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Cablegate: Ethnic Dispute Prompts Protracted Parliamentary

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OO RUEHBW RUEHIK RUEHPW RUEHYG
DE RUEHBUL #1008 1151235
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 241235Z APR 08
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3679
INFO RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
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RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHMFIUU/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY

UNCLAS KABUL 001008

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SENSITIVE
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STATE FOR SCA/FO, SCA/A,
STATE PASS TO USAID FOR AID/ANE, AID/DCHA/DG
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OSD FOR SHIVERS
CENTCOM FOR CG CJTF-82 POLAD

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL AF
SUBJECT: ETHNIC DISPUTE PROMPTS PROTRACTED PARLIAMENTARY
WALKOUT

1. (U) Summary: Angry non-Pashtun MPs walked out of the
National Assembly's lower house April 12, protesting the
centuries old seasonal Pashtun Kochi migration though the
Hazarajat and the nomads' 10 reserved parliamentary seats.
The lower house has not made quorum since, stalling
consideration of the election law, which would govern lower
house seat reservations. House Speaker Qanooni is mediating
between the two sides. Even with the presidential elections
more than a year away, Karzai and the opposition United Front
are already bidding for ethnic vote blocs, including the
Hazara, which is in play here. Competition over the
Hazarajat's grazing lands last year led to violence between
sedentary Hazaras and Kochi herdsmen.

2. (U) The early spring return of nomadic Pashtun Kochi
herdsmen to the predominantly Hazara Bihsud district of
Wardak province sparked protests March 30 by hundreds of
Hazaras in Kabul. The angry Hazaras warned they would
violently resist the centuries old seasonal Kochi migration.
Afghanistan's grazing land has not recovered from the
six-year drought that ended a year ago. The sedentary
Hazaras, also cattle herders, compete with the Kochis for
grazing land. Bihsud was the site of Hazara-Kochi violence
in July 2007, which reportedly left 11 people dead.

3. (SBU) The possibility of renewed Kochi-Hazara violence
poisoned the April 12 lower house discussion of the already
contentious election law bill, which would set the date for
presidential and parliamentary elections and reaffirm the
reservation for Kochis of 10 lower house seats elected from a
nation-wide constituency. Non-Pashtuns resent the
reservation, which they see as reinforcing Pashtun hegemony.
The plenary session devolved into ethnic slur-slinging. Two
MPs known for their mutual personal animosity traded insults
in the chamber. Alam Gul Kochi (Kochi, Khost) claimed Kochis
are "the only true Afghans." He derided non-Pashtun Afghans
as "refugees." Mohammad Hussain Fahimi (Hazara, Sar-e-Pul),
in turn, smeared Pashtuns. In a mistaken effort to advance
the bill, First Deputy Speaker Mir Wais Yaseni called for a
separate vote on the Kochi reservation article. This caused
90 mostly non-Pashtun members to break quorum by walking out
of the chamber; they have not returned. Lower house Speaker
Qanooni has launched a mediation effort that seeks to lure
the striking MPs back by temporarily removing the election
law bill from the docket.

4. (SBU) The dispute presents the opposition United Front
with an opportunity to secure the Hazara ethnic voting bloc,
which comprised 10 percent of the 2004 electorate. According
to the exclusively Hazara Wahdat Party's foreign relations
advisor, Abdul Ali Azad, Qanooni is exploiting his mediation
effort to forge an alliance with Hazaras by emphasizing
Karzai's failure to protect their lands from Kochi
"incursions." MPs Engineer Mohammad Asim (Tajik, Baghlan)
and Shakar Kargar (Uzbek, Jawzjan) contend Karzai is
disadvantaged in his bid for the Hazaras because he is
compelled to reinforce his core Pashtun support by backing
the Kochis.

5. (SBU) Comment: Karzai confronts a dilemma. He needs to
shore up his Pashtun base; supporting the Kochi lower house
seat reservation serves that end. At the same time, he would
dearly love to win the Hazara vote. That emerging bloc,
coupled with the 40 percent of the electorate who are
Pashtun, might give him the majority he needs to win the
presidential election in the first round. So far, he has not
asserted a profile in this inter-ethnic dispute. He may have
to do so soon to prevent the Hazaras from inclining towards a
United Front that has made an early dramatic bid for their
support.
WOOD

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