Kalash Tribes Under Threat from Taliban

By – Reeta Rani Nayak

Kalash Tribes Under Threat from Taliban Source: Himalayan News Chronicle

Apart from majority Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Buddhists which predominate the Himalayas, there lives a small ethnic group of people living in the Himalayas in Pakistan’s Hindu Kush Mountains known as Kalasi. They are the smallest ethnic minority people in Pakistan and non-Muslims.

They  claim to be Greeks being children of the left-out soldiers of  Alexander who had invaded India. These beautiful people of Indo-Aryan origin were  so far protected by the Government but now face serious threats from Taliban after escalating tension between the two countries.

Recently, a massive group of Talibans armed to their teeth entered into the mountains, took positions in the hills and started attacking the people. They were wearing “ turbans on their head, backpacks, weapons and belts of bullets around their bodies, according to a Kalas shepherd who saw them spreading into the area claiming to be their own.

The Pakistani authorities sent in forces and said five security officers and at least 20 Taliban militants were killed in the fighting that lasted two days. But attacks like this have become more frequent in Kalash valley in recent months. The Pakistani Taliban, or TTP, said they carried out the assault, reportedly from over the border in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Pakistan has consistently accused Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban of providing shelter to TTP members in provinces along its border with Pakistan and this is seen as one of the most significant cross- border attacks since the Taliban retook control in Kabul in 2021. The Taliban government denies the allegations it provides sanctuary to militants.

Authorities in Pakistan believe the aim of the assault was to take control of the strategically-important Kalash valley. They also want to send a message to the world that they are strong. The normally silent and peaceful valley is now witness to frequent movement of heavy military vehicles. The Kalas community is normally kept aloof from others but enjoy life through food, festival, dance and  music.   Unlike   Muslims which forbids idol worship they revere a pantheon of gods and goddesses, holding festivals to mark the seasons and their links with farming.

Despite  living  in  clusters of small houses under government protection, people here also face challenges like forced conversions  by  Islamist and Christian groups. They now fear the latest attack represents a new wave of threats that could spell the end of their community. The locals suspect Talibans want to convert them to Islam and they do not have enough protection.

The Taliban attack has also affected their livelihoods. When the foreigners attacked them, many had to take shelter behind large rocks for days. This affected their family, livestock and farms. Thousands of people from Pakistan and abroad visit the Kalash valley in order to know more about the culture and tradition of the people. 

It is a unique  indigenous  culture and religion that dates back thousands of years. More tourists come specially during the winters because of many festivals. But all also stopped the number of tourists who used to come to the valley for its beauty and unique people. Kalash has a museum which exhibits around 1,300 items related to the indigenous Kalash population, including a collection of weapons, everyday items, tools, clothes, jewellery, and musical  instruments.  Some of the artifacts have been bought from other areas, while some of them have been donated by the people of the three Kalash valleys Bumburet, Birir, and Rumbur. Most of these objects were collected by the members of the NGO Greek Volunteers based in Greece.

After the attack, Pakistan announced the closure of two main border crossings with Afghanistan, which resulted in substantial losses in trade revenue. Thousands of people were stranded at the border crossings for days. While it may take some time for the fear to subside, we  have  decided  to fortify the border, increase the number of checkpoints, and bolster border security. The militants used to cross the border in the past, but they would snatch livestock at gunpoint and go back. This time they came to take over the whole valley.