By Ghulam Amin Beg
My dream and curiosity to revisit the cradle of’ my’ civilization came true, when InWent provided an opportunity to attend a regional workshop and study tour on ‘pastoralism and rangeland management in mountain areas under conditions of global and climate change’ starting at Khorog in Tajik Badakhshan and ending at Kashgar in Xinjiang China. We passed by road through the vast lands of Eastern Pamirs and over the Kulma Pass entered the land of Mutztagh Atta, skipping the Khunjerav pass, by few kilometres. This happened between August 13 and 22nd 2010.
Though different families trace their family roots differently, however most in Gojal, upper Hunza claim they have either migrated from the now Tajik part of Badkashan (Wakhan, Ishkoshim, Rushan, Shughan, Darwaz, Vanj etc.) or having relations, maternal or paternal in those lands. My family, both paternal and maternal also trace some of their relations to this land and people, who are called collectively, Pamiri people or the Pamiris. Most Pamiris are Ismaili Muslims, with the exception of people in Darwaz and Vanj and Murghab, who are Sunni Muslims.
Hence my visit to this part was a visit to the past and also kind of ‘back to the future’ scenario.
As we travelled from Dushanbe to Khorog, on the way, as we entered the territory of Badakhshan, my very first impression was appreciation of the vast and beautiful land, the magnificently flowing Panj River encountering us at every turn, the beautiful, cheerful, dancing and singing Rushanis and Shughanis creating an overt impression of a happy people in a far distant land of the pure, with little or no worries about the here or the hereafter, as we normally are concerned here under the administrative control of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan!
We were elevated when one of our friends, regularly offered five time prayers and made call for prayers, and enjoyed his spiritual communication with God from such a close range, on roof of the world!
But as we saw, across the Panj River, was Afghan Badakhshan, and as at every important turn, Prof Kreutzmann explained to the group of researchers, development practitioners from Tajikistan, China, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia , Switzerland, Canada, UK and Germany, how Badakhshan was once one unit and how the great game between the British empire and the Tsarist Russia led to the division of Badakshan into two different administrative and political realities forcing one land, one people and one culture to be separated across the river boundary, I felt like travelling into a living Museum of war crimes and oppression and suppression, making a virtual tour of what, why and how the crime scene was set and who were the political players and strategists on the chess board.
I realized that we, the ‘Pamiri people’, the utopians amongst us, are strange! We all love our natural environment-despite living with all kind of risks, vulnerabilities, fear and helplessness in the face of nature. We keep the light of hope glittering through clicking on the ‘spirituality’ of our being, and feel intellectually elevated through creating micro logics based on modern concepts of rationality and discarded traditions and concepts of superstitions, which we create and recreate a lot, and somehow live with it, happily! Sometimes it works, sometimes its killing, we continue to live with both!
We show immense attachment to our primitive cultures, terming it ‘cradle of civilization’ and feel affection for our people, thinking as they are the simplest, honest and chosen ones on earth. Most of us are also very conscious of finding our ‘roots’, tracing the migration patterns of our forefathers into the past, trying to establish pedigree charts as far as 16 generations plus, if possible. The Kyrgyz of the big and small Pamirs would even go further deep, as MANAS transcends time and space in their microcosm of oral history and setting pedigree standards.
I also felt that despite the great Pamir Highway constructed by the Russians in the 1930s to the last border of the Pamirs on the roof of the world, despite all the education and modernization projects, people in the upper parts, and in the valleys continue to live a life of subsistence and are very much in the vicious cycle of poverty of culture and culture of poverty.
We saw unfortunate incidents where people are helpless as the state and government education and tertiary heath services are not available to people in far flung mountains, and they are, like our rural villages, very much at the mercy of nature and highly vulnerable. My impression was, if 75 years of communism could not end the isolation and poverty of these pastoral communities, how can a ruthless capitalist model of governance change life for better for these people? We need to create new pluralistic models of social, political and economic governance.
While the civil war of the 90s has great scars on the minds of the people, especially the Pamiris who were siding the democrats and were bundled with the Islamists now go along with the Wahdat-unity, and support the Presidents party, who is representing the balance of power in this small but regionally and tribally divided country. Annually roz-e-wahdat-unity day, is celebrated and the President prioritizes one development priority for each region; this year for Badakhshan it was a chaikhana, teahouse, with magnificently carved woodwork and nicely designed building, near the Pamir Botanical Garden and below the UCA campus on the river side, costing perhaps, over 4 million somoni, so that the President's guests could be entertained, a gift to the Pamiris.
