Chitral’s failed poverty reduction strategies

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— By Islamuddin
Poverty and subsistence living have been normal in Chitral, the rulers being a little above the poverty line in the beginning. Since the British take over in 1898 the demonstration effect of the life style of British royalty and it’s first hand taste by visiting Chitrali princes brought home to them the realization that their life style should also match their position. As a result measures were adopted to generate revenue, which pushed certain section of Chitralis still deeper into poverty. Many tried to escape the jeopardy of double taxation-one to state and other to religious leaders- by crossing the line where only one set of taxes were to be paid. The concept of state paying for public welfare was alien to the prevailing ruling philosophy. So poverty proliferated and socio-economic gaps widened; those on the wrong side of the sectarian fault line suffering the most. Pakistan, as a panacea for all problems, for which Muslim minorities having made pioneering contribution, is still a dream yet to come true.

In 1982 Chitralis received a rude shock emanating from extreme poverty which spoiled communal fault lines maintained stable for centuries. The emergence of radicalized sectarian Islam in 1979 and US funded jehad in Afghanistan fuelled and exacerbated these fault lines. Islamic charities being funded by oil rich kingdoms and hostile intelligence outfits joined the fray with huge funds to produce volunteers for their “Jehads”. At that time it was His Highness who grasped the realty of Chitral’s dynamics and came up with poverty reduction and self-help, self-sustaining inclusive development strategy to attack rampant poverty which he blamed for the poor communal relations. He correctly assessed that poverty and illiteracy led to hatred and hatred in turn led to conflict. There were no short-cuts to come out of this vicious cycle. It required inclusive and long term strategy.

In line with this strategy AKDN entered Chitral in mid 1980s, focusing on female literacy and basic health care as spring boards for sustainable development. Today Chitral leads in both these sectors thanks to AKDN. It reached areas which have not been accessed even by the Government. Doubters and critics who chose to stay out in the beginning have now finally joined the efforts making it truly inclusive paradigm for development. The village level platforms provided by AKRSP have helped heal wounds and offer opportunities for healthy debates to generate shared strategies and solutions to local problems. It is another matter that these rural platforms and clusters have been allowed to become redundant or monopolized by few vested interests, once the projects were completed or funds utilized; the reasons being failure to develop true leadership skills and promotion of parasitic, project driven mindset. Only the better led institutions came out with some laurels. WASEP has emerged as the most reliable supplier of potable water sustainably and there are public demands that Government projects should also be outsourced to this outfit. AKESP is fast becoming first choice for students and AKHSP is also trying to catch up. AKRSP and SRSP have made some healthy strategic moves likely to produce long term gains but incidences of rising individual poverty are yet to be addressed.

With a view to exploiting this fault line few banned outfit are trying to enter Chitral with handout to recruit supporters thus creating a challenge to existing institutions and security agencies alike. Recently FIF, offshoot of a banned outfit and another less known one coming out of the blue entered Chitral with innocuous moves like construction of prayer houses or promotion of certain practices and doling out handouts. State sponsored BISP fell short to meet the challenge for obvious reasons necessitating target driven and community based effort to attack cases of ultra-poverty by identifying such cases and extending support. This program has yet to create an impact. Its biggest drawback is delay or lack of contextual decision making. Most people avoid decision making or pass the buck to avoid criticism for faulty decisions. At the moment it appears to be the same old wine but in a new bottle. Unless it comes up with a new result driven workable strategy focusing on the causes and not symptoms of poverty it is likely to fail. One would only hope that it would learn from past mistakes of other outfits and chart a better course to succeed as failure is not an option. Leadership involving motivation, commitment and contextual decision making should be the recipe for its success. The other day I was appalled to see that instead of finding right man for the right job there was persistent but fortunately unsuccessful effort to sell a name for a position requiring expertise that the individual did not have. This tendency should be discouraged. Without appointing right man for the right job nothing can be achieved and resources would continue to be wasted resulting in poverty, ignorance, corruption and impunity. It is time that positional leadership was relegated to back bench and obliged to follow expert input for making decisions.

What individual poverty can do to a family and the larger community can well be exemplified by a recent tragedy when six members of a family died in plane crash with only one girl surviving. This unfortunate family was being supported through poverty fund but the amount was not enough to meet all the expenses of the family which could accord them a quality of life to which it had become addicted. This help was supplemented by selling out their landed property followed by marrying out daughters to spouses outside Chitral for money without verifying their credentials. It was for this purpose that the family was travelling to Islamabad on tickets bought by the would-be son-in-law. Their only surviving daughter refused to travel fearing that her aged husband would take her away, from whose custody she had fled three months ago against the wish of her parents. It is worth mentioning that 20 years ago this family had been boycotted against by the villagers for violating local social norms.

As the saying goes death is a great leveler , at the time of this tragedy the entire village came together to support the orphan girl but with so much bad blood having come in between them trust could not be built. Perhaps there were greedy people around as well. The Child Protection Bureau who could not see the plight of these children when they were alive immediately sprang to action and offered to take custody of the girl who would get 33 million rupees in compensation. No one had thought about the minor’s best interests as to how she should be brought up, what values and beliefs should be imparted to her? What about her emotional well being, her education? What kind of family she should live with? These are the issues that should be kept in view while deciding the question of her custody till she attains majority age. — Islamuddin, 08 Jan 2017

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