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Pakistan: Kalash minority threatened by Islamist extremism

Thursday 19 October 2017, by siawi3

Source: Peter Tatchel Foundation

Pakistan: Kalash minority threatened by Islamist extremism

Smallest ethnic & religious community in Pakistan is fighting for survival

By Arsalan Barijo.
Edited with additional reporting by Peter Tatchell

London & Islamabad - 18 October 2017

The smallest ethnic and religious community in Pakistan is fighting for the survival of its culture, in the face of religious extremism, forced conversion, ‘colonisation’ by Sunni Muslim settlers and Taliban attacks.

The Kalash are a Dardic indigenous people who live primarily in the Kalash Valley, in the Chitral District of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan. They follow their own distinct traditions and belief systems. They are a polytheistic non-Muslim people who practice a form of ancient Hinduism infused with old pagan and animist beliefs. For centuries, they have maintained a totally separate culture from the Muslim majority in the country.

In the 1900’s the Kalash were a majority in Chitral District. Now the situation has changed. Only around 4,000 Kalash people survive in the valley. As a result of inward migration by Muslims, the once majority Kalash have now become a minority.

Some (not all) of these migrants are attempting to impose their Sunni faith on the Kalash people. There have been many pressured and forced conversions to Islam; resulting in clashes between Muslims and Kalashis in June 2016. This was not first such incident. Kalash members have often suffered Islamist threats and assaults. In 2014, the Pakistan Taliban announced an “armed struggle” against the Kalashis, demanding they convert to Islam or be killed.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has acknowledged that nearly 3,500 inhabitants of the Kalash Valley have had death threats from militants.

These threats and attacks continue. In August 2016, armed groups from Afghanistan’s remote province of Nuristan attacked shepherds in the high altitude pastures of the Kalash Valley in three separate incidents. In one such assault, they stole around 400 animals and killed two Kalash shepherds who resisted the attack.

For the Kalash, who survive on goat meat and milk during the long winter months, such robberies are a life-threatening loss. Their livestock also play an important role in Kalash festivals, which are a part of their unique culture and religion.
Despite the Government having set up an army check post in the area, the attacks have continued without hindrance. Adequate measures have not been taken to provide security to this indigenous community and to protect them from Islamist violence and forced conversions to Islam.

Articles 28 and 36 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan state:

“Article 28. Preservation of language, script and culture - Subject to Article 251 any section of citizens having a distinct language, script or culture shall have the right to preserve and promote the same and subject to law, establish institutions for that purpose….
“Article 36. Protection of minorities — The State shall safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of minorities, including their due representation in the Federal and Provincial services.”

On one side, the State has given rights and protection to religious minorities in the Constitution. On the other hand, the State’s own department, NADRA (National Database and Registration Authority), includes all religions but not that of the Kalash; denying their identity as a legitimate indigenous ethnic and religious minority.

The Kalash people, in order to protest against discrimination and the denial of their rights, boycotted the general election of 2013.

The oppression of the Kalash was highlighted in a letter to Chitral News, which is reproduced in full here:

“The Kalash, the indigenous and original inhabitants of Chitral, are still being deprived of their constitutional rights in the following way:
1.Our religion is not included in the list of religions and we are being forced to show Buddhism or Islam as our religion.
2. Kalash students are being taught Islamiat (Islamic religious studies) in schools, whereas they should be taught ethics instead of Islamiat.
3. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government has included 12 languages to be taught in schools but Kalash language hasn’t been included, despite the fact that we have developed our text books up to grade 18.
All these issues are leading to more and more conversions to Islam and the tribe is endangered. Islam does not allow suppressing minorities; it rather instructs to protect them. Help preserve the Kalash from extinction.”

Based on the UN General Assembly resolutions, the Kalash community and its culture should be declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, in order to protect and conserve them.

The Kalash want the subject of ethics introduced in Kalash Valley schools instead of Islamiat, to halt the pressured or forced conversion of Kalash youth by Muslim teachers.

The Government of Pakistan and UNESCO are being called on to give international exposure and support to the Kalash ethnic-religious community, by arranging foreign visits, funding Kalash cultural projects and by appropriate development aid in accordance with Kalash priorities.

In order to ensure political representation, the Government of Pakistan should allocate a separate seat for the Kalash minority in both the Provincial and National Assemblies.

To remedy centuries of exclusion, marginalisation and discrimination, the Government is also being urged to introduce a quota system for Kalash employment in government departments, and to also allocate a quota and scholarship programme for Kalash students in professional colleges and universities.

The non-recognition of the Kalash religion in the NADRA database needs to be remedied.

The declaration of the founder of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, in his address to the Constituent Assembly on 11 August 1947, is pertinent and still relevant:

“You are free: you are free to go to your temples; you are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in the State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State... We are starting with this fundamental principle: that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State. Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not so in the religious sense because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as a citizen of the State.”

