Masto Khan and his family live in a tent made of canvas, mud and bits of foraged wood on a patch of land they don't own on the outskirts of Kandahar City. The emaciated goats grazing nearby are their only possessions.
``Right now, our lifestyle has completely failed,'' Khan says, glancing at the cluster of similar tents dotting the dirt field. ``There are hundreds of families here. It used to be that they all owned livestock and could feed their families. Now, if you ask them, they don't have a single heard of sheep.''
It wasn't always this way. Khan, 60, is a member of Afghanistan's Kuchi minority, a nomadic people who have roamed the central Asian plains for centuries. But a pair of droughts and 30 years of war have reduced a proud people to this hardscrabble and largely sedentary life.
In a country rife with poverty and political instability, the Kuchis may the poorest and least stable.
For years, they formed the spine of the Afghan economy. Their trading caravans bridged South Asia and the Middle East. According to the UN High Commission on Refugees, at one time they owned 30 per cent of the country's goats and sheep and most of the camels. They traded things such as dairy products, tea, sugar and wool with the sedentary people for food staples such as wheat and vegetables.
Many of them spent their summers in mountain pastures and their winters on the lowland plains.
``That life was so beautiful. We are starving for that life,'' says Kabul, a man who lives in a nearby camp.
But droughts - one in the early 1970s and another from 1998 to 2002 - killed as much as three quarters of the Kuchi's livestock. Landmines and bombings killed many others.
With few economic prospects, many Kuchis made their way to the cities.
Drought and war forced Khan Mohammed, 32, to Kandahar from nearby Helmand Province. What money he and his family have, comes from day labour in the city. A month ago, the owner of the land they live on told them they must leave.
``For god's sake, where will we go?'' he asked the owner, who plans to sell the land.
The owner hasn't relented, but Kuchis have long dealt with such problems, Mohammed says.
``We'll find another place, another way.''
Kuchis currently make up about 70 per cent of Afghanistan's 200,000 internally displaced people. Many live in camps like the ones outside Kandahar, others in UN camps in the city.
Because they are largely nomadic, Kuchis historically abstained from the country's politics, but under Afghanistan's constitution, they were given 10 seats in parliament. But despite supporting President Hamid Karzai in the 2004 presidential elections, Haji Wakil Abdullah, one of the Kuchi MP's, says they have seen little benefit.
Their best-known leader, Haji Niam Kuchi, even spent more than a year in US custody, including a stint in Guantanamo Bay.
Recently, Abdullah and the other Kuchi leaders met with Karzai, who is currently trying to shore up support for the upcoming presidential election. He promised them parcels of land, but although Abdullah plans to support Karzai, he has little faith the president will follow through.
``So far, nothing has been done for the Kuchi people,'' says Abdullah, who sports a neatly trimmed died black beard and a striking mustard yellow turban.
There is no reliable information on how many Kuchi's are in the country. Their greatest concentration is in the Registan Desert in the southernmost part of the country, where their camel trains still snake across the burnt red sand. Abdullah wants a census of the Kuchis done so they can get more representation and resources.
Their list of needs is long: basic health services, land and livestock, but Abdullah believes their number one priority is education. It's this lack of education he blames for the Kuchi's ties to the Taliban in some parts of the county.
In Wardak Province, southwest of Kabul, Kuchis have engaged in armed clashes with ethnic Hazara's over grazing land. The Hazara's are another historically oppressed group, Shia Muslims who are thought to have descended from Mongols who ruled the area in the 13th century.
The Hazaras say the Kuchis are targeting them with the help of the Taliban - fellow Pashtuns and Sunni Muslims - who want to stoke ethnic and sectarian tensions.
For their part, the Kuchis allege the Hazaras are propped up by Iran and are driving them from grazing land they have always used for centuries.
Abdullah believes the Kuchis have a role to play in the future of the country, if the government would only help them.
``The Kuchis are able to deal with every other tribe,'' he says. ``The Kuchis can even play a role in bringing the Taliban onside.''
The families living in camps outside Kandahar don't know who their political leaders are. In the short term, they want one of two things: livestock or land. If they get livestock, they will resume a partially nomadic lifestyle, if they get land, they will farm it.
Until then, it's hard for Khan Mohammed not to look backward.
``We used to have everything. Our hearts were full, our stomachs were full and our children were healthy.''
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