Friday, June 29, 2007

The Rise of Islamic Fundamentalism in Pakistan

excerpt from

A View From the Roof of the World

Read the entire article at:

From atop the Shawal Pass in Pakistan's remote Chitral, the Hindu Kush is seen in all its glory. White peaks surge like a churning ocean across the horizon, undulating heavenward towards their confluence with the mighty Himalayas.... Shepherds say that rare snow leopards slip down from the boulders to snatch their goats, disappearing again for weeks.

On both sides of the disputed line that divides Pakistan from Afghanistan, the air is fraught with peril. From Afghanistan, comes the ubiquitous buzz of U.S. helicopters and young boys who tell stories of fighting the Americans from house to house and tree to tree.

On the Pakistani side, the fires of war feed a growing fundamentalism that the authorities appear powerless to tame.

The 3,300-strong Kalasha people, who claim bloodlines from Alexander's armies and who worship a pantheon of gods not unlike the one ascribed to Mount Olympus, claim that "Talibanization" is fast crushing their fragile culture.

During my hike up and back to the Afghan border, two young Muslim men descended on my young Kalasha guide, Asmat, and threatened to stone him to death for daring to bring an infidel into their domain.... Sympathetic Muslim locals described them not as Taliban, but as "mujahedeen," the hallowed term once used for militants in the war against Soviet aggression.

In the valley below, a yellow oriole streaks through the sky and a young Kalasha girl clad in an embroidered dress and a headdress of cowry shells climbs a mulberry tree in search of fruit. At a three-day funeral for a favorite son drowned in a logging accident, men and women greet each another traditionally by kissing the backs of one another's hands. Elders bathe the boy's body in wine as men and women celebrate his life with song and dance.

By contrast, in the nearby "village of the converted," Afghan refugees crowd into homes and women, bound by the Islamic tradition of purdah, flee for cover at the sight of a foreigner.

...Once was the day when the multi-ethnic and multi-religious state of Chitral, a glistening gem of the British Raj, could ensure that the Kalash practiced their faith virtually free from oppression.

...Though President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan and his deputies have singled out the dwindling Kalasha culture for preservation - designating 13 new police posts for Kalasha women applicants - locals say that the reality on the ground does not match promises from Islamabad.

Upstream, speakers at the mosques pump out fire and brimstone messages aimed at the alleged debauchery of the Kalash. When Kalasha women court openly with different males as they have done for centuries, they are targeted as harlots.

Though Pakistani police officials recently stopped soldiers for smuggling the Kalasha version of moonshine to the district capital where it is a favorite at polo matches, the alcohol production, a small source of outside income, has also become a target for hard-line Islamic groups.

The Al-Khidmat Foundation, an off-shoot of the welfare organization set up by the deceased Egyptian mentor of Osama bin Laden, Abdullah Azzam, is a leading actor here.... In Chitral, as across Pakistan's Northwestern Frontier Province, orphans and impoverished youth are recruited - sometimes by force - for strict schooling. Where several years ago there was one Islamic school, or madrasa, in the three small Kalasha valleys, there are now 16 and many of them feed recruits into the war in Afghanistan.

"We live in a hub of Islamization and so we are being crushed," says Lakshan Bibi, 32, a Kalasha woman who runs a self-help NGO and who was recently kidnapped for ransom.

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