A decision by the National Statistics and Information Authority (NSIA) to add 54 new ethnic designations to the already existing 14 ethnic groups used on the electronic national identity cards has sparked a controversy, with critics saying the additions will fuel division among Afghans at this critical juncture in the nation's history.
The 54 ethnic group designations were added to the NSIA website that is used for online applications for the national identity cards.
Abdullah Abdullah, the head of the High Council for National Reconciliation, called it a "mistake" that needs to be corrected.
Second Vice President Mohammad Sarwar Danesh first said in a post that the published list by the NSIA was not professional, but later, in another post, he appeared to pull back this judgment, saying the list will be corrected if there were any issues with it. The Presidential Palace responded similarly.
Article 4 of the Constitution says that “the nation of Afghanistan shall be comprised of Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, Turkman, Baluch, Pachaie, Nuristani, Aymaq, Arab, Qirghiz, Qizilbash, Gujur, Brahwui and other tribes.”
However, according to the new list, 54 other ethnic groups have been added, including: Ormar, Barachi, Kurd, Jogi, Shahkhiliyan, Shaikh Mohammadiyan, Kawar, Khalili, Pamiri, Manjani, Sangichi, Ishkashimi, Roshnaee, Wakhani, Shoghnani, Turk, Qarloq, Tatar, Mughul, Sakaee, Dawlat Khani, Taimani, Albeg, Qazaq, Sajani, Qoshkhaniyan, Bayat, Nimaq, Qabchaq, Nikpai, Kohgadari, Daimirk, Mir Sayeda, Jamshidiyan, Afshariyan, Tahiriyan, Saljoqis, Timurids, Barlas-Arlas, Ailkhani, Yaftali, Laqyan, Kawi, Qozi, Abka, Joghtaee, Karaee, Karam Ali, Skhaikh Ali, Orta Balaqi, Uyghur, Baborids and Formuli.
“Some ethnic groups have been added to the list that are within bigger ethnic groups of Afghanistan,” said Mohammad Hedayat, head of the media office of the second vice president.
The High Council for National Reconciliation said major national issues require bigger discussions and that the NSIA should correct this mistake.
Jamiat-e-Islami leader Salahuddin Rabbani and the CEO of Jamiat, Ata Mohammad Noor, as well as Parliament Speaker Mir Rahman Rahmani, said in different posts that the decision will fuel division and will affect the morale needed for nation-building.
“Afghanistan needs unity and to become a nation. Under the current situation, we should see what our priorities are,” Senate deputy speaker Mohammad Alam Ezidyar said.
“There are Mangal, Zadran, Zazai, Alikhil, Sulimainkhil (ethnic groups). If that issue is raised, there will be disunity once again,” said Baz Mohammad Zurmati, a senator.
Meanwhile, the council for the mobilization of minorities in Afghanistan at a conference welcomed the NSIA decision and called on the government to include them in big political decision-making processes.
“So far, we were like 'bodies without souls' as we were insulted everywhere because we were minorities,” said Ahmad Shakib Sanin, head of the council.
“In some districts where there are minorities, we don’t even have a district governor,” said Ashraf Arian, a member of the council.
The NSIA said the ethnic groups have been added to the identity cards based on the requests of the groups' representatives.
“Adding the names of other ethnic groups to accompany the 14 ethnic groups of Afghanistan into the electronic identity card system has no legal barrier,” said NSIA spokesperson Robina Shahabi.
The government established a commission three years ago for the recognition of ethnic groups in Afghanistan, but the commission did not get results. Following this, the Supreme Court decided to add the 14 ethnic groups that are mentioned in the Constitution to the identity cards.
The distribution of electronic identity cards started in 2018 but was delayed due to opposition toward adding the word Afghan on the cards. Finally, it was decided to add both the word Afghan and the ethnicity of cardholders.