The district of Kohistan is once again in the news for all the wrong reasons. Just weeks after reports of a death sentence passed by a Kohistani jirga against five girls emerged, the obscurantist elements of the district have struck again. Kohistan’s clerics are now on the warpath against NGOs working there because of their alleged ‘conspiracies against Islam, ulema and local customs’ and have declared their projects haram, as well as threatening that funeral prayers will not be offered for the beneficiaries of these projects. This edict came as a result of the controversy related to the Kohistani jirga’s verdict with the clerics blaming NGOs for blowing up the whole affair. The area’s NGOs have suspended their activities and are reluctant to resume them unless their security is guaranteed.
It is difficult to understand the logic behind declaring the NGOs’ development work as un-Islamic, except that the clerics want to preserve their age-old customs, which often hinder progress, deny people their basic rights, have little to do with religion and only help in maintaining the supremacy of obscurantist forces. The district’s clergy seems to hold the belief those ultraconservative elements in many Muslim societies share i.e., a strong conviction that NGOs work on a Western agenda and that any work geared towards breaking the shackles of outdated customs is a threat to their version of faith and their hegemony over Muslim populations.
This move will cause unemployment among the local youth and deprive the district of development, which makes it imperative upon Kohistani’s authorities to provide NGOs with foolproof security that enables them to restart their work. The local clergy must be reined in, too, as it has no right to stop NGOs from operating in the district. There is a need to educate people about the work that NGOs are involved in, as a majority of them have done a lot for welfare work all over Pakistan and it is essential that the people of Kohistan, and elsewhere, are made aware of their efforts.