Photo credit Snow Leopard Foundation 01

Vanishing snow leopards of Pakistan

Vanishing snow leopards of Pakistan

By Mansoor Bakhtiar

 Pakistan one of the few countries is home to the already endangered and rare snow leopards. However, the wildlife experts have expressed their concerns over the shrinking numbers of snow leopards due to climate change and many other human activities.

The snow leopards commonly known as “Ghost of Mountains” usually found in Chitral district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and few parts of Gilgit Baltostan. Pakistan is host to an estimated 80000 sq km of habitat with almost 4.58 per cent of global snow leopards.

However, the experts of wildlife are yet to find confirmed number of snow leopards in Pakistan due to lack of research over the population of Snow Leopards.

According to a report published by World Wild Life (WWF) in 2020, Pakistan has covered only 11 per cent of the habitat of Snow Leopards.

The WWF report further highlighted that only 23 percent of the snow leopard habitat is covered in term of research by the South Asian Countries and the remaining over 1.7 million km of craggy mountain terrain has never been explored through research.

While talking to Voice of KP, Dr. Husain Ali the Regional Manager of Snow Leopards Foundation-Gilgit Baltistan said that lack of research on snow leopards has always been a snag in the way to ascertain the exact population of snow leopards in Pakistan. He affirmed that no one in Pakistan was interested to conduct research on such issues, saying that research in this sector has never been a priority in Pakistan.

He claimed that currently there were between 120-150 snow leopards in Pakistan, saying that the population may further decline if measures not taken for their conservation.

“Despite all this, I believe that the increasing temperature and loss of habitat have forced the ghost of mountains to migrate below their actual habitat in search of food which ultimately lead to the loss of their lives.” Said Dr Hussain Ali.

He stated that some decades ago, the snow leopards would roam in Swat and Dir districts of KP. “But the population of this rare animal has now been confined to few districts including Ghizar, Hunza, Astore and Ghanche district of GB due to the shrinking habitat.”

Dr. Hussain stated that the same has happened with its prey as they also have been facing the effects of climate change and cannot find their food in their already confined habitat on top of the mountains.

Meanwhile, Aftab Ahmad a student of forestry and wildlife activist in Chitral said that no one had the idea about the exact figure of snow leopards in Pakistan. “However, according to some local conservationists and volunteers, there are fewer than 150 snow leopards in Pakistan currently.” He added. On the other hand, a local conservationist from Chitral Hamid Chitrali who is working as a senior conservative said that as per the recent survey conducted by the government there are round about 250 snow leopards in GB only.

Ahmad said that the government so far has spent over Rs10 million to save this specie. He added that the government spent Rs10 million over construction of Corrals at high altitudes for the livestock also compensated those who had lost their livestock due to attacks by snow leopards.

Some local elders in the Chitral district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan, and Gilgit Baltistan believe that due to deforestation and illegal logging in Hindu Kush, Himalaya, and Karakorum mountains, snow leopards hardly find their food which forces the “ghost of mountains” to come down to lower altitudes for food purpose.

The local elders believe that due to irregular floods and disturbed patterns of rainfalls, people are forced to migrate in search of better pastures for livestock or more comfortable conditions for living. “These new areas may be snow leopard habitat and this can lead to conflict.”

Shafiq Sultan a local from Boone village of district Chitral said that besides climate change, conflict between humans and animals has also been a pushing force behind the shrinking number of Snow Leopards in Pakistan. As per the latest report of the World Wild Life Fund (WWF) between 221-450 snow leopards are killed every year globally and around 55 per cent of these killings are in retaliation to snow leopard predation on their livestock.

Shafiq claimed that every year, around 10 snow leopards are killed by the local communities as the local community considers snow leopards as enemies because they can render them bankrupt by eating their herds or livestock.

He said that since 2012 more than eight Snow Leopards attacks have taken place in his village, saying that the villagers in retaliation have killed many snow leopards so far.

He recalled that back in 2006 over 20 of his sheep and lambs were mauled by snow leopards, saying that it took him years to recover from the loss. He said that besides attacks on livestock, many people in nearby villages have lost their lives in fight with snow leopards.

