Political Mobilization among the Hazara of Afghanistan: 1978-1992

Report - External Series

Berg Harpviken, Kristian (1996) Political Mobilization among the Hazara of Afghanistan: 1978-1992 , Rapportserien ved Sosiologi, UiO , 9. Department of Sociology, University of Oslo.

​​This study builds on two theoretical approaches. Hechter's theory of Group Solidarity starts from rational choice assumptions. It emphasises that any group producing joint goods also produces private goods, further it points to the importance of monitoring goods distribution. Resource Competition theory has Barth, Hannan and Olzak as its major proponents. It argues that conflict erupts because political or economic shifts bring populations to compete over resources. Identity is essentially seen as dynamic, as shifts in environment affects which one is most relevant. Most often, modernisation promotes mobilisation around larger scale identities. I argue that the two theories, operating at different levels, are complementary and mutually enriching, and apply them to five cases of political mobilisation among the Hazara.

In 1978, PDPA made a coup in Afghanistan, followed up by severe repression. Local uprisings emerged throughout the country. In Hazarajat, people mobilised in existing patron/client organisation, centred on the mir, a secular, political/economic, leader. Massive external threat made people fight for survival. Period two runs from 1979. A regional resistance organisation was set up, headed by the Sayyid, the traditional clergy. The Sayyid operated a strong regional network, and mobilisation changed from local to regional in scope. The ethnic/sectarian boundary was reinforced by exclusion of the Shi'ia Islamic Hazara from the Sunni, Pakistan-based resistance.

The state had withdrawn from the region, but Soviet's invasion by the end of the year led to a perceived increase of threat. By mid 1981, governmental warfare in the region ceased, and internal competition over organisational foci intensified. The Sayyid ousted the mir from power. Construction of a state-like administration continued. Repressive, and demanding in matters of taxation and conscription, it got unpopular.

From mid 1982, the sheikh, a formally trained clergy, operating Islamist groups, challenged the Sayyid's regional administration. They enjoyed strategic political, financial and military backing from Iran, and a dedicated core organisation. In 1984 they succeeded. However, civil war continued.

Next, from 1987, attempts at internal reconciliation intensified, and gained momentum with the Soviet withdrawal announcement, illustrating the need for consolidation before entering negotiations over new national power arrangements. Hezb-e Wahdat, the Islamic Unity Party is established in 1989. All existing Hazara groups joined, Islamists dominated. Ideologically Hezb-e Wahdat maintained a balance between Islamism and ethnicism.

The fifth and last phase deals with reactions around the fall of the PDPA government in April 1992. Among the Hazara in Kabul, the mujahedin overtaking was foreseen with fear. As the government’s fall looked inevitable, people mobilised, within any existing organisation. They helped themselves to arms, and took control over public buildings and quarters of the city. Initially, there was no overall coordination, Hezb-e Wahdat came in after a couple of weeks. Controlling an estimated hald of the capital’s territory, it became a major player in the competition for national political influence.

The dynamics within each of the five periods above grants considerable support to the two theories applied, and to the utility of seeing them as complementary. Their ability to account for the initiation of mobilisation and collective action is central. I would argue that this theoretical combination could also provide major insights into other instances of political mobilisation. Two aspects stand out. This theoretical combination enables one to account for both structure and agency-level factors, and their inter-relation. Further, it draws attention to releasing factors for mobilisation, without failing to consider the influence of background factors of a more static nature.


Kristian Berg Harpviken

Kristian Berg Harpviken

PRIO Director