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Eye of the storm

Updated Jun 27, 2016 10:35am

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The writer is author of The Militant Discourse.
The writer is author of The Militant Discourse.

The scenic valleys of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s northern district of Chitral have been in the news for some time now — for the wrong reasons. Recently, there was news of a controversy surrounding the disputed conversion of a teenage Kalash girl. A report, by the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP) in March this year, revealed the trend of trafficking Chitrali girls under the guise of ‘marriages’. Demographic, cultural and social transformations in the erstwhile isolated region indicate certain ominous trends, which might erupt in violence in the near future.

With a population of 318,689 (according to the 1998 census) and an area of 14,850 square kilometres, Chitral is linked in the northeast to Gilgit-Baltistan, southeast to Upper Dir, and northwest, west and southwest to the Hindu Kush in Afghanistan. The major communication link of Chitral with the lower parts of KP is via the Lowari Tunnel. Although announced in the 1970s, construction on the tunnel started in 2005 and was expected to be completed in 2008. The tunnel is now expected to be completed by 2017.

Read: Kalash girl says she chose to convert to Islam

The mountain passes from Upper Dir and GB are usually capped with snow for half the year, while three major crossing points to Afghanistan are usually closed due to ‘security reasons’.

Chitral is unique in terms of its cultural and linguistic diversity. The major language spoken in Chitral is Khowar, but five other languages are also spoken in the upper, lower and Kalasha valleys of Chitral. Bilingualism and, sometimes, multilingualism is the norm. The uplands and midlands are mostly inhabited by Ismailis, the low lands by Sunnis, and a small part of Bumburet Valley is inhabited by the Kalash — an ancient community with a unique faith and lifestyle.

Culturally, under pressure from surrounding communities, its population is now left with only a few thousand people — it seems as if they have been turned into a museum of living individuals. The extinction of a whole culture and language is just one step away, provided the current level of pressure continues unabated.


Chitral might be the next front for sectarianism.


At present, Chitral offers a unique model of cultural, religious and linguistic coexistence for Pakistan and for other states in this region. The various, diverse communities of Chitral have developed a rich culture of intra- and inter-community dialogue and exchange. One can observe peace and composure in all their interpersonal and inter-communal interactions. The majority of people are seen to be closely engaged in community work and public service delivery. Accommodating diversity and tolerance in Chitral seems to be at its zenith presently.

Another interesting feature of the socio-cultural environment of Chitral is a comparatively open space for women. Perhaps due to the absence of tribal and traditional concepts of honour, women in Chitral have a considerable amount of freedom of movement. Women have comparatively large participation in social and political activities.

This harmonious environment and considerable space for female participation is not immune to threats and challenges. The first challenge pertains to conversion and intermarriages with non-locals. Conversions to Sunni beliefs and intermarriages with non-locals often go hand-in-hand in Chitral. The stigmatisation of beliefs other than Sunni Islam is exerting tremendous social pressures on the diverse communities of Chitral.

Intermarriages with non-locals have recently become so serious an issue that the district council of Chitral had to pass a resolution attaching conditions to intermarriages with non-locals. The AKRSP report also revealed that 74pc of marriages between Chitrali girls and non-locals turn out to be fake.

The second major challenge seems to be the trend of establishing madressahs with extremist denominations. Some of the madressahs in Shogore Valley and lower Chitral are reported to be indoctrinating intolerance. The impact of such development is seen in parts of Chitral — in the form of the non-traditional purdah and restrictions on women’s movements. It has also been reported that local madressahs in some parts are inciting noncooperation with the community work of AKRSP.

A third significant challenge to Chitral’s harmonious socio-cultural environment is the increase of evangelical activities. Coupled with such activities, one observes the securitisation of the physical environment; increased military and police check posts on all communication links inside and outside its districts, the presence of which — in such usually large numbers — pose a serious obstacle to free movement inside and outside Chitral.

