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Caught in a Time Warp


Sushant Sareen

VIOLENCE AND BELONGING: LAND, LOVE AND LETHAL CONFLICT IN THE NORTH WEST FRONTIER PROVINCE OF PAKISTAN
By Are Knudsen
Orient Blackswan, New Delhi, 2012, pp.224, Rs.395.00

VOLUME XXXVI NUMBER 9 SEPTEMBER 2012

In recent months, Kohistan, or the Land of Mountains, a remote area located in Northern Pakistan, has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons. A series of brutal sectarian killings of Shias travelling through the region was followed by uproar over the alleged slaying of five women whose only crime was that they were singing and dancing at a wedding ceremony in the presence of men who were not related to them. Far from showing any contriteness over the rampant misogynistic attitude of the society, a local council of tribal ‘elders’ imposed a ban on all NGOs and working women in the region. The local administration was more interested in a cover-up rather than imposing the law of the land (i.e., of Pakistan) which the tribesmen apparently had no use for when it conflicted with their traditional code. Apart from the fact that Pashtun tribes inhabit the region and were very conservative, not much was known about the people of the area, their social and cultural mores or their worldview. Are Knudsen’s book is therefore timely and gives an insight into the social structures and mindset of the people of a region that remains remote despite the Karakorum Highway (KKH) which was constructed in the 1970s making parts of Kohistan accessible. The KKH has opened up the rest of the world for the people of Kohistan. Many of them travel outside to other parts of Pakistan and also to other parts of the world, sometimes for seasonal work, sometimes in search of permanent employment and sometimes in search of refuge from enemies. Despite this, the outside influences on local culture and social attitudes appear to have been more malign than benign. Knudsen’s work is a sociological and anthropological study of the people of Kohistan and gives quite a comprehensive description of how the society is structured, land relations are governed, how social dynamics operate, the various conflicts over zan, zar, zameen (women, gold and land), the mindless machismo that flows from the honour code under which enmities are nursed for years, revenge is an article of faith and an obligation, and brutality almost a part of life. But the utility of the book also lies in increasing our understanding of the impact of religio-political developments and events in the rest of Pakistan on this remote region and how they could be shaping the attitudes of the ...


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