Unique Pakistan Community Under Threat

June 10, 2009

Author: Aijaz Maher

Source: BBC News


Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP) is today arguably one of the most dangerous places in the world.

But while that may be true of regions where the Taliban proliferate, there are still areas of NWFP where life goes on as normal.

The most prominent of these is the Kalash region in the northern-most district of Chitral.

It is named after the Kalash tribe which has been settled here since time immemorial.

The tribe, said to be descendants of Alexander the Great's soldiers, still practise an ancient pagan culture unlike any other in this part of the world.

For centuries, the Kalash have been a people apart.

In modern times, they have become a major tourist attraction, but in so doing have also attracted the ire of Islamic clerics.

This has led to many of them derogatively referring to the Kalash region as Kafiristan, or "land of the unbelievers."

Unique heritage

This ill-will was largely restricted to slogans and sermons - until the coming of the Taliban.

But that is not the only challenge facing this dwindling community - many educated young Kalash men have chosen to convert to Islam.

In doing so, they have abandoned the community to seek a life in the cities and a more upscale existence.

All these factors are combining to erase a unique heritage.