However, the sentiments, choices and priorities of the youth, the educated, and the literati are important for the future of the Pamirs. While the old guards and the opportunists continue to support the present regime and remain loyal to state apparatus and Dushanbe partocracy and salute priorities set by Dushanbe, the youth, in general, is looking for any opportunity to either migrate to Russia, EU or North America for studies, jobs and settlement. A real brain drain, but at the same time, these young man and women send remittances regularly which MSDSP studies say is over 60% of the household income. Salaries in government are very low average 60 somoni (one kg of meat is 10 somoni in the market in khorog) for mid level officials. Business opportunities are limited. In total less then 3000 people work in Badakshan in government, international organizations and the private sector, as salaried class, as compared to over 40,000 who work in Russia alone and send remittances.
AKDN has invested a lot from education to rural development to health to private sector development, like investing in Pamir Energy Company and operating Serena hotel to mobile company- Indigo and revitalizing the heritage and parks. Another important contribution is regional integration between the two Badakshans, Afghan and Tajik, through constructing bridges and promotion of economic, scientific and cultural exchanges at micro levels. Has this created a new sense of dependency? Are the people now banking on the resourcefulness of this new set of institutions and feel like,"they will do it for us for ever,as they came to our rescue in the 90s when there was famine like situation"? Even people might be expecting miracles happening when there is economic downturn or a natural or man-made calamity. I saw an amazing sense of gratitude and humbleness amongst old men and women, youth and children alike regarding this aspect. It seems for a moment, during this transition, there seems a romance between spiritual fulfilment, material needs and social harmony.
How long will this romance continue? Would these new set of institutional actions, actually create viable market mechanisms and create a responsive local government system or will it remain a parallel, well designed and well feed structure, which fades away, when donor funds are dried up, and people are again left to the mercy of corrupt, inefficient and unaccountable politicians and officials, who look down upon citizens rights, and only know the language of dollar, favouritism and power play?.
What are the lessons from Gilgit Baltistan and Chitral in Pakistan, where these institutions have a long presence to share with Pamiris? What are the successes and limitations and constraints?
I am a dreamer! I thought, i was crazy, idealist and impassionate! But the Pamir yatra opened my eyes, and I felt like there were others who are far crazier then I was! I met people who could be termed, 'real pamiris' who understand the realpolitic inside-out, but are pessimistic about current dispensations and order, both governmental and non-governmental. Leadership matters. What steps need to be taken to create and retain young, visionary, bold and proud pamiri leadership in the mountains? This is a real challenge, as they see it. They know that generally in the center-periphery relations it is important to know, who makes policies, and who implements it? Whether it is urban elites and powers sitting in cities and the centre, making policies for the rural areas, considering them poor and uneducated, not fit to sit around and share the decision making table? Who are the new development elites making decisions, are they urban elites, specialists from outside or decisions are made far away in headquarters?
They are worried that participatory, home grown and grassroots ideas are not actually making its way up, and that the best people are flying out. When this happens, mediocres and vested interest groups make small circles.
I can sense that while the Russians were feeding and nurturing the Pamiris, the post independence removal of subsidies, and lack of governance capacities created a vacuum, which were filled by the drug and Klashnikov mafios from Afghan side, which led to the civil war in the 90s. In the post civil war, while the government and state is trying to assert itself, and has created stability, this stability needs time and vision translating into economic opportunities for the youth. The Chinese, as we see them here working on the KKH, are actively working on widening the roads in Badakshan and linking it to China and Dushanbe through Kuliab pass. China and Xinjiang offers a new economic promise for the youth of Badakshan, as it offers for the youth of Gilgit-Baltistan. the economic future lies in economic integration of the two Badakshans and Gilgit-Baltistan with Xinjiang and Beijing through the KKH and the Pamir Highway and scientific, cultural and social exchanges with Xinjiang and China and linking Islamabad with Dushanbe, Kabul and Urumqi in this region.
This would require, the youth to learn in the best institutions of learning in China, Russia and the west, learning more about economic development, businesses and markets, technologies and institutions in the region.
The Pamiris and youth of GBC need to have one aim in their career, for the next 10 years; 'Seek knowledge/education, even if you have to travel to China'. And the institutions need to support the youth in this endeavor.
These were some of my initial thoughts that I penned down here. If there is an interest, i can share more thought on this at a later stage.