Shafiq said that awareness about the importance of snow leopards in our eco system is a key towards the conservation of this already endangered animal. He added that awareness in the sense to educate them not to leave their herds alone in the mountains as mountains are snow leopards’ homes and they will definitely attack if someone enters their home.


Lack of crematorium forces Peshawar Hindus, Sikhs to bury dead

By Mansoor Bakhtiar

The Hindu and Sikh Community in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Peshawar in peace and harmony in a Muslim neighborhood. Peshawar overall is a safe pocket for the religious minorities. Since partition, there has rarely been any case of violence against religious minorities in te city of Peshawar.

However, there are still some issues faced by the Hindu and Sikh Community since decades which despite their several applications and demands not been resolved by the successive governments in KP. While talking to Voice of KP, Baldeer Singh an activist from Sikh Community hailing from Peshawar said that overall Peshawar was a peaceful city for the religious minorities.

He said, “We have never ever felt that we are living as a minority in Peshawar because all are living with absolute peace and harmony.” Baldeer said that the Sikh or Hindu Community in Peshawar is facing the pressing issue of unavailability of crematorium. He said due to lack of crematorium the Sikh and Hindu religious minorities are unable to perform the final rituals of their deceased ones.

He said that the families of Sikhs and Hindus in Peshawar either bury the dead or take them to Attock district some 80km away from Peshawar for cremation.

Baldeer lamented that there are over 400 families of Sikh Community in Peshawar with a population of over 6000, but have no crematorium for which is a big issues since decades. Baldeer said that the Attock crematorium has all the facilities, but it is too expensive to carry the dead far from Peshawar and most of the families can’t afford it.

Meanwhile, Sandeep Mukesh a student hailing from a Hindu Community of Peshawar also lamented the lack of proper crematorium for the Hindu Community in Peshawar despite having a considerable population of over 5000 in the city.


He said that the religious minorities in KP are enjoying their full rights in every sector including scholarships and jobs quota reserved by the KP government. “However, we can not perform the final rituals of our deceased as we don’t have any crematorium in the city,” he said. Sandeep also said that they either bury their dead or take them to Attock for cremation, which is very disturbing and sad for the Hindus and Sikhs living in the city. He said that the KP government many times announced millions of funds for the construction of crematorium in Peshawar, but not a single penny released so far, he cried.

Mukesh Rajput a student from Hindu Community while talking to Voice of KP said that a number of their temples, graveyards, agricultural lands and commercial areas have been occupied by different mafias while many sacred sites have been turned into schools, picnic spots and hotels.

He recalled that his grandfather who died at the age of 88 wanted his last rituals to be as per Hindu religion but he was buried in Peshawar due to the unavailability of proper crematorium in the city.

The provincial government in the fiscal budget for 2017-18 had allocated Rs30 million to build a crematorium for the Sikh & Hindu community and a graveyard for the Christian community in Peshawar. However, the government has yet to release funds for these projects nor has it made any plans for these.


Financially empowering Bajaur women

By Mansoor Bakhtiar

It is a harsh reality that women of tribal regions are more vulnerable to social taboos as compared to other parts of Pakistan. From social issues to socio-economic problems, women in tribal belt of Pakistan are fighting against many odds, however, the situation for women and young girls in tribal districts is changing as many them are learning various skills to earn money and support their families.

The Women Vocational Center in Bajaur district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) is a ray of hope for such girls who wanted to learn new skills while following their social and traditional norms.Established by the KP government back in 2016, the Women Vocational Center in Bajaur has trained and skilled hundreds of girls and women free of cost until now. Many of these women are earning a handsome amount of money and supporting their families.

While talking to Voice of KP, Ameeen Rasheed Mehsud the principal of the vocational centre said that this was the only institute of its kind across the tribal districts that provides certificate level trainings to girls and women. “Despite challenges and hurdles the Institute is playing important role in society by empowering women financially “, said Amreen Rasheed.


She recalled that initially due to the militancy and security risks, many students and other supporting staff were reluctant to join the institute, “But due to the efforts and sacrifices of Pakistan Army things have changed and a large number of girls are receiving training and skills in this institute now.”

