Nasser Yousaf (Picture: Tajuddin Chitrali)
A couple of months ago, an English-language newspaper reported that two officials of some government department in a small town of the district of Kohat were transferred to Chitral. The news report went on to explain that delinquency on the part of two officials had led to the said transfers as a punishment.
Little was of note in the said news except irony.
Nestled deep in the Hindu Kush mountains, Chitral is Nature defined in all its hues, bounties and a stupendously unique state of solitude that could not be found anywhere else in the world. To presume or consider then that a transfer to or a posting in the district of Chitral is a punishment is in truth a kind of malaise that has ineluctably stuck to the Pakistani psyche.
We all are familiar with the phrase ‘Kala Pani,’ as it has traveled down to us through the British rule in the Indian sub-continent. The two remote islands of Andaman and Nicobar in the Bay of Bengal made up the condemned quarters of ‘Kala Pani’ to which our British rulers would banish the most hardened criminals.
The term has so stubbornly settled in our common vocabulary that it refuses to go away. In a word ‘Kala Pani’ is indicative of our mindset that guides us in our morbid thoughts, our stunted imagination and in the way we make decisions. Unfortunately, and perhaps with malicious intents, Chitral is the victim of this state of mindset.
One ought not to take these idiosyncrasies too seriously, risking a perpetual loss to one’s sense of proportion. One ought, therefore, to explore and enjoy the lighter sides of such actions.
A transfer arising out of the foregoing state of mind more often than not is either reversed in a matter of days or otherwise is rendered irrelevant in a variety of manipulative ways. There is no single instance in the recorded history that in any particular case all the state’s machinery was on that particular occasion geared up towards ensuring that an incorrigible official transferred to Chitral did in fact suffer the purported ordeal of his punishment.
Far from it, while fully enjoying the perks and privileges associated with their work, these officials, unless they happen to be the district heads of some noteworthy establishments, only occasionally report for their duties. Pakistan’s civil service has a culture of undiluted patronisation and outright complicity that comes to the rescue of the most deadened enemies of public service.
The gossip surrounding this peculiar subject is so endless that even travellers to our climes have chronicled it in their accounts. Geoffrey Moorhouse from Britain visited Pakistan in the early 80s. His long joyful journey took him to all four provinces of the country in addition to the northern areas. He spent a considerable period of time in Chitral of which he has presented a scintillating account in his book titled ‘To The Frontier.’
Moorhouse got royal hospitality during his stay in the mountainous town after a chance meeting introduced him to the district police chief, a Yousafzai Pashtun from the central Frontier. The meeting with the police officer turned into a sort of friendship as heretofore the traveller found himself being accompanied by the top cop to places which the former could not have imagined to be on the itinerary.
It was during one of those visits when the police officer confided in his guest that his posting in Chitral was more of a punishment as he had found himself on the wrong side of his bosses. It would not be fair to infer whether the officer too considered his posting to be a kind of punishment for in fact he could be referring to the common perception.
Later, the British traveller was taken to the sprawling establishment of another security officer. During the course of a long entertaining visit to the new premises, Moorhouse came to know that the officer in charge of this place too was here because of his apparent failure to ingratiate himself with his bosses to their liking.
Let this be, if it pleases the power that be, but why in the name of Holiness shall such shenanigans cause such an undeserved loss to the image of Chitral as being a place worthy of being associated with perdition.
One always had an opinion that there must have been a grand Divine design in hiding the valley of Chitral behind such a massive wall of mountains. Human beings tend to be fickle, and hence Divinity ensured that Chitral remained hidden from the prying eyes of a great mass of people deemed unreliable by Divinity.
Perhaps, there are still some unexplored places in Chitral which would be as pure as they were at the time of Creation. Primitivity is Chitral’s beauty, and it appears to be most threatened.
Until about five years ago, journey to Chitral by road was fraught with perils as travellers had to traverse the Lowari Top which would remain blocked for close to six months due to heavy snowfall.
A long tunnel has finally been carved out in the mountains to the valley. One would only hope that the people of Chitral who had been waiting for the tunnel so desperately would not be made to rue their fate if the onslaught of visitors robbed the valley of its pristine beauty.
The tunnel certainly has come as a boon for the people of Chitral. But one wonders how would the dimwits, and indeed the ingrates, for looking Nature’s gift horse in the mouth, now vent their spleen on their subordinates on account of whatever fair or foul reason.