From whom we'll seek justice?
The valley of Chitral, which spreads over 14,850 square kilometers, remains deprived of all the basic rights even in this era of space technology. Who should we blame for our deprivations – Chitral’s political leaders, lack of public awareness or discrimination in the hands of successive provincial and federal governments? But why should we remain with our hands crossed considering our deprivations as a fait accompli? Historically speaking, for centuries Chitral was an independent country with its geographical boundaries and cultural characteristics making it a compact nation state. But the first blow to the geographical integration and the Khow-speaking people’s unity came in 1885 when with the arrival of the British colonial powers and due to the incompetent and dishonest political leadership areas from Mastuj to Yasen, Ghizer and Punyal were severed from the state of Chitral. Though the struggle of the indigenous people bore fruits after over two decades when Chitral regain Mastuj, the other areas – Yasen, Ghizer and Punyal where people also speak the Khowar language – still remain separated from Chitral. At the time of the partition of the subcontinent in 1947, the then Mehtar of Chitral announced his decision to join the newly-created state of Pakistan without any preconditions but tried to keep the status of his princely state intact. However, in July 1969 the state was formally abolished and Chitral was made a district of the Malakand division of the then NWFP. It seemed we offered our independent and sovereign status in a platter to the rulers of Pakistan and got nothing in return. Even we failed to get the guarantee that our separate identity and cultural uniqueness should be protected after being merged into the province dominated by the Pashtoons with whom we had almost nothing in common. Today, despite being a separate nation with our own distinct culture, language, traditions and rich history and geography, we are fast losing our identity. Though there are people who considered the state era as draconian and a period of cruelties, at the end of its abolition Chitral got nothing. It is also deplorable that Chitral being area-wise the largest district – 14,850 square kilometers – of KPK, which used to consist of two districts of Mastuj and Chitral for administrative purposes, was made one district. For the last many years, successive governments have ignored the demand of the people of upper Chitral to restore the district status of their area. The decision to make Chitral one district was a step to rob the people of Chitral of their basic rights. The people of upper Chitral have been raising the issue at different platforms demanding district status for their area. During the first tenure of Benazir Bhutto as the prime minister when she came to the annual Shandur festival, the residents held a forceful protest for the acceptance of their demand and many people were arrested and sent to jail. However, due to the lack of an active and visionary political leadership, this mass movement could not achieve its objective and also disappointed the people. After the 2008 general elections the people of the area once again tried to put life into the dead horse. In 2010 when the then chief minister Ameer Haider Khan Hoti visited Booni, the political leaders and civil society representatives presented him a one-point charter of demand that their area should be given the status of district. The chief minister told the people on that occasion that a committee would be formed which would check if the area meets the constitutional requirements to become a district. However, it is very unfortunate that when it comes to Chitral there are constitutional and other impediments blocking the people from getting their rights. Why there are the so-called constitutional complications in the way of making upper Chitral a separate district for administrative purposes. Is this not a birthright of the people of upper Chitral’s far-off areas like Broghil valley to get their petty issues resolved locally instead of coming all the way to Chitral at a distance of 300 kilometers? On the other hand, the pervious government of the ANP did not see any impediments in making the 800 kilometers Kala Dhaka the district of Torghar. Coming to power in the province, the PTI has also announced its decision to divide the 492 square kilometers Kohistan into two districts. Besides, the chief minister had claimed that during the PTI’s rule in the province no injustice would be done with any area rather all the injustices done with the people of all the districts in the past would be compensated. But it is unfortunate that when it comes to ensuring basic rights to the 0.5 million people of Chitral, the successive governments have either not considered Chitral as part of Pakistan or thought that meeting any genuine demand of the Chitralis would be a cardinal sign. Today even after eight months of the general elections, the provincial assembly seat of upper Chitral remains vacant meaning the people of the area have no representation in the assembly to even speak about their rights. The people of upper Chitral need to pause and think if any government would give them their rights if they continued trusting them. It is time they launched a decisive struggle for all their rights. —Karimullah]]>