Taimur Shamil

In the north most part of Pakistan, Darel and Tangir are two most beautiful valleys. These valleys are in the Diamer district of Gligit-Baltistan just on the banks of river Indus. They are abundant with beautiful flora and fauna and have mesmerizing snow-capped mountains and waterfalls. In recent days these scenic places full of serenity have seen a barbaric act of terrorism and extremism, yet again. This time 13 schools were burnt in these valleys, and this has become a part of the routine in Diamer.

The local people came out on roads to protest against the torching of schools, and there were some arrests made later, but still, the more significant questions are: Why these places have been the target of such acts of extremism repeatedly? What steps have been taken by the administration of GB and local administration to keep a check on these ‘unidentified’ elements? Why are the people opposed to girls education or education in general? These were the question that I had in mind when I went to the remote valleys of Danrel and Tangir initially as a tourist and later as a person who wanted to bring education in Diamer , Darel and Tangir specifically. During my stay from 2011 to 2013, I had frequently visited the place since these valleys were my favourite places to be with a scenic view and hospitable people.

The first time I visited the valleys was in 2011. This was the time when the sectarian clashes were at a peak in GB. GB has been a hotbed of communal elements where countless innocent people have lost their lives to the communal clashes. The city of Chilas, known to the travellers of KKH, in this regard is notoriously known for the rugged and rocky landscape with the Indus flowing right next to it. It is perhaps the warmest part of the GB and infamous for extremist tendencies which have been there for decades.

On one side of the Indus river is Chilas, the central city of Diamer district, and on the opposite side of Chilas are the Darel and Tangir Valleys. One has to cross a newly built bridge that connects KKH with Darel and Tangir. The banks of Indus and the roads that lead to these valleys are also famous for the Buddhist stupa and centuries-old rock carvings. A rare historic site frequently visited by the tourists and travelers on KKH.

The roads, as generally assumed by the people, are not just rocky tracks leading to the valleys but well-built roads that were made during the Musharraf era. These roads, two different ones, lead to Darel and Tangir. High mountains dissect both the valleys.

People residing in Darek and Tangir rely on pasture grazing animals and timber. Much of their income is dependent on woodwork and forest. The buying and selling of wood is the primary source of income for the well-to-do families; the rest are small shop owners and shepherds. The area is generally poverty stricken with very few opportunities for work. The young men, usually, live in distant lands in Pakistan to earn a decent livelihood and support their families back in the valley.

There is virtually no adequate system of education in these valleys. Most of the schools are ghost schools. Some of these schools might have furniture and buildings, but they stand as a symbol of neglect by the government.

The question that comes to one’s mind after visiting other parts of GB and then Diamer is that why Diamer lags behind in the general education trend in GB which has been improving over the years? There are several answers and aspect to this question. It is partly because of the culture, religious orientation, government’s neglect and states incompetency.

Gilgit-Baltistan has been the victim of sectarianism which took deep roots in the 1980’s. Though there were incidents of sectarian clashes but not to the extent to which it reached in the 1980’s. The general public in GB considers the Zia era as the era in which the clashes were patronized by the political elites for their political benefits. Since then Diamer has been the hotbed of the extremist elements. These elements and groups are well known to the public and the successive local administrations. It is to be kept in mind that GB is full of religious and ethnic diversity which has been its biggest strength and its weakness as well. The diversity has been exploited by the powers to be over the years for their agendas in the area. Chilas, its self, has been the place where sectarian clashes have claimed the life of many since the 1980’s.

The menace of sectarianism added with states neglect of the area has given the space to those elements which escaped the military operation in Swat. Diamer district in the Darel and Tangir Valleys are situated right next to swat. These elements have found support and sympathy from few people in Darel and Tangir.

The local administration has turned a blind eye to the issue. That is partly because of the incompetence of the administration of GB government and partly because of the neglect of the central government.

There is an absence of any workable policy or work plan to eradicate extremism from the area. There are significant elements which have been the sympathizers and supporters of the TTP and Mullah Fazllullah. They have been able to find refuge in the valleys. There have been several intelligence-based operations carried out in the area, but still, the germs are there. To eliminate the mindset that promotes extremism and terrorism strong governance is needed.

Poverty might be at the core of the issue, but there has been no serious effort made by the GB administration or by the centre to reach out to the people and tell them about the benefits that they might get if they get an education. Madrassahs are rampant which offer lodging and food and stipend at times. However, the affiliations, funding, and curriculum of these madrassahs are seldom checked by the authorities.

There have been no schools or necessary health facilities for the people in the valley. Those who are in some capacity are seen with skepticism by the locals. Once when I visited the areas and brought books, copies, and stationery for the local kids, one local young man asked me “is this part of an international conspiracy that you want our kids to read and get educated?” I wasn’t shocked because this isn’t what people living on mountain peaks think about education, people feel the same in other remote parts of Pakistan that I have visited.

Who makes them think all this? Why has nobody told them what education is? Nonetheless, my answer was, ‘If your children are educated they’ll be able to have better opportunities in life. Why would ‘international’ conspirators want you to get educated and have a better future?’. He listened to me and nodded.

It is high time that the government should focus on coming up with area wise policy for the education in GB in general and Diamer in particular. Special teams should be made to educate people about the benefits that education will bring. Involve people who have a direct interest in the area. The GB government, education department and local administration should be set accountable for the education in the area. As far as the security is concerned, if we can allocate 15000 security personnel to protect the CPEC then deploying few more to protect our children and their future in Darel and Tangir on the banks of CPEC route shouldn’t be much of an issue. The security of the people and the future of our children must be ensured.

 

n            The writer is an Islamabad-based TV talk

show host with an interest in Foreign Policy

and International affairs.