Koochis of Afghanistan

Alternative names: various tribal names
Location: Afghanistan, Pakistan
Population: 2.5 million (est. 1978)
% of population: 15%-20%
Religion: Muslim
Language: various

The Koochis are the nomadic herding peoples of Afghanistan, who have followed a nomadic way of life for perhaps 2,000 years. They are from a variety of ethnic groups as is the country as a whole. The exact population of Afghanistan is not known due to the geographical remoteness of the country, while the continuing state of war since the Soviet invasion of 1979 has driven many into exile. In 1978 a UN-sponsored study of nomads estimated that there were about 2.5 million Koochis. Since then the numbers have probably decreased as the effects of war have forced large numbers of Koochis into internal or external exile.

Koochi tribes can be divided into three types; pure nomads, semi-sedentary and nomadic traders. Pure nomads, whose movements are determined by the availability of pasture, are finding their way of life increasingly precarious. Even before the war, border restrictions, agricultural irrigation schemes and droughts limited their freedom; today there are minefields, bombing raids and fighting between rival forces which kill both people and animals. Koochis are often forced to camp near urban areas where the men can find labouring jobs. The development of roads suitable for motors made the caravans of Koochi traders obsolete in many areas. The semi-sedentary Koochis have tended to become more sedentary as they can no longer live off their livestock. The war has also limited their traditional treks between summer pastures and winter habitation.

Koochis are organized within a patriarchal tribal structure and live communally. Male and female roles are rigidly adhered to, but Koochi women are responsible for many important economic functions within the tribe and go unveiled, unlike most rural Afghan women. Illiteracy is high and access to health, education and social services is minimal. Each tribe is a self-contained unit and none, either separately or in conjunction with others, has political power or representation within the national government. Large numbers have become refugees and others have been forced to give up a nomadic life. As a silent minority within Afghanistan their future appears bleak.