Sun, Jul 24, 2016 - Page 4 News List

Hazara people protest in Kabul over power line route

Reuters, KABUL

Protesters march in Kabul yesterday, seeking a change to Afghan government electricity plans.

Photo: EPA

Thousands of people from Afghanistan’s Hazara minority demonstrated in Kabul yesterday to demand changes to the route of a planned multimillion dollar power transmission line.

The demonstrators demanded that the 500 kilovolt transmission line from Turkmenistan to Kabul be rerouted through two provinces with large Hazara populations, an option that the Afghan government says would cost millions and delay the badly needed project by years.

Waving Afghan flags and chanting slogans like “justice, justice” and “death to discrimination,” demonstrators gathered near Kabul University, several kilometers from the main government area, which police sealed off.

Security was tight and helicopters patrolled overhead, but there was no sign of trouble as the protest began.

The transmission line, intended to provide secure electricity to 10 provinces, is part of a project backed by the Asia Development Bank aimed at linking energy-rich states of central Asia with Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Hazaras say they want the transmission line to come through their area because that would ensure their power supply.

The government says the project already guarantees ample power to the provinces of Bamyan and Wardak, west of Kabul, where many Hazaras live, and denies accusations that it disadvantages Hazara people, a mainly Shiite minority.

Under current plans, due to be implemented by 2018, the line is to pass from a converter station in the northern town of Pul-e Khumri to Kabul through the mountainous Salang pass.

An earlier version of the plan foresaw a longer route from Pul-e Khumri through Bamyan and Wardak, but this option was subsequently dropped.

The Persian-speaking Hazara, estimated to make up about 9 percent of the population, are Afghanistan’s third-largest minority, but they have been targeted in the past. Thousands were killed during Taliban rule.

They are politically well organized and several of their leaders are part of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s delicately balanced national unity government, which has added to the sensitivity surrounding the protests.

“We will not allow them to enjoy their time in palaces while those who voted for them stay in darkness,” said demonstrator Mohammad Ali, 34.

The protests followed a demonstration in May, after which Ghani promised a committee of inquiry into the case. That committee recommended staying with the route through the Salang pass.

Expanding Afghanistan’s creaking power network is among the government’s top development priorities as only 30 percent of the country is connected to the electricity system.

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