Besides the tremendous loss of infrastructure during last year’s flash floods, the above factors might widen the sectarian schism in Chitral. Might the next front for extremist sectarian violence be the serene peaceful valleys of Chitral? If so, what would its ramifications be and how would it affect broader, regional stability? These hard questions need to be taken up for discussion and debate.

The writer is author of The Militant Discourse.

Twitter: @khadimhussain4

Published in Dawn, June 27th, 2016



The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


Comments (12) Closed



Naveed Jun 27, 2016 09:53am

Wow what a superb write up on this important issue.

munib Jun 27, 2016 11:10am

Well written. Needed to include more details on ground situation.

Anees Jun 27, 2016 11:42am

Good information, thanks for that. In view of the current situation in Pakistan I am concerned about their security. Govt should provide a protection and security to these people.

Ind Jun 27, 2016 12:06pm

In India and west all communities live together,

but in Muslim countries external powers create conflicts in multi-community areas

So do not be trapped in it.

SR Khan Jun 27, 2016 12:42pm

Thank you to both the author and Dawn for writing and publishing this. Chitral has got so many important issues. Some of them are related to extremism but the media including newspaper rarelly given any attention to Chitral.

OBM Jun 27, 2016 01:41pm

I usually do not write comments but I am compelled to in this case. Your opinion is based on an incident whereby you have formed a conclusion solely on; that the Kalashi people are somehow, battered, beaten to death by people from other faiths or cultures, leading to their extinction?. Have you actually seen the lifestyle of these Kailashi people? Have you seen the factors relating to the multitude of diseases that a normal, extremely low-earning Kailashi becomes prone to because of their lifestyle?. Have you actually known the factors that why the tribe isn't reproducing that much? Have you taken into account these factors before forming opinion? If it comes down to statistics, the ratio of deaths occurring because of such violent acts couldn't be more than a mere 5%, most of them have already converted religions or didn't convert because they just wanted to get out, get a good life, get married etc. (With their biggest heroin/champion of that being a certain Lakshan Bibi etc)

OBM Jun 27, 2016 01:49pm

The biggest challenge or problems, are 1). Corruption 2). Excessive securitization of the district, becoming a nuisance and a matter of distraught to residents and tourists alike. 3). Deforestation by the timber mafia, Government officials and some other 'personnel' not doing their real jobs. With global warming and torrential rains on the rise as well, the intensity of the floods has just risen as a result of that. The loss of infrastructure is an effect to this cause. Disturbing the forest ecosystem does that to you.

For goodness sake.

OBM Jun 27, 2016 01:53pm

The biggest challenge or problems, are 1). Corruption 2). Excessive securitization of the district, becoming a nuisance and a matter of distraught to residents and tourists alike. 3). Deforestation by the timber mafia, Government officials and some other 'personnel' not doing their real jobs. With global warming and torrential rains on the rise as well, the intensity of the floods has just risen as a result of that. The loss of infrastructure is an effect to this cause. Disturbing the forest ecosystem does that to you.

For goodness sake.

Khadim Hussain Jun 28, 2016 07:59pm

@Naveed Thanks indeed Naveed sahib. Khadim

Khadim Hussain Jun 28, 2016 08:03pm

@OBM I have tried to present a holistic view of the whole Chitral not only of Kalasha of Bomburete valley. I have presented a few facts and then moved on to describe a few challenges on the basis of recent events.

Khadim Hussain Jun 28, 2016 08:08pm

@OBM Loss of infrastructure, deforestation and corruption are general issues that might exacerbate the security situation but might not have direct link with the widening of sectarian schism. Securitization of the physical environment (excessive check posts) is a point of direct relevance which I have mentioned in challenges.

NaaMaloom Jun 29, 2016 12:37am

@Khadim Hussain: masterpiece! We are expecting a more in depth analysis from you on the much less written history, culture and on these alarming issues of Chitral. waiting for the next one