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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest


Afghanistan: Minorities, Conflict and the Search for Peace
Peter Marsden

London, Minority Rights Group, 2001
36 pp, ISBN 1-897693-34-6

Afghanistan, a country in which several often overlapping identities jostle for prominence, has long been troubled by external interference and internal conflict. This Report, prepared under the auspices of the Minority Rights Group International in November 2001, attempts to analyse the prospects for achieving a 'durable peace' in this multi-ethnic state. The author situates Afghanistan in its broader historical and geo-political context, while noting that 'the dynamics between Afghanistan's different minorities, twisted by war, need careful explanation and are key to the country's future prospects' (p. 4). Marsden thus examines the 'characteristics' of the various ethnic groups that make up the kaleidoscope of Afghan society. This is a useful summary of the 'relationship of each ethnic group to the territory it occupies' (p. 9) but is less illuminating, due largely to the brevity of the analysis, of the causal link between ethnic affiliations and the contours of conflict in Afghanistan.

The author goes on to chart the 'ethnic dimensions' of the various political forces that came to control parts of the country following the collapse of the Soviet-backed regime in April 1992, including the Mujahidin government and the Taliban. This, again, is a useful chronology of the events of those turbulent years, aided in no small measure by the inclusion of boxed text which sets out timelines and presents snapshots of the main political players. In particular, Marsden charts the impact of the advance of the Taliban on the various non-Pashtun minorities in the country, noting the reports of several human rights groups that the Taliban was responsible for ethnically-targeted massacres and extrajudicial executions.

One of the strongest features of this brief Report is the attempt by the author to capture the essential vulnerability of a population that has been living under the shadow of war for decades. Marsden examines the condition of women in particular, and that of other vulnerable groups such as refugees and internally displaced persons. Due to the fact that the Report was published while the post September 11 air strikes against Al Qaida and its Taliban hosts were continuing, the author was unable to know with any certainty the shape of the post-conflict political map of Afghanistan. Yet even in the aftermath of this conflict, with the Taliban dispersed and a nominally representative government in power, many of Marsden's recommendations remain valid and, sadly, unfulfilled. For this country to have any hope of emerging from its long nightmare requires both that the political future must encompass the interests of all ethnic groups and main religious minorities and that the international community must make a long-term commitment to the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

Pia Oberoi, Refugee Officer, Amnesty International

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