchs are in a majority, the lack of transport links is a major issue. Even though the district, which shares a 100 kilometre border with Iran, is a major trading port, there has been little investment from the government.
Kung lies 22 kilometres from Zaranj, the provincial capital, but to get there, due to the lack of bridges, drivers need to be ferried across the river.
“We take our cars by ship to the other side of the river. When it is crowded, it takes one hour,” said Najibullah, from Kung district.
The shipmaster charges 150 afghanis per car ($3) and 300 afghanis for a bus which means the drivers are forced to raise their fares to accommodate the extra cost.
A cable bridge which was built in 1986 has been destroyed, and Mohammad Juma Elmi, Kung’s district chief, said there was no budget to build a new one.
Khalil Rahman Asad, head of rural rehabilitation and development department in Nimroz, said a 10-kilometre stretch of road between Kung and Zaranj was repaired and graveled, thanks to a donation from Belgium of $395,000. However, the rest remained in a state of disrepair.
Lack of irrigation canals is another problem for the Baluchs.
Draught has seriously affected their agriculture and animal husbandry livelihood, said Aminullah, a tribal elder.
If irrigation canals are built, not only farmlands, but uncultivated lands could also be revived, he said.
Mohammad Sarwar, an elder of Char Burjak district, said 40,000 acres out of his 70,000 acre farmland has not been cultivated for three decades. He said it costs $220 for a barrel of diesel to power the hand pump.
“Our harvest is not sufficient for the amount of money we spend on fuel. Plus, the well water is not as good as river water to irrigate the land. Farmlands absorb river water better.”
He said their main harvests are wheat and barley, and if they had irrigation canals, Char Burjak could become self-sufficient and supply wheat for all of Nimroz province.
Residents of Char Burjak say they have cooperated with the government to ensure security, but the government has not reciprocated by investing in their district.
Abdul Karim Barahawi, the governor of Nimroz, said it was not true that the Baluchs were discriminated against. He said there were plans to construct a water canal in Char Burjak which would irrigate over 70,000 acres of farmland.
Wok on the canal, which is 60 kilometres long, 6 metres wide and 1.5 metres deep, started n February, and would be completed within a year. It is being funded by the US government development agency, USAID.
About 900 people will also be employed in the canal project with each earning 275 afghanis per day. The canal will take water from the Helmand River to Char Burjak.
As well as agriculture, many of the Baluch women weave carpets and rugs, which before the 1978 Soviet occupation, were renowned in the region.
Madina, 60, says that before the occupation she used to weave carpets with other women and contributed half the family’s salary. The Muradkhani carpets woven by Baluch women were world famous, she said, but since the occupation, when many Afghans fled to Iran and Pakistan, the skill, and the tribe’s identity, has been lost. The department of women’s affairs in Nimroz, said they were trying to revive the traditional carpet weaving craft.
Amina Hakimi, head of women’s affairs, said the department, together with USAID, had launched a nine-month carpet weaving training course for 90 women. However, because of the department’s limited budget, it could not do more than make nongovernmental organisations aware of the need for such training programmes.
Khudai Nazar Sarmchar, a former legislator from Nimroz, said the Baluch faced similar problems in other parts of the country.
He said there were 50,000 Baluch in Kishim district of Badakhshan province, but most were illiterate. In Balk province, Baluch’s have seen their lands appropriated by influential people.
There are only two Baluch MPs, both of them women, and three senators, again all women, in Parliament.
There are about 4.3 million Baluchs living in Afghanistan, mostly in Nimroz, Helmand, Kandahar, Badakhshan, Balkh and Sar-i-Pul provinces.
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