Kohistan District (Pakistan)
The word Kohistan in Persian literally means Country of the Hills. The Kohistan district has a rich local history as a crossroads between Central, South and Southwestern Asia. Predominantly inhabited by Dardic and Pashtun tribes since ancient times, Kohistan has been invaded and contested by Persians, Greeks, Scythians, Kushans, Turks, Afghans, Mughals, and the British.
The Kohistan of the Indus Valley, which is also called Shinkari, “the country of the Shins “by the people themselves is inhabited by what are apparently the remains of a number of tribes of cognate race, whose progenitors once inhabited the valleys skirting the Punjab, and possibly extended to the north and north west have been hitherto confounded under the name of Dards – a name which practically, has no real signification.
The district is represented in the provincial assembly by three elected MPAs who represent the following constituencies:
” PF-61 (Kohistan-1)
” PF-62 (Kohistan-2)
” PF-63 (Kohistan-3)
Kohistan District is divided into 3 Tehsils (subdivisions):
The capital of Kohistan is Dassu.
Kohistan is a sparsely populated district of the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan and is also a region that stretches from the border with Azad Kashmir in the east to Afghanistan’s Nuristan province in the west. Located in an area where the Eurasian landplate and Indian subcontinent meet and collide, Kohistan is susceptible to earthquake activity such as the Kashmir earthquake of 2005.
Lush green forests, meadows and streams as well as massive mountains and hills literally make Kohistan resemble the Scottish Highlands of Britain. The Indus River divides Kohistan into two parts with the eastern portion referred to as the Indus Kohistan and the western portion referred to as Swat Kohistan. The Karakoram Highway passes through Kohistan on its way to Gilgit. Most of the cities on the Karakoram Highway in Kohistan are not more than 600m high from sea level.
The word Kohistan literally means land of mountains (koh’i mountain, ‘stan’ land)’ and is one of the most isolated and the most deprived district not only in Hazara Division but in the entire North West Frontier Province (NWFP). Swat is situated to its west, Chilas, Darial and Tangir on the northern side and Naran, Kaghan and Alai valley surround Kohistan from the southern and eastern sides. Dassu is the divisional headquarters, whereas Pattan, Palas and Dassu are the three Tehsils of Kohistan District. It is located in the heart of the Himalayas from 34.40 to 30.35 degrees altitude and from 75.30 to 50.72 degrees longitude. The total area of the District is 7,492 km². It is connected with Dir via the Badawi Pass.
The River Indus flows through Kohistan and divides it socially and culturally. Kohistan is one of the least developed districts in the country and its national significance is the Karakurum Highway. This road is the main source of trade, transportation and link between Pakistan and China. The ancient Silk Road has long been a thoroughfare for the tourists, traders and conquerors from Central Asia and in the past, business delegations would use this passage to travel up to Europe and the Little Asia (Kochak). Kohistan is where the famous Hindukush, Karakuram and Himalayan mountain systems meet and serve as a natural boundary for environmental regions in the chains of Himalayan, Karakurum and Hindukush mountains. This uniqueness of the mountains system also results in rich flora and fauna and therefore gives home to unique species such as the Western Tragopan pheasant and the Snow Leopard.
The weather of the region tends to be relatively mild with rain, snow and cold temperatures in the winter and mildly hot summers. Kohistan is comprised of mountains and the hilly agricultural regions. The low altitude (below 900m) in Kohistan get very hot in summer and extremely cold in winter season. In the higher regions, weather remains pleasant in summer. Due to the intensive snowfall, travelling to and from the valleys can remain restricted in winter.
Most Kohistanis rely upon animal husbandry for sustenance and income and tend to use cows, sheep, goats for milk and meat. In addition, the timber industry is on the rise, while many local men travel to find work in Peshawar, Islamabad, Lahore, and Karachi.
The people in Kohistan largely depend on livestock for their livelihood and this is also the reason for their seasonal migration to sub-alpine and alpine pastures of Kohistan and neighbouring valleys and districts. Agriculture development is comparatively poor with only one crop growing in high altitudes and two in the lower areas. Cultivation of crops such as barley and rice has almost been given up.
People usually keep buffaloes, cows, sheep, goats and bullocks. Milk of these animals is not usually sold, but by-products of milk such as butter, are. Other by-products such as wool and skin are utilized for house-consumption and are also sold in the market.
Cash income is rare and people resort to the sale of timber, such as Deodar, Pine, Spruce, Acacia and Oak. Sale of medicinal herbs is also common though there is no check, which impact the seasonal removal of these plants has on the overall population of the species or on the health of the ecosystem.
Besides this, people are also involved in the sale of fuel-wood, farm products such as walnuts and walnut bark (vernacular: dindasa). Honey is also sold in local and provincial markets. In winter season, the local men go to urban areas in search of work.
People and culture
Kohistan’s population is estimated to be over 2 million and is spread across the various towns and villages. Kohistan is predominantly home to various Dardic peoples including the Shina, Kohistanis, Torwalis, Kashmiris, as well as Hindko-speaking Pathans in the central, northern, and eastern sections. Pashtun tribes like Swatis and Afghan refugees can be mainly found in the western part of the district. The people mainly speak Indo-Iranian languages and share various similar cultural traits including the religion of Islam with the majority adhering to the Sunni sect while large minorities of Shia and Ismaili Muslims are also to be found throughout the area. Islam is practiced according to local customs, which may differ significantly from orthodox Islam, especially in regards to Sufi saints, ‘holy wells’, etc.
While the region’s inhabitants were at one time pagans, but never Hindu, John Biddulph has recorded extensively on what he saw to be social mores reminiscint of Hindu customs in late 18th century:
Kohistan covers an area of 7492 sq. Kilometres. The capital lies at Dassu and the District is divided into three Tehsil’s namely Palas, Pattan and Dassu. According to the demographic survey of 1981, the population of district Kohistan is about one million. The average literacy rate is around two percent, but the actual literacy rate based on the field data shows that this rate is three times more.
History provides evidence that civilization in Kohistan matured quite early as compared to adjacent areas were people were worshipping fire, plants and other objects. Islam is the most recent religion dating back only 350 years.
The geographic location, lush green valleys adorned with rich flora and fauna were the biggest attractions for the external invaders. It was also the only passage between China and South East Asia the area remained under constant attacks by Tibetans, Sikhs, Hindus. This constant invasion resulted in one of the most distinctive societies and cultures in the region. “The Rebellion Culture” is the main characteristic of Kohistan and the people of Kohistan are still following the same culture.
The literacy rate is amongst the lowest in Pakistan and hovers around 10%, but education is slowly expanding due to government efforts. After the arrival of Pakistan Army for relief operation for earthquake of October 2005, the education system of has got a sudden boost-up and most of the schools are working. The Army’s commanding Officer of the area Lt.Col.Zakeer and new commanding officer lieutenant colonel Sibghat have taken responsibility of one school in Pattan ([Army Garrison School , Pattan]) which has become a role model for the complete district. In total there are 4x Army supported schools established in District Kohistan which includes Army School for Girls, Shalkanabad (Palas), Army School for boys, Keyal and Community Model School for girls at Pattan.