[Opinion] Who will listen to the plight of the Wakhis?

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.

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  1. I am appreciating the realistic approach of Mr Aziz Ali Dad and his timely analysis of the catastrophic situation in the upper Hunza Gojal due to the massive landslide and consequently the formation of the Atabad lake is absolutely right, and he has highlighted the problem at the right time to the Govt administration, political leadership and the civil society organizations to take the issue seriously and make some serious efforts to resolve the problem on priority basis. Otherwise there is no doubt the Wakhi people are patriotic and loyal to their county and unfortunately this plight situation may cause ideological revolt in the region.

  2. Sorry i could not help but comment that the Attabad lake is anything but a Artificial lake as mentioned by the writer.

  3. I m not agree with Mr.aziz’s opinion,it is true that Gojal has its own importance with respect to geographical location, culture,customs and tradition.We all are suffering from this devasting disaster of Attaabd not only wakhi speaking are suffering, in Shishkat 300 houses are submerged and only 70 houses are remaining more than 90% are Burushaski speaking, the funds from Govt for fees of students’ educational institutions who are studing out side from GB are not distrubed to Shishkat village students and this funds are distrubed in differents villages of Gojal who are Wakhi speaking, so this is a time to unite our self not to divide.

  4. Very well carved and delineated.We wonder how much problems are piling on our region and one has only to present with burdens of sufferings.What are reasons behind all this,who is going to address them and how the mass can contribute to alleviate these are the core questions.
    Lets try to catch the ping-pong ball on the other side the border-Hi China..

  5. Dear Asif Ali Sirang
    Mr. Aziz is a one of the top intellectuals of Gilgit-Baltistan who is well aware of the issues encircling different communities of Gilgit-Baltistan. He has authored a number of scholarly articles and highlighted different issues of Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan and also international importantance. By writing this article he has focused Wakhies, which does not mean he is unaware of the situation and plight of the Brushaski people who live in Gojal. I know Mr. Aziz has visited Gojal several times and is already aware of the demographic divide. Let’s appreciate his endeavor.

  6. I am very much uncomfortable with the views of so called social scientist who portrayed his views around wakhi people. The so called first should know about the statics about the composition of the population in Hunza, Gojal, who speaks brushaski along with wakhi.

    The people of Shishkat who lost almost all of their belongs are brusho and the benefit of this disaster is mostly taken by other part of Hunza Gojal. But their end is only hardship in smooth convenience to and from Hunza, Gojal. It is also in the notice of our people that the funds came from different sources for the settlement of the people of disaster area is being channeled to other areas because the sitting MNA and other pressure group hardly belongs to shisikat or sarat.

    I ask the so called social scientist, if you can not help or ease the problems of disaster hit people do not put salt on the wounds. If you are really interested to see the real plight of people of disaster area so pay a visit to know the ground realities. Also the people who writes in the newspapers or voices in other forms of media just be justified and honest to the ground realities. Do not twist the situation in favor of the people who you like rather your writing should focus the plight of people who actually hit by the disaster.

  7. I do argee with the writer as to how a natural calamity if not take seriously can breach the trust of the people. The effects of the disaster could be contained if sincere and concrete measures were taken just after this awful incidence happened. In its second year, the rehabilitation process and rectifying measures are still moving at snail’s pace, further deteriorating the situation and infuriating the communities involved. This may indeed culminate in deep sense of disappointment and huge rifts in ideological orientation of the people.

    I want to add that not only Gojal and Wakhis but the whole region of Gilgit Baltistan has been badly affected by Attabad landslide and subsequent creation of an artificial lake. The roads and communication links are in worst condition ever seen. Most of the areas in Hunza portray the era of the bronze age. Businesses and commerce is at the lowest. On top of all these disappointments, people are suffering from polution and dust due to cons(des)truction of KKH.

    While i was travelling on KKH lately, i saw some local and Chinese guys in the way of duty puffing ciggarettes and enjoying sunbath on the banks of the road, bored and not willing to make any progress. This instantly reminded be of our government officials and political leaders – the lazy jacks and joes of our society, who always pretend to see and listen but then become blind and deaf. If the situation remains like this, the KKH will remain a work in a progress forever and problems of the affected commnunities will linger on during their lifetimes.

    The government officials from top to bottom hardly want to do anything except to govern their own interests, keep aside governing the people and solve their problems. If they are not willing to understand the prevalent concerns and serious issues of the people, how can one expect that they will understand the severity of the consequences?

  8. I appreciate comments of the reader regarding my article. The response ranges from appreciation to indignation. Once we write something then we have to accept feedback of all sorts. Normally, I do not defend my position when people criticize, for objective criticism helps removing conceptual fallacies. However, when criticism stems from misinformation, personal disliking and hatred of a particular group than the content, it becomes imperative to clarify.
    One of the reader thought that I was Wakhi who was promoting Wakhi culture and creating fissures in culture of Gilgit-Baltistan. This is totally wrong. I am neither Wakhi nor understand Wakhi language.
    Lot of confusion is created by the title of article. First, the article was an attempt to analyze political fall outs of the disaster. Second, the title was changed by the editor. Third, the original size of article was 841 words which has been reduced to 441. Owing to this there are gaps in the continuity of argument. This has created lot of confusion.
    I am well aware of he demographic pattern of Gojal but to drive in my argument I chose a particular community. No doubt Brushashki speakers are also suffering but they have an option to seek help from their brethren in down stream. In fact majority of the displaced people from Shiskat and Ayeenabad shifted to Central Hunza and Gilgit, but most of the displaced Wakhis had to live in the camps or shifted within to the villages of Gojal. there is a tendency among Wakhis to look favorably to China because of the help extended to them during time of distress.
    My analysis was based on assessment of ground situation but it can be proved wrong as my thinking is informed by the time and space I inhabit. Only divine books can claim to transcend the limitation of time and space. hence, their claim for absolute truth. I cannot claim like that.
    My personal interest is to bring forth issues at the peripheries to the center stage of a particular discourse. We need to learn to break narrow confines of our languistic group and try to understand situation of other groups with empathy. If I have given the impression of being Wakhi in my article, then I treat it as a success of my empathetic analysis of Wakhis.

  9. I read the article and all the comments including the author’s and was compelled to put in my comment. As far as the population composition of the critiques are concerned they are right and the authour himself has responded that he is well aware of that and that the title was changed. I also know the author who is very sensitive and careful about choosing issues of local, national and international concerns. He is also an exponent of human rights and cannot be blammed that he has resort to narrow thinking. He has also metioned the reduction of the article by the editor, who may or may not be aware of the whole scenario. When articles are reduced from 841 to half, and title changed, then most of the ligical links which the writer intended to convy may have definitely lost. Writers chose to write from political perspective, sometimes from sociological perspectives and the like. Therefore, neither the space and times does allows them to jot down each and every thing, nor it is humanly possible, as the writer himself has mentioned. At the same time it is also true that it is not necessary and possible to cover every aspects in one article. In the end I would say the author has provided us an opportunity for reflection, so instead of becoming annoyed let us present the situation if we can in more educative ways.

  10. I think this is the most serious issue which is trying to explain by Mr.aziz in his article of 841 words, but the question is that why the publisher edited the title and length to 441 words of this article without the permission of the author? and showing the half picture of the complete face, and my request to all the volunteer reporters that please provide readers proper and complete information as the tradition of pamir times.

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