The people of Chitral fear they’ll suffer from the heavy influx of outsiders into their region after the completion of work on Lowari tunnel.
“We have to prepare ourselves for the tough market competitions, which we will come about after the successful execution of Lowari tunnel that is likely to happen next year. We’ll have to ready ourselves for that otherwise we will become alien here,” says district nazim Maghfirat Shah.
To elaborate on his point, he cited the examples of Murree, Kalam and many other highly developed tourist resorts, where, he said, local people worked with non-locals after selling their properties to them long ago.
Such apprehensions are frequently expressed by the people of Chitral seeing the things following the completion of work on Lowari tunnel, which will connect the geographically isolated district with the rest of the country and thus, attracting business tycoons.
The people say on one hand, the project’s successful execution will open the avenues of development, progress and prosperity for the area but on the other, it will have negative economic, social and cultural effects for the local population.
Former project manager of an IUCN project in Chitral, Dr. Inayatuallah Faizi, felt on social and cultural sides, the post-Lowari tunnel Chitral would be totally different from today’s.
He said Chitral was known for its rich diversity of culture where there were 14 different cultures including that of Kalash which have retained their originality due to the geographical isolation of Chitral with Lowari Pass as its barrier.
Dr. Faizi said no environmental impact assessment of Lowari Tunnel project was carried out though that was required under the Environmental Protection Act 1997.
He feared that the unique culture of Chitral including that of Kalash would dissipate with the opening of Chitral to the outer world as the local people were highly susceptible to the influence of other cultures.
The expert suggested short, medium and long-term measures for the preservation of the local culture, which included holding of public consultations on the subject and also invoke the help of Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations.
He also proposed the strengthening of museums in the area to preserve cultural traits, which, he said, would die out with the influx of non-locals in the area and ECOSOC can readily manage it without any loss of time. He advocated for documentation of local cultures, including that of Kalash as short-term measure.
Regarding the financial and political dynamics of the situation in Chitral after the completion of work on the tunnel, the district nazim said the local people were not business-minded and lacked entrepreneurial acumen to compete with the non-locals, who would influx into the area.
“By nature, locals are the people who remain content with the little they’ve. This will be exploited by the non-locals who will occupy the local market within few months of the opening of the tunnel,” he said.
“The people of corporate sector will set up establishments here and get a complete hold on the business and thus paving the way to clinch the political leadership as well from locals by dint of their wealth,” he said.
Mr. Shah said the vast expanse of Chitral wielded magnificent natural resources from mines and minerals, gemstones, water resources and thick forests of deodar to vast deposits of marble and that all attracted and tempted the people from all over the country.
He said the serene and tranquil atmosphere of Chitral would not remain unchanged due to the influx of the non-locals to the area and thus, increasing the rate of crimes and leading to introduce new crimes hitherto unknown in the area.
When asked about the vision of the district government about the issue, he said as district nazim he was fully aware of the situation and that a strategy was being developed to contain it.
The nazim said though no local legislation could be made to ban the sale of land to non-locals, there were many examples in the country and abroad where that had happened.
Local residents are not business-minded and lack entrepreneurial acumen to compete with the non-locals, who will influx into the area after the completion of work on Lowari tunnel
He said the non-local business tycoons could be contained from making inroads into the area if they were stopped from purchasing land from the locals which has already started as they had already started it by offering exorbitant prices, which lured the poor people to sell their lands.
The nazim said the United Nations body dealing with the safety and survival of indigenous people should rush to the rescue of Chitralis, whose culture and economy were at jeopardy with the opening of Lowari tunnel next year.
The apprehension of the district nazim was seconded by local property dealer Abdul Ghafar, who said over the last five years, the prices of land had increased more than five times.
He said most of his customers were non-locals, who did not haggle much at the time of purchasing of land and readily paid the prices what they were told.
When asked about the rise of crime rate in the area after the opening of Lowari tunnel as apprehended by the locals, district police officer Asif Iqbal Mohmand said the crime rate would certainly increase as it was a fact that the number of crimes was directly related to the density of population.
He however rejected the notion that it would increase exponentially with the opening of the tunnel and said the geography of Chitral acted as barrier as one would not succeed in escaping the district after committing crimes.
Founding chairman of the Chitral Association for Mountain Areas Tourism Chitral Shahzada Sirajul Mulk also expressed panic about the erosion of the big chunk of local business into the hands of non-locals.
When asked how to contain it, he said in Hunza, the people had imposed a social sanction on the sale of land or house to non-locals and the locals violating the ban faces social censure and boycott.
“This can be replicated in Chitral as well if the civil society is mobilised and organised about it but we have already lost a lot of time,” he said, adding that that would be a an effective and powerful tool to check the influence of non-locals.
Published in Dawn, December 11th, 2016