Kohistan, the land of mountains, is the congregation of valleys surrounded and hidden by rugged mountains along the Indus River from its big bend in Besham towards further east up to the border of Diamer which is an administrative district in Gilgit-Baltistan.
Kohistan borders Diamer and Ghizer districts of Gilgit Baltistan on the north and northeast, with Mansehra on the southeast, with district Bategram on the south and with the districts of Swat and Shangla on the west.
Kohistan is the region where the High Hindukush, Karakoram and Western Himalaya mountain ranges meet. Before 1914 Kohistan was a single province with a land mass spread over an area of about 7,492 square kilometers making it the second largest district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. According to the 2017 census the total population of Kohistan is 784,711.
Kohistan was split into two districts — upper Kohistan and lower Kohistan — in 2014. Later, in 2017, a third district was made out of it with the name of Kohlai-Palas. Now the Kohistan region is three administrative districts in the Hazara division of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Ethnically, the entire Kohistan is Dardic with distinct languages like Kohistani and Shina (a dialect of the Shina spoken in Gilgit and Chilas) as major languages. A less known language, Bateri, is also spoken in the Batera union council on the eastern side near Besham.
Like elsewhere, Gujars have also their settlements in Kohistan. A couple of hamlets also belong to Pashun settlers. The Shina language in Kohistan is spoken in the valleys and villages of the eastern or Himalayan Kohistan whereas Kohistani proper is widely spoken in the western or Hindu Kush part including Kandia, Sio and Duber valleys.
Kohistan is least known and its beautiful valleys such as Duber, Pattan, Komila, Sio, Kandia, Kolai, Palas, Dassu, Sumar, Sazin, Jalkot, Supat, Harban and many others are hardly known to many Pakistanis.
Kohistan is perhaps the most marginalised valleys among all the peripheral communities in northern Pakistan. It suffers in many ways and is continuously a victim of neglect by successive governments and developmental agencies. The only interest the successive governments have in this closed valley is of extracting timber and engineering politics.
The people are left at the mercy of poorly literate religious leaders and the traditional Maliks — village chiefs — who adhere to the ancient politics used in the days of Yaghistan (era of lawlessness). Given the failure of the modern state in mainstreaming this rugged valley, it did not see any visible sociocultural change over the past century.
This has left the people of Kohistan lagging behind in human development. Mainly owing to this apathy on the part of the state, the local people in Kohistan are still victims of blood feuds and under development. Thus, they became very prone to a form of cultural and religious extremism. Today many regard the people of Kohistan as rigid, conservative and reticent towards education. It may be an exaggerated view, of course, yet certain social ills can never be underestimated.
The role of a state is not only maintaining its writ. It is the basic driver of change and modernisation. The state has the responsibility to reach out to people and change the socio-economic conditions of its citizens by providing necessary services to them but unfortunately in Kohistan we have not seen this. The dwellers of these valleys were virtually left to the mercy of ignorance, poverty and rigidity.
Kohistan is now three districts but there are only two high schools for girls in the three districts. One is in Dassu, the headquarters of upper Kohistan district and the other is in Batera which is near to Besham.
A recent report by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government states that 42 primary schools including 39 for girls are non-functional in Kohistan. According to the five-year (2013-2018) KP Education Report by Alif Ailaan, the district of Kohistan ranks the lowest in the province in educational ranking and is on the 141st in the overall national ranking. In Human Development Index, too, Kohistan performs the poorest in Pakistan.
In Kohistan primary schools in the past were built in areas where there was no need. This was done to appease the provincial lawmakers. Presently there are three provincial assembly seats and one national assembly seat in Kohistan. The locals complain that the teachers appointed politically in the past do not do their duty and instead of teaching they undertake other jobs, even having jobs overseas or in other agencies.
The ex-PTI MPA from Shangla, Abdul Munim Khan, who was disqualified early this year was a government school teacher in Kohistan in the time of 2013 elections. Among such men was also the Taliban commander, Alam Khan, who was a government teacher in Kohsitan but was performing duty as a masjid imam in Fatepur, Swat, when he joined Taliban and was reportedly killed in a military offensive in 2009.
The article appears simultaneously in The News today.