It is quite a happenchance that Shandur dispute once again has triggered a debate in the same month of July and almost at the same date. This time not because of inequitable administrative affairs during the three-day Polo festival rather because of territorial possession. The issue flashed to the surface in materialization of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s vow to have National Parks across the country of which Hundrap Shandur National Park is one.
Shandur pass, which is 12250 feet from the sea level, is home to the ‘game of Kings and King of games’_free-style polo. It’s the highest polo ground of the world distantly hunched by humongous mountains and closely by stairs-like naturally raised surfaces that add further fascination making it second to none. Shandur has long been a dispute between the adjacent villages on either side of the pass, but this time it has drawn the attention of almost every Chitrali and Gilgitees alike. Numerous tales of domestically armed scuffles incurring deadly injuries are at the tongue of indigenous masses of adjacent valleys. Shandur dispute perhaps, now, neither an inter-villagery nor inter-provincial matter rather its more than that and needs history to be rummaged.
History in this regard to boundary demarcation is largely obscure. Administratively, Gilgit and Chitral over different period of history have been one unit stretching from Tibetan Mountains to Kohistan and from Astore to Chitral, the capital changing back and forth. Different rulers on either sides have ruled in different times. So, once they have been one in terms of geography, tradition and culture. In the wake of Soviet Union’s expansionism, British government, as pre-emptive measure in subcontinent, gave Gilgit Baltistan in the supervision of Maharaja of Kashmir so that he can manage the affairs and collect imposts and taxes from the masses. It had to have far-reaching consequences. Chitral, this time, was also feeling the growing influence of Dogras. Due to border linkage with Afghanistan British government paid serious consideration and after the agreement between the ruler of Chitral and British government in 1885, Gilgit and Chitral fell into disharmony politically and administratively.
There onwards vicissitudes took place till independence. In 1947 Chitral acceded to Pakistan and was formally merged into Malakand division in 1969, on the other hand, Gilgit Baltistan had a brief breath of autonomous sovereignty for 17 days and what followed afterwards is history.
Gilgit and Chitral despite having traditional and cultural commonalities also share common borders. Administrative maneuvers over the time has created border disputes. Skewed nature of district administration of Chitral during three-day polo festival coupled with Chitral Scouts check-post at Shandur has chiefly fueled the tension. Now, ill-advisedly taking advantage of their representation in National Assembly raising a hell there is no way a sagacious move on part of Chitralees. There are glaring differences and hardly few commonalities between Chitral and KPK. Abdul Akber and KPK are a distant and different party altogether except administrative bond, whereas there are plenty to cherish and share with Ghizrees as stated earlier. I think, this better matter is best solved by the masses on either side of Shandur-pass.
If Chitral Scouts check-post, hutches and cattle-pen at Shandur are the sole foundation of their claim then it’s more advisable to consider the ‘water-shed’ rule of British, which is directly related to matter at hand_boundary demarcation. If former is credible then it supports Chitral’s claim and if latter is credible, which seems more plausible, then it’s Gilgit’s part. Which one is more credible, is left to you!
Sher Ilyas is a youth parliamentarian and a freelance writer.