Kabul lock down, minority Hazaras protest over power line

KABUL:  Afghanistan’s capital was under lock down Monday as thousands of minority Hazaras launched protests over a multi-million-dollar power transmission line, in what could snowball into a political crisis for the beleaguered government.

Security forces blocked key intersections with stacked-up shipping containers in Kabul as the protesters sought to march on the presidential palace, demanding that the electricity line linking energy-rich central Asia pass through a central Hazara-dominated area.

The protest spotlights the turbulent politics in the war-torn nation and follows a massive rally last November galvanized by the beheadings of a group of Hazaras, which symbolised growing public discontent with President Ashraf Ghani’s regime.

“Tens of thousands of people are expected to join the massive protest and march towards the presidential palace,” Hazara lawmaker Arif Rahmani told AFP.

“We want the power line to cross through Bamiyan, which has seen no development in 15 years. We are demanding justice, not charity.”

The 500 kilovolt TUTAP power line, which would connect the Central Asian nations of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan with Afghanistan and Pakistan, is regarded a crucial infrastructure project in the electricity-starved region.

But it has been mired in controversy, with leaders from the minority group demanding that the line be routed through Bamiyan, which has a large Hazara population.

The line was originally set to pass through the central province but the government decided to reroute it through the mountainous Salang pass north of Kabul, saying the shorter route would expedite the project and save millions of dollars in costs.

Hazara leaders in the ethnically divisive nation lashed out at the Pashtun president, saying the decision to reroute the line was a sign of the government’s discriminatory policies.- AFP