Dorah Pass and attached economic advantages

By Muhammad Amin

The importance of Dorah Pass cannot be denied as it has played a very crucial role in the geo-strategic and economic history of Chitral and even Pakistan. Dorah Pass is situated in Garam Chashma. The history of Garam Chashma is 4,000 years old as that of Chitral itself.

Garam Chashma was also called Injigan (garden) and Khuzar (greenery) in old days. It has witnessed the impacts of Persian, Central Asian and Afghan influences when they used the pass to invade the region and further. Hence invaders from the subcontinent will also have the pass to cross over the other side of the Hindu Kush. Local excavations and ritual practices show that Hinduism, Zoroastrianism and Kalash were once the dominant religions in Garam Chashma. Cultural roots of the people are traced to Afghanistan, Central Asian states and even Iran. The current population of Garam Chashma is around 30,000 people and having more than 4,000 households. Main characteristics of the area are hot springs, trout fish, woolen Patti, dry/fresh fruits, Dorah Pass, trekking, wild animals, cattle, potato of good quality, herbal medicines and proximity to Chitral National Park.

The nomenclature Do, Rah means two ways, where on the left side one path goes to Munjan and further Panshar valley and the right side to Ishkashum in Afghanistan. Dorah Pass is near Sha Saleem, a village in Garam Chashma, Chitral. It is situated at a height of 14,000 ft (4,300 m) above the sea level. The pass crosses through Hindu Kush Range and Pamir Plateau (roof of the world) and is a continuity of the famous Durand Line which is an international boundary between Pakistan and Afghanistan drawn in 1892.

The distance from main Chitral town to Dorah Pass is 74 km and further to the river Oxus is 104 km. Thus the total distance from Chitral to the river Oxus (which separates Afghanistan and Tajikistan) is only 178 km and makes it the shortest transit route to reach the Central Asia states.

Dorah Pass has been a crucial trade route for cross-border trade between India, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Samarkand, Balkh and Bukhara since ancient time. Caravans from these countries crossed the pass and moved even further to Peshawar with their goods of merchandise. The main items were carpets, large utensils, styrax, herbal medicines (especially cumin), Afghan cloaks etc.Likewise merchants from the sub-continent took spices, tea and cloths etc. to different locations of Afghanistan and Central Asian countries.

In present time varieties of commodities such as Afghan and Iranian carpets, herbal medicines, precious gemstones, dry and fresh fruit, melons, cattle and Iranian shoes were the main means of imports from Afghanistan till the closure of the pass in 2007. Similarly tea, varieties of fabrics, cooking oil, rice, sugar, auto mobile spare parts, petrochemicals and medicines etc were exported through the pass to different parts of Afghanistan.  The significance of Dorah Pass can also be realized respecting its geo-strategic status in the region. According to various narrations invaders from Afghanistan, different parts of Central Asia and even Persia will have used the pass to invade Chitral and other parts of India. Likewise the same route was also used by invaders from old India.

After the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan by Soviet Union in 1979, Dorah Pass assumed a remarkable strategic dimension. Millions of Afghan refugees came to Pakistan through the pass with their commodities. It became a busy route for reaching precious and semi precious gems (lapis and Panshar emerald) to their destinations in Pakistan Hong Kong  and other international markets. According to data collected from 1979 to 2007 an around Rs23.5 billion worth of gemstone lapis (Lajward) and 2.8 million cattle were imported from Afghanistan to Pakistan. If other items are included in list the volume would have jumped to even huge amount.

Recently the federal government has issued notification to open Dorah Pass for cross border trade with Afghanistan and hopefully with the CARs in the near future on a regularized manner. An eventful ceremony was held at Shah Saleem (village near the border), which was attended by FBR provincial chief, security personnel and representatives of other concerned departments. Beside Dorah, Arandu border was also opened for carrying out cross border trade with Afghanistan.

The pass will provide the shortest transit route to the landlocked Afghanistan and importantly to the Central Asian states as compared to Wakhan Corridor which is located at a distance of more than 500 km from Chitral town to the Oxus River.

Now a brief description of distance will highlight the total differences from main town Chitral to the River Oxus (which separates Badkhashan province of Afghanistan from the Tajikistan Badakhshan province. It must be noted that the entire road (from Garamchashma to Ishkashum) is rugged and passes through steeped terrain. The distance from Shahsaleem, which is the border village of Garamchashma Chitral, to the Lake of Lady Dufferin (Hawz e Dorah) is around 3 hrs through rugged steeped road. From the Lake to Toop Khana is 1 hr and further to village Singlich is again 1hr.The same road leads to Oskotol village covering a distance of 1 hr.

One can reach in 30 minutes at Porogh from Oskotol.Again the distance from Oskotol to Keeda is around 1 hr and from here to Zeebak is 50 minutes. Final distance from Zeebak to Ishkashum (near the Oxus River) is 2 hrs.Thus the total distance from the demarcating Lake (Hawz e Dorah) to Ishkashum is approximately 8 hrs through jeep. If we make a comparison between the distance from Chitral to Peshawar and Chitral to the Oxus River, the former is more than 350 km covering a distance of more than 13 hrs on a comparatively mettled road. On the contrast the total distance between Chitral main town to the river Oxus is roughly 178 km covering the same duration. If a high quality road will be constructed from Chitral to Ishkamun in Badkhashan province of Afghanistan, then it will be covered only in six to seven hours, which indicates a stark difference.

Dorah Pass will provide more convenient facilities for the USA and its Western Allies to use Karachi and Gwadar ports in Pakistan, as they are not in favor of Hormuz in Persian Gulf belonging to Iran and Velodostok in Russia due to their strategic and political hostilities with these countries. Dorah Pass will be a crucial part of CPEC in future to connect Afghanistan, CARs and further Russia. In addition Sha Saleem will become a dry port like Sost in Gilgit Baltistan, resultantly improving the socio-economic situations of the people of Chitral. Pakistan connection with Central Asian States will help to address its energy requirements as these states are abundant in energy resources.

Existing strong bond of cultural and social relationship between the people of Badakhshan province and Chitral will be promoted and will guarantee trade in the region. In addition, eco tourism in Chitral will be promoted by establishing tourism destinations, cultural exchanges and organizing Jashn e Gobor etc.The initiation of cross-border trade will generate new revenue for the district & provincial governments. In sum current better law and order situation in the Badakhshan province of Afghanistan will ensure security and sustainability of trade through the pass. Last but not the least durable peace in Afghanistan will be not only in the interests of the region but to the whole world to promote cross border trade in the region.

With the opening of the pass for the cross border trade there will be new opportunities of income generation for the people of the area in terms of employments in various sectors.

(Published in ChitralToday on Oct 11, 2019).

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