Islamabad, June 04, 2012: Approximately seven hours drive and about 275 kms from federal capital of Pakistan, Kohistan district of Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa is situated along the famous Karakorum Highway on the right bank of Abbasin (the mighty Indus). Kohistan is a Persian word that means “Land of Mountains”. Kohistan is where the Hindukush, Karakorum and Himalayan mountain systems meet making it one of the unique mountain ecosystems in the world. The district consists of four Tehsils: Dassu, Pattan, Pallas and Kandia.
‘Paradise on earth’ might be a cliché, but it is the only phrase that may describe the beauty of Kohistan. The place is blessed with lush green pastures, dense forests, unique species of birds & animals, flowing streams and majestic mountains that literally make Kohistan a heaven. Being on the centuries old trade route i.e. also known as Silk Route that connects India, China and Afghanistan, The district is gifted with abundance of natural resources.
The beauty of this district is matchless; however, the recent spate of violence and human rights abuses has plagued this beautiful area miserably.
Kohistan district has citizens’ representation in National Assembly of Pakistan and Provincial Assembly of Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa via an MNA and three MPAs but it still remains one of the most isolated and deprived district, not only of Hazara Division but in the entire Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa Province with the lowest socio-economic indicators in the country. The literacy rate of the district is as low as 11.1% with the ratio of just 1.34% of female enrollment.
Due to illiteracy, poverty and deprivation from being in the mainstream development process, social injustice is rampant in the area. Every now and then, there is news about human rights violations, where people are murdered in the open, girls are not allowed to go to schools and access to information and freedom to expression is curtailed. Ruling elites use religion, tribal norms and local customs to further suppress already oppressed local population.
In an incident on 5th May 2012, Maulvi Abdul Haleem, a former Majlis-e-Amal MNA from Kohistan, threatened openly through a fatwa denying women’s access to education, abduction and forced marriages especially to women rights defenders and female NGO workers in the area.
Even though, Kohistan is not that remote from the federal capital, the area is increasingly becoming a breeding ground for sectarian militancy flaring more violence and human rights abuses especially towards womenfolk. Seemingly, government and judiciary both are still not very concerned about the deteriorating situation of Kohistan.
In another horrific incident, few months back, 16 individuals from the Shia sect were killed after having been dragged out of the buses in Kohistan. The gunmen singled out passengers on the basis of their sect before executing them one-by-one. These people were going to Gilgit-Baltistan via Karakoram Highway.
The story of violence does not stop here. Last week, the local tribal Jirga along with religious leaders declared four women and two men ‘Ghul’ (fornicators) after they were allegedly caught on videotape singing and dancing together at a wedding party in Bando Baidar village of Kohistan.
Investigations revealed that this was a forged video meant to instigate tribal violence and targeted towards these women and men. It is heart wrenching to report that at the time of filing this article, there is conflicting news of killing all the accused unfortunate women by the Jirga without any fair trial. However, the Supreme Court of Pakistan has just taken suo moto notice and ordered to present the women before apex court on Wednesday, 6th June, 2012.
Too many have died a violent death but the state functionaries have failed to restore law and justice. The people of Kohistan are extremely vexed by the current intolerance and bigotry and hope that their problems will be resolved on immediate basis.
There is a dire need to take serious notice of the fatwa machines in the area and appropriate action should be taken against such self-serving individuals and groups, who use their own distorted version of religion to threaten life and wellbeing of marginalized citizens especially women and young girls.
On 29th May, 2012, Bytes for All (B4A), Pakistan issued an open letter to the Government of Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa, condemning the decrees of such Jirgas, requesting urgent attention and action on the ground with assurance of all possible support to the government on behalf of its members and partners.
B4A also stressed upon the need for enforcement of binding laws of the land to ensure protection of women rights in the societies like Kohistan and urged the government to take all possible steps to curb violence against women.
B4A also demands that all the pro-women legislation and policies framed by the current government should be put into best practice and implemented in its true spirit to liberalize marginalized tribal women from the hegemony of local tribal customs and ruling elites. An effective awareness campaign for the local women to know their rights and how to protect themselves is urgently required. They should be given right to speak for themselves and freedom of choice. The government should provide them with proper platforms and access to information and education so that they can communicate with outer world.
B4A also demands that local media channels including community radios should be introduced so that local people have a medium, where they could express themselves and it will also help in creating awareness among masses.
We urge the government to take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical and psychological well being and security of women in Kohistan districts. The Jirga system, which is the main root cause of discrimination against women in that society, should be banned.
Let’s work together to stop this plague from spreading!