Ready for a Tajik President?

With Abdullah appearing to be in a strong position two days before the voting, one of the questions that has come up in many of my interviews has been whether Afghanistan is ready for a non-Pashtun president.  With two very brief (and rather disastrous) exceptions all of the rulers of Afghanistan have been Pashtun.  The general sense in the international community and among urban Afghans is the country is ready, though Afghans in Kabul often fret that rural Pashtuns in the south and the east of the country will not accept a non-Pashtun president and electing one might drive rural Pashtuns towards the insurgency.

From Abdullah's FB page

Abdullah on Facebook

Of course Abdullah’s case is an interesting one when we think about the flexibility of ethnicity (and I think it’s not a coincidence that Fredrik Barth did much of his groundbreaking thinking on ethnicity with this part of the world in mind).  While his parents are Tajik and Pashtun, most consider Abdullah Tajik because “he acts Tajik.”  What does this mean?  Well, as always with ethnicity, it’s about politics more than it is about blood.  Since Abdullah has chosen repeatedly to ally himself with the North Alliance and particularly Ahmed Shah Massoud, he has, over time through political alliances been declared Tajik.  For those that oppose him one of the problems is that Abdullah is not just a Tajik, but is a Panjshiri Tajik, so was heavily involved in the Civil War of the 1990s that did most of the real damage to Kabul.

Ghani, of course, himself, is not considered the ideal Pashtun candidate.  He is not a Durrani (the traditional ruling branch of the Pashtuns) and is in fact from a Kuchi tribe.  This, along with the time he has spent outside of the country raises some concerns about whether he is “really Pashtun enough” as well.

The interesting thing in the interviews, especially with Pashtuns, is that almost all responders say, “I am fine with a Pashtun president, I am just afraid that some other Pashtuns will not be.”  This, I think, points to some of the importance of rhetoric over substance when it comes to ethinicity and politics in Afghanistan.  While certainly many will continue to vote along ethnic lines, what that means is no longer as clear.  (This may be another post entirely, but the fact that each ticket has key supporters from most major ethnic groups makes it almost impossible for anyone to simply “vote along ethnic lines”.  How does one know which to vote for?  The answer there is that what is at work is actually a much deeper more complex set of loyalties.)

The reality of the situation is that while voters seem increasingly willing to cross ethnic lines and while Abdullah is in a really strong position, if he does win, those that oppose him are likely to continue to use the rhetoric of ethnicity to try to destabilize things and weaken the government.  As is often the case, it seems, ethnicity is less powerful than the actual rhetoric around it.that include, but are not limited to ethnicity.

2 thoughts on “Ready for a Tajik President?

  1. Great blog, but the account of the fruit seller confirms what inveterate conspiracy theorists even ordinary Afghans can be.

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