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Chitralis losing ground to outsiders?

Updated February 03, 2019

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A bird’s eye view of picturesque Chitral valley. — Dawn
A bird’s eye view of picturesque Chitral valley. — Dawn

Like the people of Murree, Kalam, Naran, Kaghan and many other developed tourist resorts, Chitralis will also reduce to servants of non-locals after selling their landed properties to them.

Such apprehensions are frequently expressed by the people of Chitral after the completion of the much-awaited Lowari tunnel that connects this hitherto geographically isolated district to the rest of the country, leading to influx of business tycoons.

The apprehensions are testified by the chain of events taking place during the last one decade as the unit price of land has gone up by almost 10 times. The non-locals did not haggle with the landlords at the time of purchasing land and readily pay the prices what they are told.

Different social organisations and local political leaders are tending to create awareness among people regarding the issue of the sale of landed property to the non-locals, which is gaining momentum day-by-day and may assume a full-scale movement any time.

It is also being portrayed a basis of imminent social problem. The locals contend that it may cause demographic change thereby and jeopardise the indigenous people, who are both culturally and historically distinct from the rest of the province and the country.

Although, Chitral is, area-wise, the largest district of the province being one-fifth of its total area, yet only four per cent of its land is cultivable and plain. The rest of the area is highland pasture, mountains and glaciers. The ever-increasing population is causing shrinkage of plain land, which is used for construction of houses. It is on record of the department of land settlement that land holding per person is on steep decline.

The apprehensions of the people of Chitral regarding the prohibition of immoveable property to non-locals can be justified on many counts but at the same time, one cannot go against the Constitution of the country, which envisages freedom to any person to acquire land anywhere in the country.

Article 23 of Constitution declares that “every citizen shall have the right to acquire, hold and dispose of property in any part of Pakistan subject to the Constitution and any reasonable restrictions imposed by the law in the public interest.”

Local leaders mull imposing social ban on sale of land to non-locals

A section of the population contends that neither any outsider can be debarred or restricted to purchase land in Chitral, nor the landlord can be stopped from selling his property.

The example of Hunza is, however, being cited where no person can sell his or her property to the non-locals and this restriction is civil in nature as no legislation can be made in contravention to the Constitution. The prevalence of social cohesion and unity is prerequisite for implementation of such restrictions, imposed by the society.

In the case of Chitral, this may be a missing factor due to the clash of interests as the landlords at the commercial places can sell their properties at a rate they wish. The local intellectual and former project manager of an IUCN project in Chitral, Dr Inayatullah Faizi, says that although social cohesion in Chitral is lesser in degree than the one in Hunza, yet it can be raised by rigorous awareness campaign.

He says that ‘social taboo’ is a pervasive and effective tool in the society that compels the individual to yield to the wishes of the society thereby sacrificing the personal benefit to the collective one.

“No one dares to go against the collective decision of the society once it is propounded and the example of Hunza can be replicated in Chitral,” says Mr Faizi. He says that things are heading to the crucial point where it will be too easy to impose the social ban easily without much opposition. He recalls that the social movement launched a decade ago against the trend of giving the hands of daughters to outsiders in marriage without proper identification process met with success.

Sartaj Ahmed Khan, former tehsil nazim and founding president of Chitral Chamber of Commerce and Industry, insists, however, that remaining within the ambit of Constitution, local legislation can be enacted in the district council to restrict sale of land to outsiders. He contends that the people of Chitral are indigenous as per definition of the term as they are unique in different aspects.

Mr Khan says that being a signatory to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, the state is duty bound to ensure the rights of indigenous people to their lands, territories and resources. He says that Kalash people are more vulnerable to the issue of losing landed properties where construction of hotels on the land acquired by the non-locals is in full swing.

Mr Khan says that on the basis of indigenous position of the people of Chitral including the Kalash tribes, the government should rush to their rescue in retaining their immoveable properties against the temptation of exorbitant prices.

District nazim Maghfirat Shah is also one of the protagonists of the idea of opposing the sale of land to outsiders in Chitral. None of his public speeches is without his urge to the people to save their land from the outsiders.

He exhorts them to seek lesson from the areas where the landowners are now serving as guards, cooks and helpers in the hotels, restaurants and other business outlets after selling their lands at throwaway prices to the business magnates coming from different areas of the country.

He terms completion of Lowari tunnel more a bane than a boon because he thinks that the people of Chitral were living in isolation with the least degree of contact with the outer world and they were not fully prepared to stand the challenges that accompanied the tunnel, which exposed it at full scale.

He says that legal and constitutional modalities are being studied to make legislation in the district council on the topic according to Local Government Act, 2013. He says that a social awareness programme is also on the anvil to preach the idea of putting a social ban on sale of land to the outsiders.

“We do welcome the non-locals to Chitral as we are fully aware of the fact that without their investment, no progress is possible,” says Mr Shah. He says that at the same time they have to take steps to safeguard their future. He proposes that instead of purchasing the lands, the non-local business tycoons should make the local landlords their ‘business partners’.

Published in Dawn, February 3rd, 2019