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Plea to keep Shandur part of Upper Chitral

National

August 1, 2020

PESHAWAR: On 2 July 2020, Prime Minister Imran Khan inaugurated the “Protected Areas Initiative Project” under which 15 national parks will be set up in the country under the umbrella of Green Pakistan Programme (GPP).

In this regard, an official list of the proposed sites selected for setting up national parks has been notified. In that list, a glaring mistake is observed. At serial 8 of this list, Shandur is shown as part of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB). It appears that the official list notified in this regard showing Shandur as part of GB is based on a wrong survey carried out by the survey of Pakistan a few years ago. The said survey is based on Google map. But the historical and geographical positions tell a different story altogether. Historically as well as geographically, Shandur has been an integral part of Laspur valley located in Upper Chitral district. The Federal Land Commission Report of 1975 has also clearly shown Shandur as part of Chitral. A plethora of authentic documentary evidences, besides physical possession of Shandur by the people of Laspur valley, are available. As the proposed site for setting up a national park under the “Protected Areas Initiative” project launched by PTI government spreads over an extensive area stretching from Handarap village of Ghizer district to Shandur Top falling within the precincts of Laspur valley in Upper Chitral, the former making part of GB province and the latter forming part of KP province, it makes no sense to declare both the distinctly separate sites belonging to two different provinces as one national park to be managed by GB.

It should be kept in mind that Shandur serves as a summer pasture for the people of Laspur valley and has remained in their possession since time immemorial where they have set up over 200 summer huts/houses over a period of time. Moreover, Chitral Scouts established its security post in 1986 at “Mahoranpal” Shandur to look after the security and logistic issues of the area round the year, and GB never raised any objection whatsoever.

It is pertinent to mention here that historically, Shandur has never been a disputed territory between Ghizer and Chitral. It was in 2010 when GB raised the issue of its ownership for the first time due to the reasons best known to them, since then GB has been trying to co-host the Shandur Polo Festival but has not been successful. It’s worth mentioning here that it’s the only Langar/Khukush that has remained the bone of contention between the people of Laspur and Ghizer with regard to its ownership. In this connection, it would be pertinent to mention here that an important proof of Chitral’s ownership of Shandur is mentioned in the book “Relief of Chitral” written by two brothers Maj Gen George Younghusb and Lieutenant Colonel Francis Younghusband.

In this book, while describing the military expedition sent by the British authorities from Gilgit in March 1895 to relieve the fort at Chitral which was under siege after a local coup, they mention that when Colonel James Kelly at Gilgit received the orders to send a small military expedition to Chitral to relieve the Chitral fort, he gathered the troops with necessary weapons including two mountain guns and a number of hired local coolies to carry the weapons and other baggage to Chitral. The expedition under the command of Colonel James Kelly left Gilgit for Chitral on March 23, 1895. To cut the long story short, when the troops along with weapons and other baggage reached Langar - a place about 2 kilometres ahead of village Barsit and about 200 yards short of Khukush - a disputed tract of land and a bone of contention between Ghizer and Laspur, the locals from Ghizer refused to carry the weapons and the baggage any further by saying that from this place onwards, it’s Chitral’s territory.

Consequently, the people from Laspur were summoned and they carried the weapons and baggage to Chitral. This is impregnable evidence of the dividing line between Ghizer and Chitral. It makes the ownership of Shandur quite clear. From what has been done in indecent haste without consulting the stakeholders and without taking them on board, one can smell a rat in the entire stratagem as an attempt has been made to evict/dislodge the people of Laspur valley (comprising six villages) from Shandur where they have centuries-old summer houses numbering more than 200 and six summer pastures for their livestock. These people spend almost five months of summer and early autumn in these summer huts grazing their cattle and collecting firewood for winter. Now they are being deprived of this facility. It may be noted here that both geographically and strategically Shandur is not a suitable place to be converted into a national park given the fact that it serves as a residential place and a public pasture for almost five months in summers and early autumn and also because of being on CPEC route.

PM Imran Khan is requested to take cognizance of this incident and order an inquiry to probe the matter and know those who are behind this conspiracy. The incident has triggered unrest among the people of Laspur valley in particular and among the people of Chitral in general. There is a need to de-notify this notification and restore Shandur’s original status to avoid unrest that may lead to law and order situation in the entire Chitral. It’s beyond human comprehension as to how can the government declare someone’s home as a protected area and hand it over to an outsider? The GB has nothing to do with Shandur. The only disputed area between the people of Laspur valley and the people of Ghizer as already mentioned is the forestal tract of land called “Khukush” located adjacent to the last and extreme-end village of Ghizer district namely, Barsit. Litigation in this regard is going on and the case is pending before the Chief Court of Gilgit awaiting a decision.