Wednesday, 23 November 2016

QK archives: How green is my Kurram valley

How green is my Kurram valley.....
Rahimullah Yusufzai

Published circa 2000

PESHAWAR: The Kurram valley is the greenest of all the seven Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Plentiful rains over the last year have made it even more green and pleasant. Alas, there is no tourism in the tribal areas bordering an unstable Afghanistan or Kurram would have been one of the most popular tourist destinations.

The spring is brief in the NWFP but it tends to linger on in the enchanting Kurram valley. During a recent visit, one found the weather still getting chilly at night. The blooming flowers and the abundant shrubs release a fragrance that is unique and overpowering. Standing tall are the stately Chinar trees, which gave Parachinar, the headquarters of Kurram Agency, its identity. The dried trunk of the old Chinar that inspired the founders of Parachinar has been preserved for posterity.

Talking of Chinar, one saw a tree by the roadside in the picturesque Shalozan village that defies description. It is huge, its trunk measuring a few marlas according to a villager even after having lost part of it to builders widening the road. Social worker Nisar Hussain said his late grandmother used to tell the family at the ripe old age of 90-plus that she never discerned any changes in the said Chinar tree since her childhood. It was the same when she was young and had changed little when she turned a grandmother. Forest department experts estimated this particular Chinar to be about 250 years old. By the way, people in Kurram Agency believe the Chinar catches fire every 100 years and it requires a collective effort by the villagers on such occasions to save their precious trees.

Kurram valley's famed beauty has inspired poets and lured invaders, traders and settlers. A large number of Afghan refugees have also made it home and in the process altered its delicate demographic balance. Being Sunnis, their arrival alarmed the Shias, who belong to the Turi, Bangash and Orakzai Pashtun tribes, and sometimes fuelled sectarian strife. Mercifully, there have been no sectarian riots for the last seven years. The resultant peace has brought harmony in Shia-Sunni relations and allowed the economy to grow and development activities to flourish. However, the distrust nurtured by years of sectarian divide is still deep and there is little hope of revival of inter-marriages in the near future. The two instances in which Shia boys married Sunni girls involved bridegrooms from Kurram Agency and brides from Thall and Dir, both outside Kurram.

The disastrous consequences of past sectarian strife have prompted both Shia and Sunni tribal elders and religious scholars to preach peace and tolerance. A Shia cleric, affectionately called Sur (red) Mullah on account of his healthy red cheeks, urged brotherhood among members of the two communities during a meeting in a Shiite village, Shakh Daulatkhel. Describing Kurram valley as a heavenly land, he advocated peaceful co-existence and unity between the two sects of Islam so that they could jointly foil the conspiracies of anti-Muslim forces. Similar messages are conveyed by Sunni Ulema in stark contrast with the past conduct of religious leaders of the two sects when all they preached was hatred.

The imposing Spinghar mountain range was still covered with snow, glistening in the sun and promising a bountiful supply of water when it would start melting in the summer. The bazaars in Parachinar, Sadda, Alizai, Baggan and other towns were busy and the shops full. Vehicles, mostly non-customs paid, plied not only on the re-carpetted main road from Chapari to Parachinar but also to every village in the valley. Remittances sent by Kurmaywals, dwellers of Kurram, working in the Gulf countries have brought a level of prosperity to many families. Glimpses of this wealth are visible through newly built houses, tubewells, vehicles and weapons.

However, it would be naïve to claim that the Kurram valley being a paradise on earth is problem-free. Unemployment is acute, lack of water in part of the valley is a fact of life, there is no industry worth the name, and proliferation of arms due to Kurram valley's proximity to Afghanistan is a matter of concern. Villagers resorted to cultivation of poppies this year after a lapse of more than two decades not only to cash in on the fabulous prices being offered for opium but also to invite the government's attention to their long-standing problems. The authorities are presently busy destroying the standing poppy crop by employing the classic carrot and stick approach.

In fact, Kurram suffers from the same official neglect that is the fate of all tribal agencies. The tribesmen frequently complain about the unresponsive system of political administration that considers the tribals untrustworthy subjects rather than as partners. Coercive laws, such as the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR), also arouse anger and frustration. The introduction of universal adult franchise in 1997 did help in empowering common tribesmen and weakening the stranglehold of the hereditary Maliks but the government's indecision in extending the devolution plan to FATA and offering representation to the tribesmen in the NWFP Assembly is again fuelling despondency. It is going to be another long wait before our rulers start trusting and empowering the tribal people.
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