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Alt 02.12.2008, 10:48
maximus maximus ist offline
Registriert seit: 04.03.2007
Ort: Chitral
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Ausrufezeichen Postcard from Chitral

In "THE NEWS" , 27 October 2008
Postcard from Chitral
0 Chris Cork

Peshawarwas tense. There was not a western face to be seen on the streets, the hotel was almost empty and nobody was under any illusions as to the possible threat we worked under; and there was a palpable sense of relief as we lifted off in the dawn light for Chitral. The cabin crew was on light duties as there were only ten passengers, the flight was as beautiful as it ever was and on arrival Chitral airstrip - never busy - was a hotbed of lethargy. We disembarked into a sparkling morning to breathe clean air and felt the sense of in- security falling away from us. Smiling faces, jeeps, luggage in the back, laughing and joking with old friends, it was good to back among the mountains again.

We were here to scope out possible health and education projects that the Abaseen Foundation, an organization I have worked with for several years may have a future involvement with. Project, which had been planned for the Peshawar and FATA areas were on hold, and we needed to look for a safe place to work. Chitral, cut off for much of the year by road, almost completely untouched by the turmoil that rages across other parts of NWF with an established governmental and NGO infrastructure that was in reasonable shape, looked like a good place to do business. It is.

There may be no fighting or school burning or threat to CD and video shops or female community workers', but the troubles have touched Chitral. For forty years or more it has been a hub for mountain tourism in Pakistan now withered to a shadow of what it was. The hotel and trekking and porterage firms had contributed to the economy of what still feels like a mini-state, and they have all felt the winds of war. Tourists thronged the bazaar on my last visit twelve years ago today there is our small party and a sprinkling of other westerners. There was a traffic problem that was not here a decade ago as well - hundreds of illegal vehicles that have come over from Afghanistan choke the narrow roads. The knick-knack and souvenir shops have thin pickings these days and beseech our custom their prices lowered to make a sale - any sale.

By late afternoon and after a hectic day our host had settled us into an idyllic location. We are at 4,942 feet and on the site of the old fort of Ayun. There are lawns and shady trees, rivulets and flowers, a sense of peace and a place where the emotional batteries can get recharged for a few days - along with a little light trekking, the possibility of some polo on the morrow and visits to local health and education projects.

Sitting on the verandah last night the village was a sprinkling of lightpoints on the mountain- side. The electricity is provided by a mini-hydroelectric unit in stalled by a member of the princely family that once ruled here, and still casts a benevolent eye over the land and its people. There are no meters; people pay a flat rate per light-bulb. No load shedding either. We talked of times past, but mostly we talked of times future, of the time when the new tunnel, soon to be opened, is going to bring its own changes to the way life is lived here. It has obvious benefits, not the least of them being an all- weather link to the rest of the world. The down-side, and a fear expressed by many, is that it could provide a route for the extremists to gain a foothold in this place, something they have hitherto not done.

Chitral is now almost an anachronism. A place that has managed to avoid the fear and terror that has touched so much else. Here come and see for yourselves how most of Pakistan used to be - and could be again. Although much work is yet to be done. we have tentatively identified a pair of health projects where we may be able to partner with the government and a local NGO and I will be happy to come and monitor their progress. And Peshawar? Hmmm...perhaps not.

The writer is a British social worker settled in Pakistan.

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