OK, who hasn’t blogged about the Korengal Valley in the past month? What got the ball rolling was this in-depth NYT article (and to a certain extent the December Vanity Fair article). Kip at Abu Muqawama made some comments from an informed military perspective (twice), Josh at Registan offered his opinion, and Jeff at Peace Like A River gave some great background info for the valley and then commented on the article.
H/T Jeff Kouba for the image below. (Note: North is down)
So, what have I got from my academic perspective? Not too much, actually. The people of the Korengal (or Koringal, Korangal, Kurungal) are “ethnic” Pashai (read ‘linguistically’ Pashai) and field work has not been completed among the Pashai (also spelled Pashayi or Pashaï) in about 30 years, let alone any fieldwork among the Korengali Pashai. So basically there is very slim ethnographic info available on the Pashai, of which the Korengalis are just one small component (of maybe 100,000 total population).
The Pashai have been on my radar since the beginning because of the Pashai commander Hazrat Ali who took over much of Jalalabad and Nangarhar in late 2001/early 2002. I believe he is now sitting in Parliament, cooling his heels.
But what about the Pashai in the Korengal Valley of Kunar? Well, they were out of Hazrat Ali’s area of control. In fact, government of any type has historically been weak in not just the Korengal, but in most of Kunar and Nuristan. Antonio Giustozzi, in his new book Koran, Kalashnikov and Laptop, agrees with these sentiments and goes on to note that due to the combination of this weakness of central government and the “colonization” of these areas by “Salafi preachers,” insurgents were able to operate here (although there is no breakdown of Salafi/Wahhabi/Deobandi influence amongst Nuristanis, Pashtuns and Pashai speakers in these areas).
Korengali elders: Photo by Lynsey Addario.
Giustozzi gives a quick analysis of Kunar province:
Although in Kunar the insurgents seem to have been successful in recruiting a fair number of local former mujahidin of the 1980s and in winning the tolerance or even passive help of many villagers, they did not score great successes in allying with local communities. This was likely the result of a government presence so weak that it was not even able to antoganise local communities, which in most cases appeared keen to maintain their autonomy vis-á-vis both insurgents and government.
Yes, that’s right. Some people want neither the insurgents nor the government in their lives. But most relevant to our discussion, Giustozzi provides an exception:
A rare exception was Koringal Valley in Pech district, where the local population had a strong tradition of hostility towards the central government. The locals were trying to protect their illegal timber trade from government regulation. the already difficult relationship of the government with the Koringalis was probably made worse by the attitude of district governors such as Mohammed Rehman, who first banned supplies of foods to the valley, then refused to issue identity cards to the valley’s residents, and finally threatened to raise a tribal militia to invade the valley and punish the residents.
I won’t go into issues surrounding the illegal trade in timber. That has already been covered by Afghanistanica.
Korengal Valley photo by flickr user moneebafghan:
Now that I may have piqued your interest I will step back and provide some ethnographic information on the Pashai. I will rely on the articles by Jan Ovesen since I have them tucked away in pdf form on my computer. The other sources are in a few select libraries far, far away (including sources en français und Deutsch).
Let’s get straight to Ovesen’s definition of the Pashai people:
There is no ethnic group which uses the name Pashai for itself; Pashai is the name of a language.
I would say that it is safe to assume that in the time since Oveson wrote this the “Pashai” have not developed a uniform macro-identity based on linguistic similarities. The primary identity would be a local one, a phenomenon which is quite common in Afghanistan among many communities. The language itself is a Dardic language and is divided into a western and eastern dialect, separated by the mountains between the Alishing and Alingar valleys. Those speaking the eastern dialect refer to their language as Laghmani or Dehgani. Ovesen’s fieldwork is not in the Korengal Valley, but rather in Nangarhar among the eastern Pashai. So there may be some differences. However, this is as close as you will get.
Click on the file above and have fun finding Darra-i Nur and the Korengal Valley. By river they are far apart but overland they are relatively close. The Darra-i Nur is on the bottom left and the Korengal Valley is East by Northeast.
The Pashai are not too different from their neighbors in terms of subsistence and have a similar segmentary lineage system of identity (patrilineal, or “through the father”). For example, the Soom Pashai of Darra-i Nur:
Ovesen’s study described a state of historical animosity and conflict between two different patrilineal groups that was, at the time, peaceful. However, the most important social unit is not the lineage group, but rather the village, or a confederacy thereof (but consider that these two may overlap considerably). Ovesen noted that while land can be privately owned, the land around the village is controlled by the village as a unit. The mountains and the surrounding area are divided between the villages for collective grazing and wood-gathering rights. [added later: this is obviously an “ideal” description]
But are these identities and loyalties absolute? Ovesen is quite clear on this point:
In principle the minimal lineage groups are corporate groups; the members cooperate at weddings, funerals and the like, and the water for field irrigation is ideally distributed to kandi [lineage group]. But the ideal corporateness of the minimal lineage is often overshadowed by considerations of practical political loyalties. [my underlining]
This means that these people are just like most humans on this planet who have a complex decision-making process that does not take into consideration just their identity or primary loyalty.
