Prof Rahmat Karim Baig
Today on my way to the Bazar of Chitral in public transport, I saw one elderly man sitting with younger passengers and one of them addressed the elderly man some good words about the old days of Chitrali society and the condition of health of the older generation and the blessings they had enjoyed in the bygone days.
The elderly man did not have the mood to discuss the old days but I could not restrain myself in replying to the young man who was praising the old days. I countered his arguments and said many of the constraints and problems faced by men of 50s and 60s who had very small amount of food or provisions in the market as we do now. The old had no health facilities, no education but the talkative young man was adamant that in spite of all that they were lucky. They got organic food even if it was small in quantity. They were very cooperative, sympathetic towards each other and had great altruism within their communes. They shared their resources with the have-nots. They traveled long on foot or on ponies but did great help with each other. Their respect for moral values was very high. And the man went on praising the men of old Chitral.
In retrospect, I consider that despite their lack of food and clothing resources they were very hard working people. True, they were poorer than the present day men of Chitral but had greater stamina to work hard and harder. They were self sufficient and got enough food stuff from their cultivated plots for a year. They travelled far and explored many passes in summers and carried certain items to other valleys, many articles of medicinal value including Chars which was not banned then. It was allowed and the state of Chitral got some duty on this item and trade of Chars was legal.
There were also teams of smugglers in Chitral who bought Chars from the villagers and hired porters and took to little known tracks across the passes that led to borders of upper Swat via Bashqar Gol and Golen valleys, first entering Reshun gol and then into Golen Gol and after that great struggle, got good value for their commodity but it was only a summer time effort. In winters they collected more material from the villages. The legal trade brought less value than the smuggling. The cartel had its own rules.
The tracks leading to Badaxan via a number of passes in the west were used by state dissidents and others who were in the black book of the rulers of Chitral. These were mostly located in the Khuzara valley. The passes used by anti Mehtar elements were watched by men of the ruler and movements were reported to him. The internal trails from valley to valley were used in summer for local need such as visits or travels to cut long distances and now these internal tracks have been discovered by Gujur herders who have reached the very distant meadows and set up their own network to use the old trails for different purposes.
Some trails have been found very convenient for a number of trading deals among themselves bypassing the local communities. The old tracks, now estimated by researchers, are less known to the new generation of Chitralis but better known by the said herders and this aspect of the issue is much more dangerous for the coming generation if the herders are allowed to operate as they do now.