She said the cultural norms were a big problem in enrolling girls and women for training but the institute had worked on awareness among locals to convince them letting their women learn new skills while observing culture. About the number of students she said over 800 women are given business training and have encouraged and enabled them to start small business with the support of several organisations that provide grants for small businesses. Amreen Rasheed said, “Our goal is to train women and girls for paid work like freelancing from homes which will help them to earn money while working from homes and away from any interaction with males which is prohibited in this society.”

The principal of institute who is an engineering graduate said that due to the efforts of this institute, many women who had lost their husbands or brothers in terrorist attacks and had nothing even to eat are now empowered and supporting their families in every aspect of life.

Citing success story of a disabled girl who received training from this institute Amreen said, “A girl from tribal region who got disabled in a landmine blast received training from this institute and has not only started a business but employed two other.”

“Besides conventional skills we also have trained group of females in freelancing in digital world and many of our trained female students are now working in different offices and supporting their families”, she added.

Amreen Rasheed Mehsud has requested the parents not to restrict their daughters, but let them at least learn a skill to make them independent financially.


Lower-Dir man fights deforestation through plantation

By Mansoor Bakhtiar

The Prime Minister Imran Khan’s flagship Ten Billion Tree Tsunami Plantation (TBTTP) initiative is not only helping the country to counter the environmental crisis and help promote unique environment-friendly entrepreneurship for unemployed women and youth of the rural areas, but has also inspired many others across the country to plan trees and make Pakistan eco-friendly country.
Amir Naushad Khan from Lower Dir-KP is one of those social workers who got inspired by the idea and initiative of Imran Khan of plantations across the country.

According to Amir Naushad Khan, until now he has planted thousands of saplings across his district. It must be noted that the Billion Tree Tsunami Programme is the country’s largest-ever tree plantation initiative that has generated some 85,000 green jobs during the pressing times in pandemic that helped provide livelihoods to Covid-idled youth, including women.
While talking to Voice of KP, Amir Naushad said that the plantation of saplings was an easy task, but taking care of it has always been a tough job saving it against all odds from weather harshness to the human activities.

About the protection of trees he said, “In my village there was a forest having over six million trees occupied by few families who wanted to build homes on the forest land by cutting all the trees standing there.” Amir recalled that he along with his elders of the village bought land from all the families in order to stop tree cutting.
“I myself took the responsibility of taking care of the six million trees as I did not want to lose this huge forest playing a very important role in making my village eco-friendly”, said Amir.
He said that besides plantations in his own district, he has planted thousands of trees in the other districts as well and majority of his planted plants are now growing and taking the shape of full trees.
According to Amir Naushad, he has planted saplings in many government buildings including Schools and hospitals across Khyber Pukhtunkhwa.

About his inspiration, he said that Prime Minister Imran Khan was his inspiration for this initiative as he was the first leader of the country to take lead in making Pakistan eco-friendly.
About expenditure for plantation, Amir Naushad said, “No one is paying me for buying saplings. I am a settled businessman and I dedicated amount of my profit for buying and planting saplings.”
In his message, Amir Naushad said that plantation is a very easy task and everyone in the society should at least plant one tree in his life and help eco-friendly environment.

It is important to mention here that Pakistan is among the few countries in the list badly affected by the global warming and climate change.
According to experts, the reason behind Pakistan’s worst condition of climate change is deforestation and ignorance of people and successive governments towards safeguarding forests. Plantation at government and public level can help fight deforestation.


The first NCA Musicology graduate from KP

Ali Murad Khan( 23) from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) who got a professional degree in Musicology from well know NCA-Lahore last year had become the first-ever student from KP who got a music degree. Ali Murad Khan who basically belongs to Mohmand district of KP has been fascinated by music and arts since his childhood has defied all the social odds by adopting music and arts as a profession.

While talking to Voice of KP, Ali Murad Khan said, “learning professional music and arts had always been my dream, to fulfill which I enrolled myself in NCA”. Ali Murad said that although he belongs to a conservative region of Mohmand district has faced militancy as well but his family has always supported him and had never stopped him from fulfilling his dream. He said his family members are open minded and very supportive, saying that it was his family support that he is pursuing a career as a professional artist and musician.

