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Saturday, August 06, 2016

The ruling Mir: A 1,200-year-old tradition that continues to live on

The ruling Mir: A 1,200-year-old tradition that continues to live on By Shabbir Mir Published: August 7, 2016 63 SHARES Share Tweet Email Mir Qasim Ali Khan at a public gathering. PHOTO: EXPRESS Mir Qasim Ali Khan at a public gathering. PHOTO: EXPRESS GILGIT: It may have only been ceremonial, but the people of Gilgit-Baltistan’s Nagar district still took the crowning of their new king, a tradition dating back 1,200 years, very seriously indeed. Dancing to the beat of a drum, his subjects were in full attendance at the ceremony in 2011. Along with Hunza, Nagar was also an independent princely until former prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto revoked their status in the early 1970s. However, the ceremonial king – called a Mir – continues to warm the throne. Mir Qasim Ali Khan was crowned at the age of 27 some five years ago. The coronation was 40 days after the death of his father Mir Barkat Ali in a car accident. The little known shamans of Nagar Valley The ceremony was held at the royal palace, a place which has seen various kings rule in a glorious past over the centuries. As part of tradition, a child placed the crown on the new king’s head, while another person draped an overcoat called the choga on him. As the Mir got ready, he delivered his first speech before an audience which included government VIPs and other people of Nagar, besides the royal family. The ceremony swiftly turned into a festivity. “It was an occasion that reflected our glorious past,” says Ismail, a resident of Nagar as he recalled the king’s coronation. “The Mir is our pride; even if it is just a ceremonial title.” Nagar is where the famous Anglo-Brusho war was fought in 1881. Though the locals were defeated, the British Empire realising the intensity of battle toughness and awarded three Victoria Cross to its commanders later. The new Mir Mir Qasim Ali Khan is the eldest son of Mir Barkat Ali, who died at the age of 64. The late king, whose wife is from Sialkot, was also a CSS officer with the Foreign Service. Mir Qasim, who was born in Singapore, graduated from University of Buckingham. However, he could not continue with his higher education after the death of his father. The current Mir’s in-laws are from Peshawar and his father-in-law is barrister Iftikhar Ahmed who is affiliated with the Pakistan Peoples Party. Qasim’s family is currently settled in England and their next home is Islamabad where they have their property. Entitlements Like his father and grandfather, Mir Qasim is entitled to certain privileges offered by the government of Pakistan to recognise their previous status as Nagar’s rulers. Besides a remuneration of approximately Rs30,000, the Mir is also entitled to retain seven levies personnel and a gunman. He is also entitled to have a red number plate on his car. Making space: Classrooms double as hotel rooms due to tourist influx in G-B However, the Mir has not been provided the honorarium, which is also called a Guzara Allowance, despite having been crowned five years ago. “I don’t understand the delay,” Mir Qasim said in an exclusive interview with The Express Tribune this week. “Let’s hope this come through sooner [rather than later],” he adds. The king spends most of the summer in his ancestral palace at Nagar. Views about G-B Qasim believes every citizen of G-B is special because of the region’s status. “Every citizen must have a diplomatic status given that our forefathers liberated the region and decided to join Pakistan voluntarily,” says Mir, whose grandfather Mir Shokat Ali was among the rulers who opted to become part of Pakistan. It was also during his time that Bhutto decided to abolish the ‘state’ status of the region in the early 1970s and later introduce a political system managed by the bureaucracy. “My mission is to serve my people and that’s why Nagar and its people are the centre of my attention.” The Mir gets upset when he hears about conflict between the people of G-B on sectarian grounds. “It is painful to say the least,” says Mir Qasim, who is Shia, but his mother is Sunni. Political ambitions Qasim contested elections for the G-B legislative assembly in 2015. He lost by just 150 votes, but it brought his ambitions to serve the people to the fore. It was different to the way his forefathers, or past kings, ruled for centuries. Nagar district is located 65 kilometres north-east of Gilgit on Karakoram Highway. The valley, just short of Hunza, comprises around 30 villages with a population of approximately 90,000. Published in The Express Tribune, August 7th, 2016. Read more: CSS , G-B Assembly

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