Post Lowari tunnel: Chitralis fearful of the tough days ahead

Work on Lowari tunnel is likely to be completed in June next year. —Dawn
Work on Lowari tunnel is likely to be completed in June next year. —Dawn

The people of Chitral fear they’ll suffer from the heavy influx of outsiders into their region after the completion of work on Lowari tunnel.

“We have to prepare ourselves for the tough market competitions, which we will come about after the successful execution of Lowari tunnel that is likely to happen next year. We’ll have to ready ourselves for that otherwise we will become alien here,” says district nazim Maghfirat Shah.

To elaborate on his point, he cited the examples of Murree, Kalam and many other highly developed tourist resorts, where, he said, local people worked with non-locals after selling their properties to them long ago.

Such apprehensions are frequently expressed by the people of Chitral seeing the things following the completion of work on Lowari tunnel, which will connect the geographically isolated district with the rest of the country and thus, attracting business tycoons.

The people say on one hand, the project’s successful execution will open the avenues of development, progress and prosperity for the area but on the other, it will have negative economic, social and cultural effects for the local population.

Former project manager of an IUCN project in Chitral, Dr. Inayatuallah Faizi, felt on social and cultural sides, the post-Lowari tunnel Chitral would be totally different from today’s.

He said Chitral was known for its rich diversity of culture where there were 14 different cultures including that of Kalash which have retained their originality due to the geographical isolation of Chitral with Lowari Pass as its barrier.

Dr. Faizi said no environmental impact assessment of Lowari Tunnel project was carried out though that was required under the Environmental Protection Act 1997.

He feared that the unique culture of Chitral including that of Kalash would dissipate with the opening of Chitral to the outer world as the local people were highly susceptible to the influence of other cultures.

The expert suggested short, medium and long-term measures for the preservation of the local culture, which included holding of public consultations on the subject and also invoke the help of Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations.

He also proposed the strengthening of museums in the area to preserve cultural traits, which, he said, would die out with the influx of non-locals in the area and ECOSOC can readily manage it without any loss of time. He advocated for documentation of local cultures, including that of Kalash as short-term measure.

Regarding the financial and political dynamics of the situation in Chitral after the completion of work on the tunnel, the district nazim said the local people were not business-minded and lacked entrepreneurial acumen to compete with the non-locals, who would influx into the area.

“By nature, locals are the people who remain content with the little they’ve. This will be exploited by the non-locals who will occupy the local market within few months of the opening of the tunnel,” he said.

“The people of corporate sector will set up establishments here and get a complete hold on the business and thus paving the way to clinch the political leadership as well from locals by dint of their wealth,” he said.

Mr. Shah said the vast expanse of Chitral wielded magnificent natural resources from mines and minerals, gemstones, water resources and thick forests of deodar to vast deposits of marble and that all attracted and tempted the people from all over the country.

He said the serene and tranquil atmosphere of Chitral would not remain unchanged due to the influx of the non-locals to the area and thus, increasing the rate of crimes and leading to introduce new crimes hitherto unknown in the area.

When asked about the vision of the district government about the issue, he said as district nazim he was fully aware of the situation and that a strategy was being developed to contain it.

The nazim said though no local legislation could be made to ban the sale of land to non-locals, there were many examples in the country and abroad where that had happened.


Local residents are not business-minded and lack entrepreneurial acumen to compete with the non-locals, who will influx into the area after the completion of work on Lowari tunnel


He said the non-local business tycoons could be contained from making inroads into the area if they were stopped from purchasing land from the locals which has already started as they had already started it by offering exorbitant prices, which lured the poor people to sell their lands.

The nazim said the United Nations body dealing with the safety and survival of indigenous people should rush to the rescue of Chitralis, whose culture and economy were at jeopardy with the opening of Lowari tunnel next year.

The apprehension of the district nazim was seconded by local property dealer Abdul Ghafar, who said over the last five years, the prices of land had increased more than five times.

He said most of his customers were non-locals, who did not haggle much at the time of purchasing of land and readily paid the prices what they were told.

When asked about the rise of crime rate in the area after the opening of Lowari tunnel as apprehended by the locals, district police officer said the crime rate would certainly increase as it was a fact that the number of crimes was directly related to the density of population.

He however rejected the notion that it would increase exponentially with the opening of the tunnel and said the geography of Chitral acted as barrier as one would not succeed in escaping the district after committing crimes.

Founding chairman of the Chitral Association for Mountain Areas Tourism Chitral Shahzada Sirajul Mulk also expressed panic about the erosion of the big chunk of local business into the hands of non-locals.

When asked how to contain it, he said in Hunza, the people had imposed a social sanction on the sale of land or house to non-locals and the locals violating the ban faces social censure and boycott.

