Peace returned to Bumburet Valley of northern Pakistan on Saturday after a girl from the minority Kalash community, who was at the centre of a row over forced conversions, said she had embraced Islam of her own free will.
Reena was at the centre of a storm in the Chitral region earlier this week as Muslims and members of the animist Kalash community clashed over what was seen by many as the girl’s forced conversion by religious groups.
However, Reena appeared in a district office and said in a statement before a magistrate that she had converted to Islam on her own. She also told a news conference she had converted after reading books on Islam and after consulting her family members, many of whom were Muslims.
Earlier this week, Reena's parents had invited her to their home but this resulted in fighting between local residents as some Muslims feared she was being pressured into taking back her decision to convert.
The clash between the two groups became very intense and police intervened with rubber bullets and tear gas. Members of the Kalash community said they were attacked by hundreds of Muslims and it was the police who helped save their lives.
Local journalist Mukhamuddin said the issue of conversion of members of the Kalash community was a sensitive one in the area as hundreds of Kalash had embraced Islam in the past few years. "In most instances, the Kalash youth are offered economic incentives to convert," said Mukhamuddin.
Isphandyar Bhandara, who has represented the community in parliament, said many members of the Kalash community are in dire financial straits because of failed business ventures.
"These are simple people who have been taken advantage of by local traders, with the result that they are now heavily in debt," said Bhandara.
The issue of forced conversions of members of Pakistan's religious minorities is a sensitive one. Earlier this year, a bill passed by parliament formalised the marriages of members of the Hindu community, which earlier did not have legal sanction.
But the Pakistan Hindu Council says the issue of forced conversions remains neglected despite repeated demands that this be addressed as well. It is estimated that more than a hundred Hindu women are kidnapped in Pakistan every year and forcibly converted to Islam before being married off.