A Mosuli family rests in their traditional tent near Khost city. (photo: Zarwali Khoshnood)
Mosulis, a nomadic people of Iraqi origin, have made their home in Afghanistan for centuries. In recent decades, they have fought alongside Mujahideen forces and made significant contributions to local industry and culture. But due to their exotic ancestry and itinerant lifestyle, they are still not recognized as legal citizens by a government whose distrust of foreigners is on the rise as the threat of insurgency returns to the country.
Tracing their roots to the southern Iraqi city of Mosul, the Mosulis migrated east to Iran and Afghanistan during the time of the Abbasid caliphate (750-1258 AD), says Zarwali Sediqi, a genealogist at the Sheikh Zahed University of Khost. Aside from Khost province, the Mosuli people reside in Paktia, Paktika, Kabul, Kandahar and Balkh, as well as across the border in Pakistan.
Mosuli customs and lifestyle differ from those of the sedentary populations of the lands they inhabit. This occasionally brings them into conflict with their surroundings. Mosuli women, transported through the area on horse-drawn carts, are often stigmatized because they work outside the home, selling handicrafts and collecting donations from strangers. The Mosulis’ itinerant lifestyle is also cumbersome for police. Most members of the minority group lack government-issued identity cards, and often encounter difficulties at security checkpoints.
“At daybreak we get on our horses and move from village to village, collecting handouts and asking for charitable donations,” says Dowlat Mosuli, 65, a member of the minority group who lives in a tent on the southern outskirts of Khost city. “If someone requests, our men and women also play music in their weddings and other ceremonies.”
In Khost, where some 17,000 Mosuli families currently reside, the nomads lack access to basic government services, including education. They cannot send their children to school without first obtaining ID cards, which would require them to register at a permanent place of residence.
“During King Zaher Shah’s reign, the government was about to distribute homes to our people in the capital and in some border areas, but we did not accept the offer because property taxes were too high at the time,” recalls Dowlat Mosuli.
“Now we have realized that this decision has led us into a life uncertainty,” he adds. “If we had received ID cards, our sons would be in schools studying, and we would have a prosperous life.”
Zamen, a 65-year-old Mosuli, says the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan is making life difficult. “There were times when our young men fought for the freedom of Afghanistan shoulder-to-shoulder with the Mujahedeen. Today they are refusing to give us national ID cards. We really feel disappointed. “
Noor Moalem, head of the registry in Khost province, says that despite multiple requests from the Mosuli Union, the central government has directed provincial authorities not to issue them ID cards “to avoid future security threats.”
Now, the Unity Government has decided to reverse that decision based on President Ashraf Ghani’s meeting with the Kochi nomadic tribes last year. But that decision has not yet had any bearing on the Mosulis’ ambivalent status. “Our children are smart and alert, we always hope to enroll them in schools, but we are not given the right,” says Zamen. “We are living in a state of limbo.”
The Mosulis’ ambiguous citizenship status has not stopped them from contributing to local culture. In Khost, they are renowned for their musical talent and skill at playing traditional Persian instruments like the rubab, a short-necked lute.
Aslam Kaka, 85, is a famous Mosuli rubab player who lives in Kandayoo Dadee, an area seven kilometers east of Khost city. Gull Zaman, 88, a well-known nationally recognized singer, is also a member of the group, but he has Afghan citizenship and his children are educated.
Gull Zaman is currently deputy head of the Musicians Union and also works at the National Radio TV, organizing and composing music for Pashtun singers. “I have repeatedly shared the issue of my tribe’s identity with the central government, but they have not responded positively,” he says. “I never understood the reasons behind it.”