Conversions Threaten Kalash Community


The Kalash people of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan have grown their way of life for hundreds of years. Sadly, the Kalash culture, religion, and language, has diminished as the community has shrunk to around only 3000 people. This collapse has come about because the community is increasingly being threatened by both the Taliban and local Muslims forcing the Kalash people to convert to Islam.

Kalash women have traditionally had more freedom in marriage and divorce within their culture than most in Pakistan. However, the declining socioeconomic conditions of the community are prompting many young women to marry Muslim men and convert. Although some convert by choice, reports by the National Commission on Human Rights ascribe much of the reduction in the Kalash population to forced conversion, often through marriage.

Additionally, Kalash youth are converting to Islam due to economic pressures, and because they are being indoctrinated into Islam as children.  Children are forced to take a course in Islam while not being permitted to study their own religion or traditions. This educational requirement violates Article 30 of the UN Convention on Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which ensures “the right to learn about and practice one’s own culture, language and religion.”

In a written question to the European Council (P-000372-19) at the beginning of 2019, Member of the European Parliament (MEP), Nicolas Bay from the Europe of Nations and Freedom Group raised the concerns of European citizens in support of the Kalash community. Bay highlighted that “in the Chitral District of Pakistan the Kalash people are increasingly facing outside threats, including forced conversion to Islam and increasing attacks from the Taliban. Without protection and proper recognition from the Government of Pakistan, the community’s unique culture, religion and language will disappear.”

Bay inquired about the steps being taken by the Council to protect the Kalash community and prevent persecution by the Pakistani authorities and the Taliban, particularly considering that the persecution of the Kalash community violates Pakistan’s commitments under the Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP+) trade agreement. Bay insisted upon further clarification on the Council’s plan to assist Pakistan in the preservation of Kalash culture through educational reform and protection from forced conversion to Islam, and in which ways the Council would be working with the Government of Pakistan to prevent the Taliban from persecuting minorities such as the Kalash.

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 deals. In exchange for these trade preferences, participating countries must “implement 27 core international conventions on human and labour right, environmental protection and good governance” (EU Commission). As part of this agreement, Pakistan can be held accountable for any violation of human rights and conventions including the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the International Convention on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, to name a few.

The answer was given by the European Council representative on 14th May 2019. In it the Council made reference to the conclusions on Pakistan of 19 November 2018, where the Council stated that the promotion of human rights and the rule of law are core elements of the EU’s engagement with Pakistan. The Council drew particular attention to the freedom of religion or belief, abuses of the blasphemy law, freedom of expression, as well as the rights of the people belonging to minorities. It encouraged the Pakistani Government to fully observe and protect human rights, and reiterated the EU’s willingness to support Pakistan in fully respecting its human rights obligations, strengthening its democracy and upholding the rule of law.

The response went on to say that in respect of the Generalised System of Preferences Plus (GSP+) scheme, the Council noted that “substantial progress in the implementation of the 27 international conventions within the scope of the GSP+ scheme remained indispensable for continuing coverage under the preferential tariff regime. The implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by Pakistan is an important element of the GSP+ monitoring process. The rights of religious minorities remain a priority in Pakistan’s National Action Plan for Human Rights.”

During both the October 2018 GSP+ monitoring mission and the November 2018 EU-Pakistan Joint Commission, the EU urged the swift approval and effective implementation of the draft interfaith harmony policy, as well as the empowering of the National Commission on Minorities.

Omitted from the Council’s response was the failings of Pakistan to adhere too many of the GSP+ criteria, which in turn leaves the Kalash community vulnerable.  Without proper recognition of the Kalash, it will be impossible for the community to obtain its necessary rights. Pakistan must recognise the culture on official forms, return ancestral lands (Silver Oak Forests) for economic use, and provide protection from forced conversion and attacks from the Taliban. These are just a few steps that need to be taken by Pakistan’s government in order to preserve 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.

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