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Kalash under threat

August 26, 2012


THE Kalash community of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Chitral district is something of an anthropological enigma. For centuries, the Kalash have held on to their ancient religion and customs and are a tiny reminder of the region’s pre-Islamic past. Yet this may change if the community has to abandon its traditions under the threat of militant violence. As reported in this paper, the Kalash have stopped placing their dead in the open and have started burying their corpses for fear of militant attacks. The decision was taken after a Kalash shepherd was reportedly kidnapped and killed by marauders coming from the neighbouring Afghan province of Nuristan, who also made off with hundreds of sheep. In the past there were reports of forced conversions, yet this seems to have stopped. However, with militants raiding their areas, a new threat to Kalash culture is emerging.

The Kalash are few in numbers — reportedly a few thousand people — and considering the rough deal the minorities of Pakistan have received, it is a miracle they have survived and managed to preserve their culture. Yet while minorities and all those Pakistanis who disagree with the militants’ warped worldview are under threat, the Kalash may be wiped out if not given protection, simply because they are so isolated and so few in number. Providing adequate security in the border areas with Afghanistan is an obvious first step. The problem is that security forces are concentrated in the valley, whereas they need to be posted at the border areas to stop the intruders. It has been witnessed that whenever the state wants to showcase Pakistan’s ‘diversity’ to the world Kalash cultural troupes are presented at various events. Yet when it comes to protecting the Kalash and their culture, the state has yet to make a more visible effort.