“This can be replicated in Chitral as well if the civil society is mobilised and organised about it but we have already lost a lot of time,” he said, adding that that would be a an effective and powerful tool to check the influence of non-locals. — Zahiruddin, 11 Dec 2016

Published in Dawn, December 11th, 2016

7 COMMENTS

  1. Those who have argued against the Lowari tunnel in the past have wanted to cut the head for fear of a headache and the irony is that they have been greatly successful in this endeavour for a long time. That is the reason why Chitral is so much behind it’s neighbour GB which is flourishing due to KKH and now CPEC route.
    The culture of GB is better preserved now than before the KKH because they have been economically empowered compared to the impoverished condition they were in before.
    We Chitralis sure do not want to beg asylum from the onslaught of progress. We do not want to be put in a cage as showpieces of an endangered culture. Someone who has seen the torment of the poor people unable to travel in winters for treatment or admissions or jobs, or the scarcity and price hike of essential items in Chitral markets in winters can well compare the advantages of the tunnel to it’s disadvantages.
    Yes we must educate the people to preserve their land and the best way to do so is to adopt a culture of working hard so that they compete with outsiders. Why should we underestimate ourselves.

  2. The comprehensive comment of Mr. Fardad Ali Shah is very clear to understand the issue. The apprehensions communicated reflect the pessimistic point of view. Depiction of real picture is necessary to see things in their true perspective. There, we need to be broadminded and think optimistically. The above discussion represents the era of 1990 and even before. Today, our culture is totally changed because our daughters are married in Punjab and Sindh. The cell phone is very common and internet is accessible to all. The culture of any specific are is not limited.
    My comment will continue to elaborate my point of view……..

  3. Only compulsions thrives on noble characters like strong, sturdy, perseverance, industrious and sober otherwise neither hope nor will, reduced to a noble person to stagnant or inertia. Of course, we have to accept challenge and contemporary facets: the change, and to devise a mechanism or wrought a solid strategy while getting down on bedrock so that everyone has a good grasp to face the music of change. Definitely adhering to our culture-vulture, fine and arts are our criterion at any cost. Because, “Change is an opportunity to grow, change is not an adversity to fear” (Debasish Mridha).

  4. From pre-page….
    The culture of any specific area can not be limited within the boundry walls of that area. As regards the influx of non-locals causing impact on business community, I would like to ask you my dear friends! Have the Afghani not captured the hotel industry in Chitral? Are the Pashtoon pathans not dominating your transport system and business as well? Both these nationals do marry with our daughters and purchase properties frequently. During my last year visit to Chitral, I happened to offer my Jumma prayers at Badshahi Masjid. I was surprised to note that the Khateeb Sb before Takbeer, made Preparatory announcements in three languages, (1) Chitrali, (2) Pashto and (3) Urdu. To me, it was really a pleasant surprise which I did not see anywhere in Pakistan.

    The statement of the District Nazim regarding involvement of the United Nations for the safety of our culture is ridiculous. Why should the UN indulge into a local issue of a small strip of Pakistan. It is just like a statement of Altaf Hussain (MQM). The respectable District Nazim should bear in mind that the UN takes notice on the request of a State in respect of an international issue. The Pre-protesting compaign against the Lowari Tunnel before its completion reflects the narrow-mindedness of our people. We Chitralis are comparatively civilized people. I have visited the backward areas of Punjab. I have seen a Chitrali woman advising the neighbouring women to keep their cattle away from the place where they are sitting.
    As regards the apprehension of increasing criminal activities, it is worth mentioning to point out that we are peace loving people and by the Grace of Almighty Allah, Chitral is rerrorist free zone particulary because of its geographical conditions. Therefore, I request all my friends to stop propaganda against the Lowari Tunnel.

  5. @ brother Ashraf-ud-Din, Salamo Alaikum! Sorry, Your comments is just like a cold storage from which one can not get any thing. Please be positive and express your views with reference to the context in simple English. Your brother Sultan Wali Khan of Seen.

    • @ Sultan Wali Khan Sb. Neither my comments are pessimistic nor any digression from the topic, ‘Post Lowari tunnel: Chitralis fearful of the tough days ahead’. Tangibly, post Lowari tunnel, we have to face; apprehensions as enumerated in the instant topic as well as in your valuable comments. Therefore, my humble comments sheer stirring and revolving around the poetical embellishment as:

      “We are not here to play, to dream, to drift,
      We have hard work to do and loads to lift,
      Shun not the struggle, for ‘t’s God’s gift.”

      Alfred Tennyson says:
      How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
      To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
      As though to breathe were life! (22-24

      “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” (William Shakespeare, Hamlet)

  6. My Dear Sharafuddin, there is no poetry competition here – we are discussing a real issue of Lawari Tunnel and the suffering of stranded passengers, amongst them are women, children, sick, students and others who travel not for leisure but for urgent work and emergencies. Reciting Shakespeare or Tennyson’s poetry will not solve these passengers’ problems. We request the authorities to come up with practical and workable solutions to this recurring issue. The NHA engineers, Korean contractors and most political authorities responsible for this issue do not even know who Shakespeare and Tennyson are – nor do they understand a message conveyed in poetry. We need to speak the language they understand…

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