The bane of development

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In our collective and individual mindset, there still exists a colonial legacy that manifests itself well in various situations – from a classroom in school to a tour along the peripheries. Scholars term it as a colonial mentality, by which they mean “an internalised attitude of ethnic or cultural inferiority felt by people who are colonized”. It is multilayered going from top to bottom. In essence, the colonial mentality is a vertical thinking attitude that measures things in a hierarchical order. If inferiority exists in our mind, a feeling of superiority must also exist. The ones at the top automatically think low of those below the ‘vertical’ line this mindset draws.

Colonialism was a product of modernity across the world. One of its main objectives was to ‘transform’ the ‘savage’ into the ‘civilised’. Modernity also gave birth to new concepts, apparently out of empathy. One of these concepts is the predominant theory of development. Although this concept has evolved over the years and has been adopted by different international bodies in different ways, the basic essence remains the same.

Development was simply considered to be economic growth at any cost, even at the cost of humanity and damage to the atmosphere around the world. This consequently gave birth to detrimental crises, such as climate change and its impacts on human society.

When colonial writers, administrators and researchers visited any area or community in the Subcontinent, they would define people, cultures and society in their own way by using their own colonial background. They often used unwanted terms for these people and labelled them as savage, exotic, wild, invincible, inhuman and backward. Edward Said refers to the practice of studying the ‘other’ by relying on one’s own cultural background and socialisation as ‘orientalism’.

With an education system inherited from our British colonial masters, the colonial mentality of inferiority and superiority prevails in Pakistan’s governments and society. For instance, communities living in the mountainous fringes are generally thought to be wild and backward. Whenever a person from the centres of civilisation (read: cities) visit these scenic regions and their people, the first thought that comes to his/her mind is to ‘transform’ the people. This is not ill-intended, but based on stereotypes and a glaring lack of understanding. The mountains in the north of Pakistan have all the bounties of natural beauty and resources for us to be proud of. Kumrat Valley, situated in the Upper Dir district in Malakand Division, is one such valleys.

In May 2016, Imran Khan made a surprise tour to Kumrat Valley. Kumrat wasn’t as widely known to tourists in Pakistan before the PTI chairperson’s visit. Mesmerised by the valley’s scenic beauty, Imran Khan announced that a national park would be set up Kumrat Valley to protect the region. He also invited tourists to visit the valley.

Camping in Kumrat Valley, Thal upper Dir district. Photo by Aftab Ahmad

Following Imran Khan’s visit, the number of tourists visitng valley increased substantially. Locals built ‘tent hotels’ in the valley as they didn’t want any land-holders to build permanent buildings in the region.

That same year, this writer also paid a short visit to the valley and was pleased with the sanctions imposed by locals on the basis of their customary laws. Their reaction is indeed a role model for the people of all those regions with tourist spots that have an abundance of natural resources in the form of lakes, forest, wildlife and biodiversity.

Responding to Imran Khan’s announcement to turn Kumrat Valley into a national park for tourists, locals had expressed their resentment. Haji Gul Sher, chairman of the Tahafuz Haqooq-e-Qaum Dir Kohistan (a movement to protect the rights of people in Dir Kohistan) raised questions over how a party leader or government can announce the decision to establish a park without taking owners of the land into confidence. As reported by this newspaper on September 26, 2017, he feared that after the national park was established, locals and their children would have no access to the forests that are situated on their land.

Following that commitment by Imran Khan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Senior Minister for Tourism Muhammad Atif Khan announced on November 4, 2018 that a national park would be established in Kumrat Valley.

Soon after the announcement, the district administration of Upper Dir approached the people and asked them to remove their ‘tent hotels’ from Kumrat Valley. The administration didn’t issue any documents or notices to the people. Instead, it went to them a number of times and ordered them to demolish their ‘hotels’. Locals deemed this harassment and took the matter to court.

Badgoi pass. It is the pass between the valleys of Lamuti in upper Dir district and of the Utor valley in Swat district. This track is open for four wheeler in summer. Photo by Mujahid Torwali

A jirga of elders from the concerned area visited Peshawar to meet the chief minister and discuss the issue. But the chief minister, according to Haji Gul Sher, is not available to meet them for the next two weeks.

Any ‘modern state’ is often at odds with the customary laws of its peripheral communities. These are a set of unwritten customs, practices and beliefs agreed upon by the indigenous people. They are accepted as obligatory rules of conduct by indigenous people and local communities, and are precisely the collective ethos of a community. Customary law can relate to the use of and, access to, natural resources and other community obligations.

In Dir Kohistan, forest and associated land is owned by the various sub-tribes of the dwellers. Forests, pastures and communal land are their main source of livelihood and sustenance. Establishing a national park in these areas will have a grave impact on locals whose very lives depend on forests and their associated produce.

I admit that deforestation is higher in Dir Kohistan and other hilly areas that are prone to harsh winters. Instead of snatching people’s land under the pretext of protecting them, the government must provide alternative sources, especially for energy. According to a survey conducted in 2014, the main cause of deforestation (which stands at 83 percent in the region) in Dir Kohistan is the lack of alternative resources in which the main item is fuel wood.

Dir Kohistan is blessed with vast water resources. The government must install small hydroelectric plants to provide free or cheap electricity so that the people can use it to ensure power supply and for cooking purposes.

Camping in Badgoin pasture, Lamuti, upper Dir district. Photo by Aftab Ahmad

Establishing national parks or initiating apparent tourist projects in beautiful valleys like Kumrat is usually not meant to serve the welfare of locals. Instead, these measures seek to fulfil the personal whims and ambitions of the powerful bureaucracy and the wealthy cronies to obtain more land in these worldly heavens.

The writer heads an independent organisation dealing with education and

development in Swat.

Note: The article originally appeared in The News International on Dec 9,2018

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