Key factors of decommonisation and loss of collective rights

Protected areas as a major driver of decommonisation

In the context of mountain areas, commons were converted by a major shift in government policy on PAs (i.e., state property), mainly to conserve the quality of wilderness and their biodiversity values (IUCN, 2003). In doing so, PAs truncated local resource-use systems and excluded Indigenous peoples from their legacies associated with natural resources, contributing to the impoverishment of local communities, and also building antipathies between parks and people (Hoole, 2008). This system has largely neglected the communities who are dependent on these common resources. Communities have traditionally been able to restrict outsiders from access to the resources and established rules among themselves for their sustainable use (Berkes, 1989; McCay & Acheson, 1987; Berkes et al., 1989; Ostrom, 1990; Cronkleton et ah, 2008, Agrawal, 2014).

In most cases, communities’ responses have been to “resist” such a policy shift and disregard PA provisions. This has led to the failure of the PA, and in some cases where those provisions are enforced strictly, conflicts have arisen between local communities and PA authorities. These situations threaten both biodiversity and cultural diversity in PAs. The Khunjerab National Park (KNP), in northern Pakistan, is a notable example of the conversion of a common resource to a PA replacing century-old herding practices by the local communities along with customary rights under local institutions (Butz, 1996: Knudsen, 1999: Khan et ah, 2011; Khan, 2012).

As per focus group discussions in the community of Shimshal, the establishment of a PA was a plan of the national government of Pakistan to take their pasture land, rights of access and resource use away through restrictions that resulted in reduced grazing areas, confined traditional yak-herding practices to smaller areas and impacted the traditional grazing routes. One of the community members explained:

Our traditional routes are now in the hand of the government. If we are confined to a few pastures, we won’t have enough pastures to feed our livestock. Where will we take our livestock? The pastures in these areas have low productivity and if we keep our livestock longer then we won’t be able to graze our livestock in these pastures next year. We will have to reduce our livestock because we cannot afford it anymore because there are no other options of livelihood in this area

(anonymous, Shimshal)

These responses were clearly against the government’s decision and they were unwilling to quit their rights to the resources. Whether government restrictions in the newly created PA will bring “conservation” and benefits to the communities is questionable. In reality, government control means disconnecting people from their resource. In remote areas, the government lacks proper human resources, infrastructure, and other associated instruments to manage natural resources, which contributes to the misuse of resources. In these remote areas, if the resource rights do not belong to the local community, the resource would become open access, and finally overexploited.

Case study I: Decommonised forests and community rights in northern Pakistan

Commons management in northern Pakistan has undergone significant alterations since the Mir’s (rulers) control during the pre-British and British colonial periods to state control after the abolition of the princely states in 1974. One such major shift was the introduction of the so-called centrally controlling mechanism of the commons - centralized agencies of the national government of Pakistan, forest and wildlife departments replacing the authority of local institutions. Until 1967, in the Naltar area, local tribes were free to sell their forest products to contractors, but the sales agreements had to be attested by the assistant political agent. In return, the forest department received royalties - a portion of the revenue from the sale of forests. In the early 1970s, with the abolition of the Mir’s regime by, the principalities were declared state property, while in areas such as Darel and Tangir within the Diamer district, where there was a tribal system, the tribal councils negotiated with the government to retain their ownership rights (Bilal et al., 2003).

After the abolition of the principalities, Gilgit Private Forests Regulation was enacted in the early 1970s for the protection and scientific management of forests, as well as for forest conservation, and this was applied to the forests of Naltar. Rules under the Gilgit Private Forest Regulation of 1970 made provisions for access to the forest resources by the communities residing in the vicinity of the forest. These rights included the free grant of trees on permission, grazing, and the collection of dead or dry trees. Grazing was allowed only in those areas that were not closed for regeneration. However, with the regulations that were enacted in the 1970s, every outsider received access to retrieve forest resources under the statutory laws, and as a result, most of the outsiders included contractors who obtained the benefits. Despite the local communities’ strong resistance, roads were constructed using public funds, and forest resources were harvested commercially by the government to earn revenues. With this change of control and the construction of Karakorum Highway (KKH), exploitation of the resources became easier for non-locals. Ironically, the state authorities blamed the local people for overexploitation of forest resources (Bilal et al., 2003).

Our investigation revealed that community acceptance of government rules was negligible, and it was evident that the illegal resource extraction by outsiders, particularly logging, remained high in areas where government control was lacking. In Naltar Valley, illegal timber harvest by outsiders was relatively higher than in other villages where community control was relatively stricter. In the Naltar Valley area, a forest control group used to manage access and the appropriation of forest resources. With the introduction of government control of the forests, their role diminished. As a result, village- level cooperatives became either dormant or dysfunctional or, in exceptional cases, newer forms of local institutions emerged. There were many other non-local actors involved in such exploitation of forests that include military authorities who used forest products extensively for constructing buildings and bridges (anonymous respondent, Naltar Payeen).