This article is based on a commentary by Arsalan Barijo that was originally published by the Asian Human Rights Commission: @humanrightsasia This edited version is published with the kind permission of the AHRC.



Pakistani Taliban threaten Kalash tribe, Ismailis in Chitral

AFP Updated February 12, 2014

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani Taliban have announced an “armed struggle” against an indigenous tribe and Ismaili Muslims in the picturesque northern Chitral Valley, calling on Sunnis to support their cause in a video.

The valley was once dominated by moderate Ismailis and is also home to the Kalash, a polytheistic people who claim descent from Alexander the Great and who have maintained separate cultural traditions to the predominantly Muslim country.

But migration in recent decades has meant that Sunni Muslims are now the majority in the area, while the Kalash way of life has come under threat by the Taliban, who have also carried out a number of attacks against security forces in the area.

The Taliban’s 50-minute long video released on February 2 on their media wing’s website opens with a scenic view of the mountainous valley that is popular among domestic tourists and famed for its annual polo festival.

The narrator warns the Kalash, who are thought to number only 3,500, to convert to Islam or face death.

“By the grace of Allah, an increasing number of people from the Kalash tribe are embracing Islam and we want to make it clear to the Kalash tribe that they will be eliminated along with their protectors, the Western agents if they don’t embrace Islam,” he says.

The video also accuses international NGOs of creating an “Israel” like state in Chitral by attempting to protect the Kalash culture and take people away from Islam, and vows to foil their plans.

A charitable organisation headed by the Aga Khan, the Ismailis’ spiritual leader and a globally renowned philanthropist, is singled out for condemnation.

“The Aga Khan Foundation is running 16 schools and 16 colleges and hostels where young men and women are given free education and brainwashed to keep them away from Islam,” the narrator says.

He adds that the foundation’s schools and hospitals, which are free for members of the public, are espionage tools in the hands of foreign powers.

The Kalash are also warned to stop producing wine, which they make from apples, mulberries and grapes.

“Western NGOs are promoting Kalash wine and we warn all those individuals and hotels selling it, they should stop production and selling of wine otherwise they will be sent to hell by the will of God.”



Hand grenade attacks kill two Ismailis, wound 28 in Karachi

Updated August 13, 2013

KARACHI: Twin hand grenade attacks killed at least two people and wounded 28 others belonging to Ismaili Muslim community, a faction of Shia Islam, in Pakistan’s port city of Karachi on Tuesday, officials said.

The first attack took place in the Karimabad neighbourhood during rush hour, creating panic in the area.

“A hand grenade fell inside worship place of Ismaili community, killing a woman and a child and wounding 26 others,” senior local police official, Aamir Farooqi told AFP.

A local intelligence official also confirmed the attack and casualties.

Another hand grenade targeting Ismailis worshipping in the western district of Metroville injured two people, local police official Asif Ejaz Sheikh said.

Nobody has so far claimed responsibility for the attacks but Karachi, a city of 18 million people, is rife with murder and kidnappings and has been plagued for years by ethnic, sectarian and political violence.

Meanwhile, at least two people were injured in as many hand grenade and home-made bomb attacks in Karachi’s twin city Hyderabad. One of the attacks was reportedly targeted a stall, setup to sell national flags in the wake of Independence Day celebrations for August 14.



The list expands: Ismailis attacked

From the NewspaperAugust 15, 2013

THE grenade attacks targeting two Aga Khani Ismaili jamaatkhanas in Karachi on Tuesday, in which a woman and her child were killed, are yet another indicator of where Pakistan stands after over six decades of its creation. Once again we have proof of how far we are from the dream of a pluralistic, inclusive state in which Muslims of various persuasions as well as citizens of other faiths were meant to live peacefully without having to contend with the tactics of a violent minority seeking to impose its extremely narrow interpretation of faith on them. In this case, as in so many other instances of terrorism before it, senior police officials suspect the involvement of Lashkar-i-Jhangvi — an Ismaili doctor had given evidence against the militants currently on death row. However, there have also been reports that the Ismaili community has been receiving threats from the TTP. Indeed, let alone religious minorities who have all too often faced the wrath of the militants, no sect within Islam seems to have been spared either. Shias, Barelvis, Sufis and Deobandis not subscribing to the militant worldview have been killed individually and collectively. Last year, Dawoodi Bohras joined the list as a predominantly Bohra neighbourhood in Karachi was bombed, while community members were also shot in Hyderabad. And now, the Aga Khani Ismailis have become the latest Muslim group to be attacked.

The Ismailis are a peaceful, progressive and largely apolitical community that has done much for Pakistan’s health and education sectors, especially in regions where the government has failed. In the past there has been anti-Ismaili violence in Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan, mostly in the form of communal flare-ups. But the Karachi attacks bear the all the hallmarks of the militants. What should the state’s response be, apart from issuing the usual condemnations and orders for increased security at places of worship? The answer seems deceptively simple: the authorities must take decisive action against violent non-state actors with sectarian and militant agendas. But of course the million-dollar question is: will it?