Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper today carries a disturbing report of a Pakistan Taliban video telling the Kalash people – the 3500-strong pagan tribe who live in three remote valleys of the North West Frontier (and about whom I wrote here ) that they must convert to Islam or face death.
The survival of the Kalash — whose paganism is the reason why the area is called Kafiristan or “land of infidels” — thus far is a kind of miracle.
Their cousins across the mountains in Afghanistan were all converted by force at the end of the nineteenth century – which is why Afghan Kafiristan was renamed Nuristan, the “land of light”.
In more recent years the Kalasha culture was threatened by the arrival of roads into their remote valleys, then by tourism, and after the tourists stopped coming after 9/11 by missionaries, moneylenders, timber smugglers and migrants from the Punjab and other parts of Pakistan. Maureen Lines an originally British, now Pakistani author who has long lived in the Kalash valleys, and the Hindu Kush Conservation Association, have played a key role in protecting them, with the help of successive Pakistani governments keen to show that minorities can live safely in the country.
It is to be hoped that the Pakistani authorities have the will and ability to protect the Kalash from this new threat.