Woes of the peripheries in Pakistan

Hydro power swat Pakistan

The peripheries, i.e. those living on the geographical fringes of a country or region, have their own torments and woes. They are ignored by the center in many ways, but at the same time, the center does not give these people their rights while usurping their resources. Center has many cultural, political and economic biases towards these people.

Since Pakistan has been born from the womb of a colonial empire, therefore the internal perception, attitude and practices of this colonialism in this country exists in all spheres. A few examples will illustrate this cultural, economic, political and developmental bias of center towards the periphery well.

 The people of the center have formed the perception that the people of the suburbs are uneducated, uncivilized, rigid and barbaric. They think that among them no highly educated person can rise because of their own ills, and no one can do any intellectual and literary work because of their own collective flaws.

The Center believes that these suburbanites are bound by rigid culture. The Pakistani center considers these peripheral people to be extremists and terrorists. This is the reason that we find security check posts mostly in these areas while central Pakistan does not have this kind of surveillance.

The Pakistani center thinks that only they have a monopoly on language and literature, while these marginal people speak some inferior languages which the center considers as “dialects”  and they have no tradition of literature and culture.

 From the developmental point of view, this is an ample example that Islamabad and Lahore roads are built in months, while roads in areas like Swat take years to be built.

 The highland peripheries of Pakistan have natural resources, but these resources are usurped by the center and the peripheries get nothing in return. For example, these mountainous fringes are full of forests and water bodies. However, the Center has the monopoly in cutting these forests and selling the timber. The Center itself makes policies on the use of these resources for the welfare of the elites. Gilgit-Baltistan is considered as the water tower of Pakistan, but it still lacks an identity and political representation. The lands of Punjab and Sindh are prosperous because of this water from this region and Kashmir. Bhasha Diamer, Dasu and Tarbela dams are because of this supply chain but in Gilgit-Baltistan people have electricity only for two hours in winter.

Hydropower projects are being built in Swat and Chitral and the rivers here are being destroyed, but there is no policy as to how these projects will benefit the local indigenous communities. These areas are being given the illusion of a vague and uncertain livelihood in the name of tourism, while the people of the center are encouraged as investors to buy and sell the lands of the tourist spots here. This is land grabbing under a policy of the development of tourism. Policy makers from the local administration to the center create obstacles in the way of local investors and apply every effort to discourage them from investing. Take the beautiful Bahrain bazaar in the Swat Valley as an example. Since there was no central investor powerful, here, people’s hotels were kept closed for two years and now a road is being built in such a way that all the hotels are destroyed. Could not this road be built immediately after the floods of August 2022!

There are not enough hospitals and schools and even if there are, they are poor. If there is any deficiency in these institutions, it is never removed or improved. If the machinery of the hospitals breaks down, new machinery is not provided in time. The number of schools is reduced. 40 schools were closed in the Kohistan area. No other school was added. The schools in these peripheries that have fallen victim to natural calamities have not yet been rebuilt. A few hospital buildings have been built well, but there is still a lack of facilities in them. No one is telling what happened to the promises made in the Daral hydropower project in Bahrain Swat, but billions are being spent on raising the walls of this powerhouse so that the people do not see it because the people of these suburbs are considered a security risk.

 If any voice of resistance is raised in these peripheries against this internal colonialism, it is suppressed by increasing sectarianism, mullahism and racism. In Gilgit-Baltistan, different sects are fought, while here in Swat, Chitral and Dir, the backlash of the failure in a neighboring country is dumped. In Bahrain Swat, when there was resistance to the current design of the Daral hydroelectric project, internal racial feuds were fueled and the community was divided.

The voices raised in these suburbs are defamed by their own people by calling them anti-national, anti-religious, liberal and terrorist. Baba Jan of Hunza is sentenced to life imprisonment, but Ehsanullah Ehsan is made a special guest by the center.

Mahrang Baloch is easily grilled by journalists nearer to the hegemonic center for not being able to condemn the terror groups and dead squads in Balochistan but these journalists never asked those who are accused of rearing the terrorists in their courtyards.

In Pakistan, we the people of the peripheries, are in constant poverty which increases with every passing year. Our rights to our lands, culture and languages are denied. These people are victims of neocolonialism in Pakistan which is internal, unseen and covered with policies!  

Zubair Torwali is Founder & Executive Director IBT (Idara Baraye Taleem wa Taraqi) an education, research and advocacy organization

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