The leaders of these lineage groups, referred to as maleks, constitute the local council. It is here where “the council decides about various norms and rules pertaining to the wider local community.” (but keep in mind that this is a description of the situation in the late 1970s, before thirty years of conflict and social upheaval occurred).
Ovesen throws another important factor into the analysis with a very important qualification: the system of minimal lineage is relevant only to those people who are considered siyal, or “equals.” The rest of the population is rayat or peishawar. These three categories comprise a caste system: siyal being the landowning farmers, rayat the landless tenants, and peishawar the craftsmen. This system is very similar to the Nuristanis and very dissimilar to the Pashtuns. How does system arrange itself? Check out this paragraph by Ovesen:
Is this a little too unclear? Let’s add more mud to the water:
Ovesen stresses that this system exists among all Pashai speakers, but he notes that the terms used vary among the groupings of Pashai and terms such as kandi, dai and tapa are not “employed in any consistent manner.” Ovesen even provided an anecdote of one group offering a deceptive categorization of themselves to others in order to increase the group’s status in their eyes. Such practices can be seen elsewhere, such as with some Turkic groups offering a tribal identity that ties themselves directly to Ghengis (sic) Khan or Babur, no matter how unlikely that may be.
So how do the various communities interact? Beyond the village or confederacy councils there is an institution termed the marat (at least in Darra-i Nur it is termed that). A marat is essentially a visit by the notable personalities of one group (plus a sizable entourage) to another community. The marat would have the appearance of a relatively lavish feast and would serve the purpose of offering congratulations or, most importantly, resolving community and inter-community disputes or arranging political alliances or appealing to a stronger dispute to arbitrate a dispute with a third party or…..(you get the idea). Ovesen offers up quite a god analysis of this institution. At the end he notes that among the Darra-i Nur Pashai the marat is an institution of the past, and at the time of his writing, had not been used for at least 25 years. Ovesen’s speculation is that the government representatives and authority has taken over the role as arbitrator in this area (which is much cheaper than having a huge lavish feast). One effect of this is a decrease in inter-community marriages, which is an important factor in community relations and political relations. One local said that “the love is gone from the people.”
I’ll leave the conclusion to Ovesen:
There is so much more to write about, including Ovesen’s fascinating description of the Pashai’s relationship with their environment, their changing marriage relations, the influence of the Pashtun culture and their historical myth origins. But I’m not going to map that much human terrain today.
I’m not going to go on forever about the Pashai speaking people. I just wanted to provide some ethnographic context to accompany the NY Times article. I’m not going to speculate on the human terrain of the Korengal Valley. I’m not there, the guys below are. Based on what was written in the article, these men seem to be presented with a herculean task in overcoming the early missteps in the Korengal. Good luck to them.
If you want more information, you should consult the bibliography below. If you want the Ovesen articles, just send me an email. For other sources, here is some bibliography on the Pashai, via the Afghanistan Analyst Bibliography:
Books and Theses
Keiser, Lincoln R. Social Structure and Control in Two Afghan Mountain Societies. PhD diss. University of Rochester.
Snoy, Peter. 1967. Verlauf und vorlaufige Ergebnisse einer Reise zu Paschai-Gruppen in Afghanistan. Ms., Heidelberg.
Wutt, K. 1981. Pashai: Landschaften – Menschen – Architektur. Graz: Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt.
Articles, reports, and book chapters
Catu, R. 1995. ‘Le peuple Pashai’, Central Asian Survey, 14(3), pages 449-461.
Emadi, Hafizullah. 2000. ‘Praxis of taqiyya: perseverance of Pashaye Ismaili enclave, Nangarhar, Afghanistan‘, Central Asian Survey, 19(2), pp. 253-264.
Ovesen, J. 1984. ‘On the cultural heritage of the Pashai’, Anthropos, 79, pages 87-98.
Ovesen, J. 1986. ‘The construction of ethnic identities: the Nurestani and Pashai’, in Die ethnischen Gruppen Afghanistans: Fallstudien zu Gruppenidentitat un Intergruppenbeziehungen. E. Orywal (editor). Wiesbaden: Reichert. Pages 239-253.
Ovesen, J. 1983. ‘Environment and history in Pashai world-view’, Folk, 25, pages 167-84.
Ovesen, J. 1982. ‘Marriage and social groupings among the Pashai’, Folk, 24, pages 143-156.
Ovesen, J. 1981. ‘The continuity of Pashai society’, Folk, 23, pages 221-234.
Wutt, K. 1986. ‘The Pashai in Darra-I Mazar and Wamagal’, in Die ethnischen Gruppen Afghanistans: Fallstudien zu Gruppenidentitat un Intergruppenbeziehungen. E. Orywal (editor). Wiesbaden: Reichert. Pages 304-308.
To prevent any confusion with numerous other journals with the same name, Folk and Anthropos as listed here are the ones based in Denmark and Austria/Switzerland/Germany, respectively. Of the authors listed above, Jan Ovesen has moved on to study South-east Asia and Karl Wutt has lectured recently on Afghanistan but not published anything on Afghanistan recently. Keiser is now a prof at Wesleyan.