As one community member commented that:

It is not in our hands to control the illegal cutting of the forests, and even if I resist them and stop them, government agencies would blame me rather than trying to catch the offender. These are illegal activities, and unfortunately, government people are directly involved. If it were in our control, our forest would not have disappeared.

(anonymous respondent, Naltar Payeen)

Muhammad Yar (consent is given) said:

The forest has been depleted so much that soon there may be no forest left and our valley will be a barren land. People have encroached the forest and developed patches of agriculture fields in the middle of the forest, and the Gujar community is involved in the encroachment in forest land. It is very common that people come from Gilgit town, fill up their tractors and take the timber out. The threat is that our villages will be swiped away if the forest is gone.

(Muhammad Yar, 34, teacher, Naltar Payeen)

During the household interviews, respondents stated that communities were stripped of their rights to access forest resources. When they applied for fuel wood permits to the forest departmental authorities, the forest officer subjectively decided to accept or reject the request. There was no transparency in fuel wood distribution by the local government.

One of the respondents expressed that:

I have forest around me but others enjoying the benefit from it. The forest is not in our hands; the government decides whom to give. As a result, deserving people are not getting it. Why they will give it to us when they get more money from those illegal operators?

(Interview with an anonymous resident, Naltar Payeen)

It is very difficult for the poor to acquire fuel wood. A local resident narrated: “Only those people are getting fuelwood who have links with the government officials. Only a few people have access to those permits, and these include people working for the government and contractors, but not us” (interview with an anonymous resident, Naltar Payeen).

Field survey results suggested that not all community members collected fuelwood from the forest. The reasons for their reluctance were related to several factors, which included:

i) time-consuming endeavour to move deep into the forest;

ii) non-cooperation of government officials with the use of community rights to collect fuel wood; and

iii) difficult to obtain a permit for locals; only those who had a strong personal network with government officials receive such permits.

Conflicts in Naltar Valley are mainly between the locals and non-locals and pertain to rights over fuelwood and grazing between the communities of Naltar Bala, who are mainly the Gujars, and those of Naltar Payeen, who are early settlers of Naltar Valley. During the last 30-40 years, the Gujar community immigrated to Naltar to graze their animals during the summer season and eventually made permanent and semi-permanent settlements in Naltar Bala. They continued to avail the rights to graze and collect fuel- wood. However, the early settlers were unclear about how this acquisition of rights of the newly settled Gujar ethnic groups was decided by the government without consultation. In turn, such lack of clarity and the entry of new settlers has led to ethnic conflicts and rivalry. However, there are military resorts, a ski slope, and government guest houses in this reserve forest; they fulfill their fuelwood requirements from the same forest. These facilities are not open to the public and no opportunities are given to locals in these resorts.

The rules under the Forest Act of 1927 describe the access rights to forest resources for communities residing in the vicinity of the forest. In reality, such access of the community members to forest resources is very limited; local communities are not involved or consulted in the management of the forest. There is now no such allocation of free grants of trees.

As one of the residents said during focus group discussions:

The Government is neither sincere with us nor with the matter of forest management. We used to have dense forests. It was under government control, and now, only patches left as most of the forest got extracted illegally with the help of the forest department. The forest resources were given to the outsiders and we do not get dead trees to use as fuelwood. If you look at the houses of these forest department people, their walls are covered with deodar, the expensive timber. What do you think? Are they protecting the forest?

(anonymous resident, Naltar Payeen)

Another resident added:

We used to bring the dead fallen trees, and we would go up to Naltar Lake. The forest was dense, but gradually, it started depleting. We used to value our forest because we were part of it. Since the intervention of government, taking over of our forest, we have been separated from our forests.

(Shafa Ali, 54, Naltar Payeen)

The key point in the conceptualisation and implementation of decommonisation was the failure of the government to recognise the interconnectedness between local communities and the conservation of forests or pasture lands. There was a clear deficiency in understanding the dependency of the local community on the commons, which are endowed with natural resources. The cases of Shimshal and Naltar provide a clear illustration of disconnecting people from their resource base as a result of external institutional intervention through a top-down state-controlled approach. They also depict the ground realities of the mismanagement of the forests and pasture resources. The imposition of rules and regulations through decommonisation has resulted in the loss of local rights and ownership of local communities. Thus, the survival and sustainability of the forest resources come under question under the state control. Table 14.1 lists the key factors of decommonisation processes.

The inertia in creating PAs with a national vision for conservation has resulted in changing the characteristics of commons from being an entity of natural resource endowment to support local livelihoods to an entity disconnected from local communities. Consequently, the conflict between the local communities and the national government has risen astronomically over rights, exclusion and subtraction.