“I did not know about the fact that I was the first and only one from KP who is pursuing professional degree of Musicology from NCA”, Ali said. According to Ali, choosing arts and music as a career was not an easy decision at all for him as there were some social challenges around,  he had to face before going to NCA.

Ali said, “Our society has been through Talibanisation and war on terror for the last few decades which has badly affected the mentality and attitudes of people. Space  for arts and music is shrinking with every passing day and this is the reason that choosing music as a professional career is itself a challenge to face with.”

About his future planning Ali said, he wanted to work on the mindset of people in tribal districts and bring the youth toward music and arts to beat extremism and violence as this mindset has already cost Pashtun belt a lot. Ali Murad in his concluding remarks said that music and arts were important for the peace and prosperity of the society, saying that he is committed to establish a music and arts academy in Pakistan to educate and aware youth about importance of music and offer them opportunities to learn music and play positive role in the society.


Nusrat Begum- the only woman mediator in Mardan

By Mansoor Bakhiar

Despite having a big ratio, women’s importance usually been ignored in the patriarchal society in the Pashtun belt. However, there are many inspiring women in this society, who have challenged stereotypes about women in the society and their abilities through their achievements.

Nusrat Begum from Mardan is one of those women who are playing a lead role and serving the society through her services without getting any credit or benefits. Nusrat Begum who is an active social activist and the only woman mediator in Mardan is serving people around her for the last 35 years, thinks that being a woman activist in such a male-dominant society has always been a tough job for her.

While talking to Voice of KP, Nusrat Begum said that she has held scores of human and women rights seminars and conferences and has always focused on her work for people around her. “Due to my work and services for the ignored and under-privileged people, I have always received much respect and appreciation from the people”, she said.

About the challenges Nusrat said that she was pressurised and threatened by few influential people back in 2003 when she was elected as the first-ever district councilor from Mardan, but she never stopped working. Nusrat recalled, “I was threatened to death when I decided to contest as an independent candidate in the general elections after the Musharraf rule ended ended, but despite threats I sat an example for others and contested the election.”

Nusrat said that she throughout her career has resolved thousands of problems of women and even men through mediating and arbitrary role. It must be noted that Nusrat Begum is also the only member of Dispute Resolution Council ( DRC) Mardan and try to highlight and resolve the issues of women in regular meetings of DRC.

Nusrat said that as a member of DRC, she has held over six thousands trainings and awareness campaigns in the outskirts of Mardan city with an aim to let the people and espasially women aware about their right to education, right to vote and more importantly right to inheritance. About the number of cases she said that until now she through her mediation has resolved over eleven hundred cases related to forced marriages, divorce, inheritance and land disputes in district Mardan.


KP women excelling in Police force

Despite cultural and other bearers in a male dominated society, Pakistani women proven themselves in every walk of life when it comes to pursuing a professional career.
Women of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa are exploring fields that once considered exclusively the domain of men. Police department is one such field that was always been very tough to pursue a career.
Dilshad Pari, the first-ever SHO of district Chitral is one of such brave women who swum against the tides and decided to join police department to serve her community and people around her.
While talking to Voice of KP, Dilshad Pari who is LLB graduate said that her father was an inspiration for her as he too was a police officer, saying that she had many other options of job but police department was her choice.

Dilshad Pari also holds the honour of topping the Police Training College Hangu for three times consecutively as a police cadet.
“Working as a woman police officer in a man dominant society and even man dominant field has always been tough, but with the support of family and especially my father, I have never looked behind and carried on my mission to serve my people around me,” said SHO Dilshad Pari.
Recalling the past when her family refused to let Dilshad Pari join the police department she said, “Being from a Syed family, my family was reluctant to let me join police force”, but later on they have allowed me and now are proud of me.”

About the challenges she faces on daily bases as a woman police officer, Dilshad said, “No doubt as a woman officer it has always been challenge to fulfil her responsibilities but with the support of male staff I am always confident to resolves and address the public issues.”

Answering a question about the social issues in Chitral and her role in resolving or minimising these issues, Dilshad said that throughout her career she was more focused on resolving the social issues of the people including, land disputes, enforced marriage, suicide and many other such issues.
About her future planning Dilshad Pari stated, “My future planning is to provide safety to public for their legal rights and to fight for uprooting drug, narcotics and every evil from society.”


