Karzai names panel to look into rising ethnic Afghan violence

In the once-peaceful north, Taliban forces have infiltrated Afghan villages and seized control, making the task of peacekeeping and reform even more difficult for NATO and U.S. troops.
By David Nakamura
Saturday, August 14, 2010; 6:17 PM

KABUL -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai appointed a panel Saturday to investigate escalating ethnic violence that could hamper international military efforts to control a growing Taliban insurgency.

The heightened concern stems from a dispute that began when members of the nomadic Kuchi tribe temporarily settled near a graveyard belonging to ethnic Hazara. Three Kuchi were killed and 30 injured in fighting between the groups over the past two days, witnesses said. One police officer was killed and 24 were wounded after Hazara burned and looted stores in protest, according to police and news accounts.

Authorities have restored order and moved the Kuchi to a more remote location. But Karzai has asked a panel to investigate the violence and report back to him in three days, Afghan media reported.

The two groups have clashed previously, but this was the first time the violence reached the Afghan capital. The ongoing ethnic rivalries remain a problem for U.S. and NATO forces as they ramp up a fall push into Taliban-controlled areas. The Hazara, who descend from the north, have long been rivals of the Pashtun in the south, home of the Taliban, with whom the Kuchi have built alliances.

Fear that the country could be headed for civil war if international forces begin to pull out in the next year without establishing order has raised the stakes for the Karzai government.

"The Kuchi is a tribe that has lived in the mountains for 100 to 150 years," Haji Paray, a Kuchi representative in parliament, said in a telephone interview Saturday. "The Hazara want to expand into our area, and they attacked Kuchi tents and burned our tents."

But a group of Hazara elders said Saturday that the Kuchi settled too close to the Hazara graveyard, building temporary structures and urinating on graves.

"We're not against them being here, but we are against them disrespecting our graveyard," a Hazara man said. "They fired at us using stones and then guns."

Land disputes are common in Afghanistan, a war-torn country where people have been repeatedly displaced, leading to competing claims on property. The Hazara and Kuchi tangled in May, when they fought in Wardak province, sparking protests in several cities and a massive Hazara demonstration at the Afghan Embassy in London.

"The recent violence in Kabul between the Kuchi and Hazara peoples is very concerning," said Caitlin Hayden, a U.S. Embassy spokeswoman. "We continue to support the government's efforts to mediate an end to the conflict, and we call on all parties to cease fighting and exercise restraint."

Special correspondent Quadratullah Andar contributed to this report.

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