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August 20, 2016

The Kalam festival


August 20, 2016

Few in Pakistan are unaware of the beauty and bounty of Swat and its idyllic heavens like Kalam. Kalam is a name in Gawri, the native language of the area, meaning ‘village of Ka’. ‘Lam’ is used for village in Gawri.

Since the successful Operation Rah-e-Raast in Swat in 2009-10, the military has been carrying out a number of rehabilitation measures with the support of the provincial government in the war-ravaged Swat valley. Some of these activities include recreational events. The Swat Summer Festival has been held in Kalam since 2010.

This festival and other such activities are meant to restore tourism in Swat along with showcasing the ‘peace’ restored in the valley after a reign of terror.

Tourism in the area, specifically in the summer and from home is increasing every year. This year, according to estimates by the local administration, more than 400,000 tourists visited Kalam and Bahrain during the Eid holidays.

This kind of unmanaged tourism, however, has both negative and positive repercussions for the locals of the area and on the environment and culture there.

The local economy – through hotels, transportation and trade – gets a sufficient boost contributing to the insufficient means of livelihood in the area. The people of Kalam and its adjacent valleys flee the rough and long winter in search of some income. This migration badly affects women and children.

Children abandon their schooling and the women of the migrated families take on harsh labour work. Similarly, about 40 percent of the total population of the indigenous people, particularly of Torwali descent, has left the area for good and settled in Karachi, Quetta, Rawalpindi, Sialkot, Lahore, Peshawar, Hyderabad and other cities of Pakistan in search of a better livelihood.

Their native areas are blessed with natural resources in the form of water, good weather and forests. These resources can be properly conserved for the betterment of not only the locals but all of Swat. We see no measures having been taken by successive governments for the emancipation of the native populations of the areas from the bloody clutches of acute poverty. Sustainable tourism is just one endeavour among many. The Swat Summer Festival is one minor activity.

Given the scarce means of livelihood in the area, and the apathy of our public representatives and bureaucracy towards innovation and sustainable development, the summer festival in Kalam needs to be held annually.

The military is determined to hold the festival sometime this month. To them cancelling the festival is giving in to the fear of the terrorists whereas for the locals issues like construction of the Kalam road and functionalising the civil hospital in Kalam are more important than the festival.

For some political elements among the locals the festival glorifies obscenity also. And, most probably, by cancelling the festival they want to enhance their political clout.

This has created an impasse between the locals and the festival managers. To link the road and the hospital with the festival seems illogical but it does hold water since the locals have no other opportunity to raise their voices for their rights. Although these issues fall under the ambit of the civilian government, the military can facilitate the governments, provincial and federal, to do the needful in time.

The managers and funders of the festivals must hold the festival but at the same time they need to pay attention to some critical issues.

As a nation, we are yet to be educated in matters related to environment and climate change. During the festival piles of garbage are seen scattered in the beautiful plain forests of Kalam, and its streams, roads and pathways. The water surface at Mahudand is raised for rowing. This damages trees and the lake. The managers of the festival must take concrete steps to protect the forests, lakes, green pastures, and roads streets from this garbage.

In the areas of Kalam, Bahrain and Madyan smaller indigenous communities live with their endangered languages and cultures. These communities are already threatened by the onslaught of globalisation.

The festival needs to include the local culture and languages in addition to Pashto.

The hoteliers in the area complain that they are not paid their dues in time. Measures need to be taken to not only pay the hotels well but improve their services as well.

We have often observed that the locals are usually restricted from entering the entertainment areas during the festival activities because they go there in casual clothes. We need to make sure that not wearing the popular trouser and shirt is not deemed suspicious and worthy of discrimination.

We would also love to see such festivals in the winter when the valleys are full of snowfall. This is off-season time, and the area needs winter tourism promotion as well. But the fear is that such winter festivals may cause felling of trees, since hoteliers will need firewood to keep their guests warm.

There is no doubt that such festivals should be held but at the same time the government and our military must also be proactive in creating opportunities for sustainable development for the local people of the areas.

Kalam, like every other place in Pakistan, is shared by Pakistanis equally but the locals – who are the custodians of such places – deserve special attention.

The writer heads an independentorganisation dealing with educationand development in Swat.
Email: [email protected]



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