Protecting the Kalash: The EU Must Hold Pakistan Accountable

Written by Nicolas Bay on 3 December 2018 in Opinion
Opinion

As a prominent trade partner of Pakistan, the EU has a duty to hold Pakistan accountable for its apathy regarding the indigenous Kalash community, argues Nicolas Bay.

In the Chitral District of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, live the little-known indigenous people of the Kalash community.

Now totalling only 3000 people, they have lived and preserved their way of life for centuries. They speak the Kalash language and considered to be Pakistan's smallest ethnoreligious community. The protection of this minority, including its culture, religion and language, is essential.

However, like many other minority communities in Pakistan, the Kalash are increasingly facing threats by Pakistani and Taliban authorities to convert to Islam and renounce their traditional way of life.

Kalash youth have recently been targeted and are now converting to Islam due to outside pressure. Some convert of their own free will, but local journalists claim that some Kalash youth convert because of the economic incentives offered, as the community struggles financially.

"[Pakistan] insists that it values the preservation of the Kalash culture. But these claims are simply a backdrop to increased conversion, deterioration of the Kalash community's economic conditions, a lack of cultural education and the loss of ancestral lands"

Children are required to take courses on Islam but are not permitted to receive education on their own religion or traditions.

This educational requirement is a violation of Article 30 of the UN Convention on Rights of the Child (UNCRC), a Convention ratified by Pakistan, which ensures "the right to learn about and practice one's own culture, language and religion."

For women, the lure of conversion is more pronounced. Despite Kalash women having more freedom in marriage and divorce within their culture, the declining socio-economic conditions of the community is prompting many young women to marry Muslim men and convert to Islam.

Although some convert by choice, reports by the National Commission on Human Rights ascribe much of the reduction in Kalash population to forced conversion.

The local Pakistani government claims to seek protection for the Kalash, insisting that it values the preservation of the Kalash culture.


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But these claims are simply a backdrop to increased conversion, deterioration of the Kalash community's economic conditions, a lack of cultural education and the loss of ancestral lands. In 2017, the Kalash religion was not included in the national census and the community is not included on birth certificates or passport forms, unlike other minority groups in Pakistan.

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan has been a beneficiary of the European Union's GSP+ scheme since 2014, a program designed to assist developing nations by providing them with preferential trade subsidies. In exchange for these trade preferences, participating countries must "implement 27 core international conventions on human and labour rights, environmental protection and good governance" (European Commission).

As part of this agreement, Pakistan can be held accountable for any violation of human rights including the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the International Convention on Economic Social and Cultural Rights.

Without proper recognition of the Kalash, it will be impossible for the community to obtain its necessary rights. Pakistan must recognise the community and the culture on official forms, return their ancestral lands (Silver Oak Forests) for the community's economic use, and provide protection from forced conversion and attacks from the Taliban. 

Europe must ensure these safeguards for the Kalasha people as part of the GSP+ agreement and insist that the Government of Pakistan preserves this unique and historical culture.

As a prominent trade partner of Pakistan, the EU has a duty to hold Pakistan accountable for its apathy regarding the Kalash community.

About the author

Nicolas Bay MEP (ENF, FR) is a member of the delegation to the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly

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