A valley in mourning: Kalash tribe fears for survival after recent attacks

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CHITRAL: Still reeling from the brutal slaying of two of its people, the Kalash tribe, known to keep to itself, has urged the government step up to the plate and ensure the security of its people.

Apart from an emotional toll, the farmers have also taken an economic blow as hundreds of their livestock were stolen allegedly by militants from across the border in Afghanistan.

“The only livelihood and source of income we have is through agriculture and our livestock,” said Baaghi Gul, the sister-in-law of slain farmer Noor Ahmed. “If that too is taken away, what are we left with?” she questioned.

Her brother was among the two men slaughtered in Charagah, Bahbaret in Upper Chitral.

Ahmed’s nephew, an eyewitness, said he would also have been killed too had he not managed to escape from a hole created by water flowing through a glacier.

Talking about that brutal incident, the 16-year-old boy told The Express Tribune he and his uncles were sleeping near the animals. He added Ahmed woke up at around 5am to milk the goats when the attack took place. Ahmed called out to him, telling the boy not to come any closer as there was danger.

The teenager recalled he and his other uncle grabbed their lone pistol and ventured out, only to see Ahmed getting cut down by machinegun fire. When the assailants turned their attention to the boy, he managed to narrowly escape with his life.

The victim’s house, in mourning over the death caused by Friday morning’s attack, had an old man sitting inside—Ahmed’s father. The man was beside himself and found it difficult to overcome the grief caused by his son’s murder.

In a corner of the room of the house sat Ahmed’s wife, draped in a black chador as is customary for a Kalash widows. She has to remain in this state for seven days after the death and cannot attend any ceremony for five months. Besides her, Ahmed is survived by nine children. Three days before the attack, locals said they had seen suspicious people in the area.

This is the second such incident being mourned by the family in just a few years. Around two years ago, Ahmed’s cousin’s son was also killed and at least 500 of his goats were taken away.

Residents of the Kalash valleys believed it was just the people of their community being targeted, adding the livestock of Muslims was also present in the area.

It is not just the locals who are targeted, but also those working for their well-being. Athanassios Lerounis, a Greek volunteer, was working in the valleys a few years ago. He had, among other things, constructed a school, a museum and a place for Kalash women to wash their clothes and perform other chores. However, he was abducted in 2010. After much effort and negotiations, he was released in 2011 and later left Chitral due to the obvious threat to his security.

Another foreigner, a Spaniard called Jordi, was also killed, said a minority councillor in the valleys. She said Jiordi had been living in the valleys for some time before he was killed in 2002. A boy from Birir, living with him as a helper, was also slain. Under such circumstances, it is hardly surprising that the Kalash community fears for its safety and ultimate survival.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 3rd, 2016.

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