By Nishat Afza
Winters in Chitral are harsh, especially at night, during which temperatures often drop to below 15 degrees Centigrade. And then, there is heavy snowfall.
As a result, the inhabitants remain imprisoned within the valley for four to five months when the only main land link connecting the area with the outside world through the Lowari Pass blocks due to snow.
Apart from the Lowari, there are two other land routes – one is through the Kunar province of Afghanistan and the other via the Shandur Pass which links Chitral to Gilgit-Baltistan in the north east. But the Snadur Pass also remains closed in the winter while the Afghan route has become out of bounds for the Chitralis due to the presence of the fugitive Taliban there.
To resolve the communication issues of Chitral, work on the construction on the Lowari tunnel was started in 2005 during the government of Pervez Musharraf. However, due to non-allocation of funds, the tunnel is still incomplete. As the people of Chitral are facing great hardship and difficulties due to the closure of all the land routes in the winters, the under-construction tunnel is opened for them twice a week.
When the tunnel is opened on Saturday and Sunday for a few hours, the stranded passengers rush towards it from both the Chitrals and Dir sides. About a kilometre down Chitral, vehicles filled with passengers can be seen waiting for the opening of the tunnel.
Women, children, patients and most of the time people along the dead bodies of their dear ones wait outside the tunnel for endless hours. At times, the traffic jams for many hours due to violation of traffic rules by the drivers. Also the police and public administration do not arrange the vehicles to go through properly.
I myself experienced hardship during my travel from Chitral to Islamabad on February 9. I along with my family members remained stuck near Lowari tunnel for 16 hours amid knee-deep snow. And strangely no one came to help us. We spend the chilly night in the coaster. The temperature outside was below freezing point. All passengers fought the harsh cold weather well and finally the next day we were able to move towards our destinations when the road was cleared after removing the avalanche.
Most of the promises of both the provincial and federal governments have not been kept as they never grasp the situation. At last, it’s a request to the government of Pakistan to solve the problem as soon as possible.
Nishat Afza is a student of Mass Communication Department at the International Islamic University Islamabad (IIUI).