Map Courtesy of Perry Castaneda Library
“Maymanah”, in Afghanistan, is sometimes used as the concept of “protection” and “hospitality”. It is also the name of the capital of Faryab Province in northwest Afghanistan, just across the border from Turkmenistan and the site of a recent Mosque-bombing that killed 41 people during Eid.
The street where the mosque bombing occurred, at a nicer time
This was particularly heart-rending for me, as I’ve been to Maymanah several times, and have come to look at this town with affection. It is a place of breath-taking scenery, excellent food and extremely friendly people, consistent with its name.
The breathtakingly beautiful hills of Faryab.
It’s fame, prior to the 26 October 2012 attacks on the mosque, and its beauty has been for other things entirely. It is well known for its production of grapes. Faryab grapes are for eating off the vine, drying to make raisins and to make wine, in this Muslim country. Most people are shocked to know that Faryab Province used to be one of the most productive wine producing areas in the world; in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, they produced many of the “Italian” wines; the kind that often came in globular glass bottles, wrapped in basket-woven matting, made from the local grass that looks amazingly like Pampas grass. For anyone who was alive during that time, they will know what I am talking about. So, Faryab is the Napa Valley of Central Asia.
Me, catching a ride in an open military truck from the Mamanah airport, freezing bits off.
The hillsides are hauntingly beautiful, almost to the point of looking painted by some Cecil B. DeMille backdrop. But the fly in the ointment here is in bad borders and bad governance.
In most of Afghanistan, Pashtuns dominate governance; here, it is the Uzbeks. Years ago, Pashtuns were settled here as the result of Pashtunization of Afghanistan and that these are not their ancestral lands, but they received the land at the expense of Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Turkmen.
The currently Uzbek-dominated local government uses their position to either ignore Pashtun areas, or to actively persecute them. They also manage to convince US and ISAF forces to lethally target ethnic enemies. By “lethally target” I mean kill, of course.
Going for a walk in Qayzar
Ethnic Population Distribution
To make the situation even extra crappy, the boundaries in Faryab Province were drawn almost as if an insurgency was the goal of the mapping authority. In Qaysar District, there are at least four separate areas that are either unreachable and/or ungovernable by the District authorities, or are not considered by the people who live there as part of Qaysar. The eastern third of Qaysar District cannot be reached from any part of Qaysar. It is possible for Almar District authorities to easily reach it, which they do, periodically, as a favor for the Qaysar District authorities, and because of this, the people who live there see themselves as Almar District residents. The Northwestern quarter of Qaysar District residents see themselves as part of Gormach District, Badghis Province, and are unaware they are part of Qaysar District, or even of Faryab Province. And the Southwest quarter of Qaysar District is difficult to reach from Qaysar District Center, and the people who live there are ethnically Pashtun, and consider themselves to be an independent District, and elect their own district officials.
While the situation seems complex, it doesn’t need to be. Redrawing the District lines in this area would greatly simplify governance, and would go a long way towards alleviating many of the grievances between the Pashtuns and the Uzbeks.
Maymanah back street.
So, what does this all have to do with the attack on the Maymanah mosque? Well, journalists and government officials were extremely quick to blame this reprehensible act on “The Taliban”. I do not have a high confidence that this can so quickly and neatly be blamed in this way. It’s almost as likely that several other scenarios may have come to pass, including radical Uzbeks attacking the established government (which was almost all in the mosque at the time) for being too moderate. Conversely, I would hope the normal Pashtun-Uzbek infighting has not elevated to suicide mosque bombing, but I wouldn’t rule it out, either.
Either way, building good governance here cannot happen until boundaries are sorted out, which is why geography matters.