Kabul Protesters Shut Down City

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Kabul, Afghanistan, has been shut down by protesters over the lack of electricity to Bamian. The government recently changed plans to route power lines through the province. The ethnic minority group Hazara led the protests on Monday, May 16, 2016. The Hazara ethnic group resides in the province of Bamian, and they believe the change in the route was made based on ethnic prejudices.

Thousands of protesters marched through Kabul, to demand the government change the electrical route back through Bamian. The province is one the most underserved areas in Afghanistan. Demonstrators believe that the decision to move the power route to northern Afghanistan is a result of a lack of concern for the minority Shiite Muslims who reside in the Bamian province. The electrical path will bring power from Turkmenistan. The power lines would transfer electricity from Turkmenistan, through Afghanistan, to Pakistan, and connect communities along its route to a power grid that will supply the area with electricity. The initial courses were to go through the Hazara-dominated province, however, the new route avoids the area and instead passes through the Salang Pass in Parwan province.

The U.S.-backed government responded to the protests by shutting down Kabul. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, dispatched military throughout the streets and blocked intersections leading to the capital with shipping containers. Protesters threw rocks at the containers while helicopters flew overhead. The protests went on for several hours. However, the government began to respond when demonstrators attempted to climb over the barricades. Eventually, the military used water canons to disperse the protesters. The government’s strong response was in reaction to what was viewed as building tension against the government in Kabul. Previous protests by the Hazara that occurred in November 2015, resulted in protesters reaching the presidential palace and a small group scaled the walls. The Kabul government took extra security measures to assure the safety of the presidential palace, which resulted in shutting down the city.

While demonstrators were insistent that the government is continuing the systematic prejudice that they believe has gone on for years, according to the “New York Times,” Ghani has tried to assure the citizens of Kabul, that the plan is one this government inherited from the previous regime. According to the statement released on Ghani’s Twitter account, the Kabul government has made every attempt to have open discussions with Hazara leaders. Kabul’s president has taken responsibility for canceling several projects that the previous government was planning, saving the country billions of dollars in wasted money. He also agreed that changing the direction of the electrical path was the wrong decision at the time. However, they have now invested money in the project and it could be too late to consider changing plans. Ghani has insisted that equal development will happen for all communities throughout Kabul.

Despite the government’s attempts to calm the protesters and the move to shut down the city, the demonstrators are not deterred. The protests were organized by a group of youth, who are utilizing technology and facts to make their point. The belief is that their community is being cut out of national projects. A statement issued by a Hazara parliament member, Asadullah Saadati, expressed that the government will suffer serious consequences as a result of their presumed prejudices.

By Gichele Cocrelle
Edited by Jeanette Smith & Cathy Milne


New York Times: Huge protest Against Afghan Government brings Kabul to a halt
Washington Post: Kabul put on security lockdown after protests over power line
Reuters: Thousands of Afghan Hazaras join power line protest in Kabul

Photo by Sallam from Yemen Courtesy of Wikimedia  – Creative Commons License

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