Samar Khan : The girl who conquers the mountains on bike

By Mansoor Bakhtiar

Samar Khan a young female adventure athlete (Mountain Biking) from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) is the first ever female of Pakistan to reach the K2 base camp while riding on bike.
Despite the social and technical challenges, Samar Khan from Pakistan who expedite the K2 base camp in tough conditions in almost 15 days. She is now aiming to carry on her struggle and inspire youth towards the adventure sports as there were very few adventure athletes in Pakistan and the awareness about this sports among the Pakistani youngsters is parallel to zero.

However, besides expeditions, Samar Khan is committed to create awareness among the youth of Pakistan to adopt adventure games as profession and represent Pakistan in different competitions at various platforms across the globe. While talking to Voice of KP, Samar Khan said that adopting Mountain Biking as a professional game was her personal decision. “As soon as I started adventure sports I discovered a drastic change in my confidence and in my personal life,” Samar said. Samar stated that before adopting adventure sports, she used to be an introvert and bookish person but with sports, she discovered her hidden capabilities and abilities.

“Sports was initially a personal journey but as it gave me courage to get my goals and build my career so I discussed it with my family to adopt sports as a long term career to support myself and inspire others around me,” she said.
She said that adventure sports like Mountain Biking and Snowboarding were the two games famous in the first world countries, but her mission is to introduce both these games in Pakistan and let the youth know about these adventure games.

About the challenges Samar said, “There are always many challenges for every sportsperson and the challenges become double for a female when she adopts sports as an career.”  The big challenge she faced was how to transform her profession as a sustainable income sports and as a permanent career that can sustain you and your long-term goals. “Such sustainable career particularly in sports specially at a time when there is no platform, no coaching, no nutrition and lack of sponsorship, is very difficult to pull”, Samar said.

Highlighting more challenges Samar said that harassment which included on road and at workplace by sports officials and even media officials are there who always have tried to get advantage of anyone’s weakness.

Talking about the response, attitude and behavior of the people around her, Samar said, “I have always received a very mix response, saying that many who are sports literate have always applauded her efforts and have always given her a very positive response.” She elaborate that those who don’t know about the sports and have no idea of sports or adventure sports have always been negative towards her as most of the times those who give negative response lack the sense to recognise the dynamic of a sports society. Samar Khan told VoKP that many negative minded people around her have frequently termed her efforts as publicity stunts, which is totally wrong and baseless. She said many people even laughed at her as she many times took her bike to glaciers and peaks of mountains.

While answering a question about why she adopted Mountain Biking as a career, Samar said, “There are many conventional sports in Pakistan but when we talk about the adventure sports, there were few faces from Pakistan. I could not find a local ideal in the adventure sports so decided to adopt this sports and set an example for the rest of youth and convince them to join adventure sports.”

Samar said she had been to many countries because of her cycling, adding that cycling is the reason of her respect and identity on national and international level. “I found Mountain Biking as a best way to explore my own country and also to push myself and to challenge myself with each and every expedition”, Samar concluded.


KP Women excelling in Martial Arts against the odds

By Mansoor Bakhtiar

The female athletes from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province of Pakistan are gaining recognition in sports despite many challenges they face when it comes to overcoming rigid gender norms, patriarchal society and a lack of access to training facilities.

The fact cannot be denied that KP and especially its southern districts bordering the newly formed tribal districts are considered conservative rarely allowing women to get education or participate extra-curricular activities.

Still some women have set an example for the others by accepting the social challenges and adopting sports as their career and profession.

Mubashara Sana 24, a first ever Taekwondo player from Dera Ismail Khan district of KP is one of few brave girls who has accepted the challenges of the patriarchal society and pursuing her career as a professional Taekwondo player. While talking to Voice of KP, Mubashara Sana said that despite having her family’s full support, she still faced many challenges that prevented her from fully realising her potential.

“The major challenge that I faced Taekwondo was not being able to access many facilities as there are no academies and coaches in D-I-Khan to train me,” she told VoKP.

