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Al Qaeda hunt leaves Chitralis stranded

January 14, 2003

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KARACHI, Jan 13: The ongoing hunt for Al Qaeda has become a humanitarian disaster for half-a-million people of Chitral. This winter they are not allowed to use the alternative Kunar-Nawa pass route, passing through Afghanistan, to travel to and from the rest of the country as the Lowari Pass remains closed.

The residents of this remotest district, disappointed by the successive governments’ unfulfilled promises of providing an all- weather route, had been using unhindered the route via Afghanistan for almost a decade.

The Lowari Pass is closed each year from December to May due to a heavy snowfall on the 12,000-foot pass. This year when it was closed to all types of traffic on Dec 8, the local traders suddenly found themselves unprepared to stockpile even commodities of daily use when they learned that they could no longer use the route through Afghanistan.

The District Nazim of Chitral, Shahzada Mohiuddin, told Dawn that he had warned the authorities in Islamabad of the impending problem. He said the authorities he had approached to express his fears included the Foreign Office, the home department and the Frontier Corps. In addition, he contacted the governor of Afghan province of Kunar after getting a nod from the Afghan embassy and consulate in Peshawar to seek the opening of the Kunar route.

After a month’s efforts, he added, when traffic finally started to ply, Chitrali passengers had to undergo a 14-hour arduous journey through the dilapidated roads of Kunar but to their dismay, on reaching the Pakistan border posts they were meted out a worst kind of treatment at the Nawa Pass and then in Arandu and Mirkhani at the hands of the Frontier Corps personnel.

According to the Nazim, the FC personnel seized even items such as children’s toys and tissue papers from the weary passengers under the pretext of the ongoing war on terrorism, and harassed the Chitrali shopkeepers.

“My entire efforts of a whole month have come to a naught as one call from the higher-ups to the FC officials at the borders led to the complete closure of the Kunar route,” Shahzada Mohiuddin said. “The people of Chitral have become hostage to a conflict that was not of their making.”

The authorities both at the centre as well as in the province continue to imagine that the district government alone would be able to come up with a panacea for half-a-century of broken promises made to the disillusioned public, he said, adding that the authorities by their inaction had failed to conceal their indifference to the grave humanitarian crisis.

Fate continues to play a cruel joke with the Chitralis as at times of emergency they cannot even take the sick to hospitals out of the valley for timely treatment. Besides, all economic activities have come to a standstill as the blocked roads have sent prices of essential items skyrocketing.

Air link through the Fokker flights has been the only source of communication with the rest of the country but that is also subject to weather conditions.

When a select few vehicle owners from Kunar request the Pakistan government to allow them to operate their vehicles between Chitral and Kunar province as a goodwill gesture in return for the free passage to the entire residents of Chitral, the requests falls on deaf ears and is promptly turned down despite the fact that close to 120,000 illegal vehicles continue to travel in other five districts of the Malakand division.

Shahzada Mohiuddin demanded an emergency meeting of the Frontier Corps, the home department, federal and provincial government officials with the Afghan council, also to be attended by the Nazim, the MNA and the MPAs of the district, to discuss the existing problems faced by the people on a war-footing.

The district Nazim also appealed to President Gen Pervez Musharraf, Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali, NWFP Governor Syed Iftikhar Hussain Shah Gilani and Chief Minister Akram Khan Durrani to put the issue higher on their list of problems to be solved so that the sufferings of the people of Chitral end.