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Ismaili people are a Shia ethnic group that is primarily but not exclusively Hazara, and has a substantial population in Baghlan. Ismaili communities in Afghanistan are less populous than the Imami who consider the Ismailis heretical. They are found primarily in and near the eastern Hazarajat, in the Baghlan area north of the Hindu Kush, among the mountain Tajik of Badakhshan, and amongst the Wakhi in the Wakhan Corridor.

The spiritual leader of all Ismailis world-wide is the Agha Khan, who currently resides in France. The Agha Khan became Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims in 1957. He is the 49th hereditary Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims and a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad though his cousin and son-in-law Ali, the first Imam, and his wife Fatima, the Prophet Muhammad's daughter. The Ismailis live in 25 countries, mainly in West and Central Asia, Africa and the Middle East, and North American and Western Europe. Roshan, Afghanistan's largest telecommunications provider, is partially owned by the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development, which owns 51 percent of Roshan. Western companies own the other 49 percent.

The Ismaili Shia are also known as Seveners because in the eighth century their leaders rejected the heir designated by the sixth Imam, Jafar al Sadiq (d.765), whom the Imami accepted. The new group instead chose to recognize Jafar's eldest son, Ismail, as the seventh Imam and the Shia community split into two branches.

Many Ismaili believe the line of Imam ceased when Ismail died before his father in AD 760; others believe he did not die but remains in seclusion and will return at the end of the world. Ismaili beliefs are complex and syncretic, combining elements from the philosophies of Plotinus, Pythagoras, Aristotle, gnosticism, and the Manichaeans, as well as components of Judaism, Christianity, and Eastern religions. Ismaili conceptions of the Imamat differ greatly from those of other Muslims and their tenets are unique. Their beliefs about the creation of the world are idiosyncratic, as is their historical ecumenism, tolerance of religious differences, and religious hierarchy. There is a division of theology into exoteric (including the conservative Shariah) and esoteric (including the mystical exegesis of the Quran which leads to haqiqa, the ultimate realty).

These beliefs and practices are veiled in secrecy and Ismaili place particular emphasis on taqiya meaning to shield or guard, the practice that permits the believer to deny publicly his Shia membership for self-protection, as long as he continues to believe and worship in private. Taqiya is permissible in most Shia, and some Sunni, sects. Ismailis in Afghanistan are generally regarded with suspicion by other ethnic groups and for the most part their economic status is very poor. Although Ismaili in other areas such as the northern areas of Pakistan operate well-organized social welfare programs including schools, hospitals and cooperatives, little has been done among Afghan Ismaili communities.

Considered less zealous than other Afghan Muslims, Ismaili are seen to follow their leaders uncritically. The pir or leader of Afghan Ismailis comes from the Sayyid family of Kayan, located near Doshi, a small town at the northern foot of the Salang Pass, in western Baghlan Province. During the Soviet-Afghan War this family acquired considerable political power.

Pir Sayed Mansur Naderi is a former Vice President of Afghanistan. He is an Ismaeli Shia, leader of the Naderi Clan of Ismaelis. He holds the honorary title of Sayed of Kayan, one of the highest honors in the Islamic world, and he is one of the most respected men in Afghanistan. Sayd Mansur Naderi and his followers have harassed Ismailis who are loyal to the worldwide Ismaili spiritual leader, the Aga Khan. It was reporrted in 2003 that those linked with Sayd Mansur Naderi not only pressurized the followers of the Ismaili sect of the Aga Khan, but they have also stopped Aga Khan welfare organizations from distributing aid among the people in that region and they were warned to evacuate the region, or their belongings would be looted. One 2003 report, which said that around eight people were wounded in clashes involving his followers in northeastern Baghlan Province in May 2003, described Sayd Mansur Naderi as a renegade local Ismaili leader who refused to submit to the Aga Khan's authority over Ismailis. "Sayd Mansur Naderi and his sympathisers also belong to the Ismaili sect, but they are not on good terms with the international leadership of the Aga Khan."

A 2003 report by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, a London-based group that works with journalists in developing countries, states that local Afghan officials in the Kayan Valley in Baghlan Province were trying to restrict the influence among Afghan Ismailis of "Sayed Mansoor Nadiri..., the leader of all Ismailis in Afghanistan" (Samander 24 Jan 2003). The local military commander appointed another Ismaili, Alaudin Shah, as local leader of the Ismailis, a move that was resisted by ordinary Ismailis, who accused Alaudin of physically abusing community elders, according to the report.