Mubashara said that she started Taekwondo back in 2018 and have played at national, provincial and district level, “I have won gold medal on district level, bronze on provincial level and silver on National level in games held in 2019”, she said.

About her career, Mubashara Sana said that school and college level, she played table tennis player and have won many medals in table tennis as well. She told VoKp that in 2017 she participated in under-23 games as a table tennis player, “but the coaches there suggested me to go for Judo as my physique was strong enough to perform and after a short training of one night I won medal as a Judo player in the under 23 games”, she added.

“After winning a medal in Judo, I decided to go for Martial Art (Taekwondo) as I thought that I am strong enough to be a Taekwondo player,” she said. “But my family clearly refused to let me join the Taekwondo academy in D-I-Khan as they thought it is the game of males and females are not supposed to adopt Taekwondo as a career in this society,” Mubashara explained. She said that she finally convinced her family and started proper training in an academy.

About her training, she said that firstly, she had no training facility in her city and she used to play in her home with her sister, saying that in the middle she had joined an academy where she along with her sister got training from a male trainer. “Training was not a challenge for me because I was doing it with passion, but the taunts of the people in public transport I used for going to academy was a big challenge,” she said. “I accepted these challenges and achieved my goals I was dreaming for,” she added.

Mubashara reminded that when her father came to know about the attitude of the people towards her due to her profession, her father asked her to abandon the game and get married as nothing was valued above honour and dignity of family, she said.

“I despite strict restrictions from my family once again convinced my father and took part in national games by representing my academy and won medals for the academy as well,” Mubashara said. Mubashara stated that she during her training with Pakistan Air Force many unknown people in her village sent threatening letters to her home asking her to stop Taekwondo otherwise they will kill her only brother.

Mubashara lamented that once again her father asked her to stop going for training, “But once again I convinced my father and kept fighting in the Air Force Academy and won silver medal for the academy,” she explained.

Mubashara concluded that she is married now and having a son but her husband is supportive and stands by her passion for this game.

She said it support from her husband that doing regular training and is committed to win medal once again and silence her critiques through her performance.


Bannu’s First-ever woman journalist breaking stereotypes

Pakistan is one of those countries, where women still face many problems in their respective professional fields as well as domestic life.

Women face domestic violence, emotional abuse, forced marriages and sexual harassment; menaces that hinder their participation in mainstream society. Apart from these challenges, women in Pakistan also struggle for access to transportation and jobs in the private and government sector.However, the time is changing and a more conducive environment now is helping Pakistani women excel in even male-dominated fields.

Mehreen Khalid, The first-ever female journalist from Bannu is one such example that is breaking the stereotypes in man dominant field and society. Despite all these serious social and domestic barriers, there are many women fighting against discrimination and are striving to change the horrific norms of the society.

Mehreen Khalid, a young journalist from the Bannu district of KP, defied the odds to pursue a career in journalism – a field which is considered unsuitable for women among her community. She is pursuing a Masters in journalism from Gomal University and working as a voice over artist and reporter in a local digital media organisation.

Mehreen Khalida belongs to a conservative community where women are told to stay at home and do the household chores. She broke stereotypes by pursuing her passion and adopting journalism as career, a field seen as male-dominated in the region. While talking to Voice of KP, Mehreen Khalid said that opting journalism as a field and career for a girl like her was a big challenge as girls in her hometown have never been allowed to colleges even due to the man dominant social structure of society.

Mehreen said that she had a dream to work for the voiceless people since her childhood; saying that accepting all the challenges and threats she took the decision and selected journalism as a field with a hope to help and support those those whose voices were lost. About the attitude of the people towards her she said that many from her hometown and other tribal areas applauded her struggle and step for adopting journalism as a career She said that many in her village have asked her father to stop her from going to university as they considered her as a threat for the other girls of village.

“They think I will encourage and brainwash other girls of the village to go to university or college for education”, said Mehreen. About the family support, she said that her father was the only person who supported her and let her fly instead of clipping her wings. She many relatives pressured her father not to let his daughter get education or adopt Journalism as a career, but he did not bother anyone and kept me supporting until now, Mehreen said.

Mehreen Khalid concluded that she was the only girl in her class and she had concealed this from her family and other relatives, as she feared that it could stop her education in the university.