Even for those uninitiated in trekking or without the travel bug, Chitral district is synonymous with enchanting scenery and majestic mountains amid sparkling rivers, lakes and quaint villages which have transformed it into a hub of the tourist trade. But there is also a dark side to this earthly paradise. The eight and a half kilometer Lowari Pass tunnel, Chitral’s only winter lifeline with the rest of the country is snowbound and closed to all traffic for six months of the year, leaving the over 400, 000 inhabitants in the lurch. This is ongoing since 1975, when the project was first conceived, and for the unfortunate residents, winter is a mousetrap. The last cut off date for completion was December 2016 by Nawaz Sharif on a Chitral visit in 2013. But all promises have remained in the realm of fantasy with the tunnel being opened only intermittently. Many desperate people attempting the journey have ended up as frozen corpses buried under avalanches.
Fed up with this apathy, the leaders of all district political parties have warned of an all out protest movement in case their (just) demands were not met by the ‘cruel’ administration. These, according to the District Nazim Maulana Abdul Shakoor, include: opening the Lowari Pass tunnel either for two days weekly or four hours daily, while the sole MNA from Chitral Shahzada Iftikaruddin also called for a replacement C-130 service as the ATR planes have all been grounded since the tragic crash. The just dissatisfaction of the Chitralis warrants an immediate response from the government, otherwise famine and starvation might be the wages of any further neglect.
What is most surprising is not linking Chitral with the rest of the country by an all-weather land route despite its otherwise strategic location, bounded as it is by Kunar, Badakshan and Nuristan provinces of Afghanistan and separated only by a thin strip of the Wakhan Corridor from Tajikistan. But presently the genuine needs of the Chitrali people must take precedence over all security concerns. Enough is enough.