Aziz Ali Dad
One of the dilemmas faced by postcolonial states is that they inherited the idea of nation states from their masters and they try to impose it on their heterogeneous societies. To establish its identity, it is indispensible for the nation state to delineate its geographical boundaries. Redrawing of boundaries between new nation states has resulted in curtailing of interaction between members of the same culture. However, some nation states have been able to co-opt such communities within the political structure through administrative measures, political concessions and pluralism.
In Pakistani context, the Wakhi people (Xhik in local parlance) in Gilgit-Baltistan represent a case of communities whose cultural kin are divided between Pakistan, China, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. The Wakhis in Pakistan inhabit the border areas of Brughal (Chitral), Shiqamal (Ishkoman) and Gojal, but a majority of their population is concentrated in Tehsil Gojal of Hunza district.
The Wakhis of Gojal are facing enormous challenges in the shape of scarcity of food, fuel, medicine and relief — all of which is due to the creation of an artificial lake (now called Attabad Lake) by a massive landslide over a year ago. The lake has isolated them and dealt a severe blow to the local economy by cutting off access to the Karakoram Highway. Although, the government of Pakistan tried to reach some pockets, its efforts were thwarted by mismanagement within the local administration. In short, the artificial lake still blocks access to the rest of the country for the people of Gojal. The tehsil hasharsh weather, and this can be judged from the fact that Attabad Lake is now frozen.
Being part of a community on the periphery, the Wakhis may feel that are being pushed to the wall and look towards their brethrens across the borders in future. In this process, culture can play a crucial role in bonding the divided Wakhis and produce centripetal sentiments. The more the government ignores their miseries, the more centrifugal tendencies may generate. Coupled with this, concrete measures from neighbouring polities may tilt local sympathies in their favour. Keeping the local populace dependent on China for a long time is not in the interests of Pakistan.
In order to circumvent undesirable outcomes of marginalisation, our government needs to take measures on war footing to alleviate their suffering. The Wakhis of Gojal are struggling to save their valley from a catastrophe. Local people cannot change the functioning of nature, nor do they question it, but they are raising questions about the lackadaisical response from the government towards their plight.
The Wakhi people are already disconnected with the rest of the country physically, but ideologically they are still loyal to the state. If these people continue to suffer marginalisation by the state, the physical distance may pave way for ideological alienation. Only by addressing the genuine grievances of these people can the state contain its citizens within its geographical boundaries and win their hearts and minds.
The writer is a social scientist associated with Strengthening Participatory Organisation.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 14th, 2011.