Case study 2: Local management of the pasture commons in Shimshal

In the context of northern Pakistan, common resources have remained under community control, traditional management system and customary laws (Bilal et al., 2003). Communities regulate their rights and access to the resources in an effective manner at the local level through a set of customary rules, allocation of resource-use right, enforcement of sanctions, and compliance (Agrawal, 2014). In the following section, we analyse the commons under different regimes and the current system of yak herding in Shimshal as examples of the traditional sustainable way of governing commons. To make our argument, we attempt to highlight how communities have governed the commons and sustained the resources for centuries, and how they have used traditional institutions to control the commons.

Table 14.1 Key factors of the decommonisation process in the study area

Key factors


International initiatives

International conventions and treaties as drivers of change

Change in national government policies

  • • Shift in focus from community managed to centralized control
  • • Interference of government
  • • Focus on “conservation” strict in protected areas

Creation of protected areas by national governments

• Protected Areas superimposed in commons, which used to be managed effectively under customary rules to exclude others

Loss of rights of local communities

• Loss of access rights and institutional base resulted in conflicts and issues of access, loss of grazing lands

Erosion of traditional local institutions and emergence of new local institutions

  • • Centralized agencies such as forest and wildlife departments replaced local institutions or tried to replace them.
  • • Decision-making control moved from the local community to a centralized administrative control
  • • Village-level cooperatives became either dormant or dysfunctional or new forms of local institution emerged

Change in grazing practices

  • * Collective method of pasturing was reduced or traditional practice of Shimshali yak herding restricted
  • * Keeping of small livestock reduced, as in Naltar Bala
  • * Shift from livestock rearing to agriculture-oriented activities

Sense of disconnect from pasture and forest resources

  • • Imposition of political decisions initiated a process of disconnect, ecological, social and economic disintegration
  • • Growing resource degradation (loss of forest in Naltar); loss of sense of belongingness with forest
  • • Aggravation and resistance of Shimshal community
  • • Disconnect between the government and the local communities

Source: Focus Group Discussions, Naltar Payeen and Naltar Bala

Yak-herding practice in Shimshal

Shimshal herding practice is used as a tool to manage pastures by harvesting forage to produce livestock and maintain plant composition (NASSD, 2003). Livestock is central to the Shimshal livelihood, contributing a total of 38 percent of the total economy, and they play a vital role in the region’s food security (Ali & Butz, 2003). Shimshal herding practice follows a traditional pattern, profoundly influenced by climate and seasonality, by the topography of the land, and by social and cultural influences. Their traditional herding system relies on centuries of experience, knowledge of the productivity of pastures, the availability of water during summer and winter seasons, accessibility, and vulnerability to predators. An important aspect is the socio-cultural features that are embedded in their self-identity as “Shimshali”. It is a community that is highly devoted to maintaining their culture, rituals and hereditary resources, as these are interwoven with the livestock herding system (Butz, 1996: Ali & Butz, 2003; Butz, 2006; Khan et al. 2011: Khan, 2012).

Decision-making in the herding system takes place at three levels: (i) household, (ii) community, and (iii) pasture-cycle (Butz, 1996). During the focus group discussion phases of decision-making were discussed. The initial decision process starts at the household level, where the household members get together to plan how many livestock need to be sent to the pastures. Decision is made by considering several factors: (a) the available number of persons (labour); (b) the affordability of the cost in terms of cash or in-kind (material); and (c) the number of milking animals available. At the community level, important considerations include the appropriateness of pasture for the specific number of livestock, the mapping of pastoral movements based on their years of experience, cultural festivals, and the timing of rituals and ceremonies.

The community-level decisions ensure that all households get an equal opportunity in the shared resource. It is important to note that the community motivation for conserving their resources is the main priority, and it is reflected in their resource-use activities. An important element is the selection of people that will accompany the livestock. In the case of yak herding, at least two people are selected based on their awareness of the pastures and knowledge of the routes. The third level of decision-making takes place at the herdsman level (pasture level). Herdsmen make decisions based on their past experience of weather and regional climatic conditions, the status of the pasture, access to pasture during winter, and availability of water. The herdsmen intend to ensure that the livestock is safe from predators and that there is enough fodder to feed on. They also need to ensure that the water requirement of the herd is fulfilled. They are responsible for the timely departure to other pastures as well as to the village prior to the celebration of “Kutch” - an event to offer gratitude to the creator for his blessings for their safe return with animals and wealth (Khan, 2012).

In achieving these goals, community members practice primarily two kinds of herding system: (i) summer pasturing, and (ii) winter pasturing. During both summer and winter pasturing times, caring for their ancestral resources, which they affiliate with Mamu Singh, the founder of Shimshal, is common. According to one popular legend, Mamu Singh - a Burusho (brushski speaking) from Baltit (Central Hunza) - discovered the Shimshal region about four centuries ago. His son, Sher, discovered all other territories, including Pamir. The lineage of Shimshal - Gazikator, Bakhtikator, and Baqikator - claims it as their ancestral land (SNT 2007).

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