Sayed (Seyed or Seyyed) Jaffar (Jafar) Naderi (Nadiri), also known as Sayed Jaffar, son of Sayed Mansur Naderi is sometimes referred to as the leader of the Ismaili community in Pul-i Khumri, Kayan, and Dowshi in Baghlan province, and at other times referred to as the son of the leader of Ismailis in Afghanistan. Press reports indicate that at age 10, Sayed Jaffar Naderi was sent to live in England when his father became a political prisoner in Afghanistan. At age 13, Naderi was sent to the US, where he lived in Allentown, Pennsylvania, as Jeff Naderi, until his father summoned him back to Afghanistan when Sayed Jaffar Naderi was about 15 years old. Naderi was the subject of a 2001 MSNBC National Geographic Explorer special report, which was an updated version of a 1998 British made-for-TV film featuring Naderi and his troops. A 1993 Amnesty International report lists former Afghan army general Seyed Jaffar Naderi as Governor of Baghlan province at that time. A 2001 press report states that Naderi was appointed governor of Baghlan at age 24.

Sayad and his Ismaili tribe had spent much of their time in Baghlan Province, but were reportedly driven out of Baghlan in late 2001 under a cloud of 'bad publicity' and into Balkh Province┐ Sayed was also known in some circles as an aide to President Karzai, and traveled with TISA [Transitional Islamic State of Afghanistan] Foreign Minister Abdullah to Tokyo in 2002, and was said to have been under consideration (along with a couple other Karzai aides) for the position of Afghan Ambassador to the US (in 2002).

The Naderi family was forced to flee from Baghlan during the reign of the Taliban in Afghanistan. A 1998 press report states that "Mansoor Naderi and his son Jafar Naderi [took] refuge with the Shia faction in Bamiyan province after evicted [sic] by Taliban from their safe abode" and that Naderi's family members had been sent to France. A 2001 article quotes Sayed Jaffar Naderi as stating that in 1998, Taliban fighters forced him and his troops out of Kayan through the Hindu Kush mountains.

According to the 2003 news report by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, a number of Ismailis were jailed for several weeks in late 2002 and early 2003 after they tried to travel to Kabul to meet Naderi upon his return from Uzbekistan, where he lived in exile while the Taliban were in power. Specific dates of Naderi's exile are not provided. The report also described Naderi as being close to Afghan Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostam.

The population of Shighnan consists mainly of Ismaili Shias, who have a reputation for religious tolerance and for putting a high value on education. The most obvious manifestation of the Ismaili culture is that women in the district generally do not wear burqas. Women seen walking on the streets of the district center of Shighnan wore long, brightly colored dresses, very similar to those of their Tajik counterparts just across the Pyanj river. Unlike in most other parts of Badakhshan, they make little or no attempt to hide their faces from passers-by.

It is claimed that 85% of the adult population was "educated," i.e., that they could read and write. If true, that would put Shighnan far above the average literacy rate for Afghanistan. Unfortunately, many of the schools in Shighnan, which were built by the local community decades ago, are in a bad state of disrepair due to old age.

Shighnan, a district of 34,000 located along the northeast border of Badakhshan province, has a road connection to Feyzabad, but this road is open only three months a year. The district is effectively cut off from vehicular traffic from Afghanistan the rest of the year. The only year-round vehicular access to Shighnan is from Tajikistan (near the city of Khorog) via a one-lane suspension bridge over the Pyanj River built by the Aga Khan foundation in 2001.

The district centers of both Nusai and Shighnan are located along the Pyanj River, within just a few kilometers of the bridge crossing points. The bridges built by Aga Khan to connect these remote Afghan districts to Tajikistan have certainly reduced their isolation and opened up new possibilities for trade and commerce. There are, for example, joint bazaars on the Tajik side of both bridges at least once a week. While offering great potential, the joint bazaars are still largely one-way affairs: the Tajiks are selling and the Afghans are buying, but not vice versa.

The Afghans simply do not produce much of anything that can be sold at the bazaars. Most residents of these districts are subsistence farmers, literally living on the side of a mountain with very little arable land on which to grow crops. They cannot grow enough food to feed themselves, much less produce excess for selling at the bazaar. Aga Khan agricultural specialists are encouraging local farmers to grow fruit and nut trees, which are more suited for the arid and mountainous terrain than traditional crops like wheat, but such orchards are still not widespread. Unfortunately, there is no rug or other handicraft production in these two districts.

By 2006 there were major land-grabbing disputes, particularly in Killagay District, where Tajiks reportedly have been taking land previously held by absentee (and some returnee) Pashtuns. These disputes have been further complicated by an influx of Ismailis (Hazaras), also intent on obtaining land in the fertile area. Mediation efforts so far have not been successful, though active fighting had been mostly controlled.

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Page last modified: 21-08-2012 12:44:31 ZULU