By Sumeera Riaz
Published in Newslens
Hunza: Sitting on a riverbank in the Kalash valley and dipping her legs in water, a 4-year old girl Amina Reem was the perfect embodiment of beauty, the same beauty that had blessed the valley. Extremist elements in the country are aiming to erase this very beauty.
Reportedly, Kalash tribe has been threatened by the Taliban and other religious fanatics who promote religious intolerance in the name of Islam. This particular minority is being forced to leave the valley, which is popular for its cultural variance, due to fear of persecution and even death.
According to the official statistics provided by Upper Chitral MPA, Sardar Hussain, the only pagan community of Pakistan, which once amounted to 20,000 people, has now been reduced to a mere 3,000; an alarming decrease in recent years.
Kalash Valley lies in the Chitral district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and is enriched with the natural, picturesque scenery of the mountains replete with seasonal fruits, some of which are used to make local wine; a traditional activity for the natives.
The beauty of the valley reflects well on the denizens of Kalash, who are gifted with glowing complexions and distinctive features, which make them stand out among the rest.
Already deprived of cultural diversity, Pakistan is on the verge of losing yet another minority whose culture and traditions fascinate, and attract thousands of foreigners hailing from various parts of the world.
Lack of cultural diversity will be a setback for the country’s Tourism sector, which continues to go farther and farther downhill.
A local resident of Kalash valley, Gull Wazir, told News Lens Pakistan that their community was on the brink of extinction. “We are facing threats from various religious fundamentalists, let alone the Taliban, who consider us a threat to their very policy of religious intolerance and we are being forced to convert to Islam,” he said.
He noted that tourism was their main economic mainstay, which was once frequented by foreigners who would appreciate the natural beauty, cultural heritage and traditional festivals detailing its history. “Due to the lack of any action by the government, our community is not only losing its identity, but the economic downturn is also adding to the misery of the people,” he added.
Talking to News Lens Pakistan, Information Minister Pervez Rashid, said that the federal government had issued stern directives to the local administration with zero tolerance regarding the protection of the local community. “It is the government’s responsibility to preserve their cultural diversity, as it is one of the most significant sources of revenue for the Tourism Department,” he added.
Asif Bashir, the social media coordinator at the KPK Tourism Department said that the provincial government had taken various measures to preserve the local community and heritage. “We have initiated a programme ‘Preservation of the Kalash Culture’ and for this purpose we are engaging some NGOs as well,” he added.
Regarding threats to the Kalash people, Bashir said security check posts had been set up in the valley which borders Afghanistan as well. “It was in 2009 when some Kalasha women were kidnapped by the Taliban who came from the Afghan side of the border,” he disclosed.