10 Feb, 2018
.. By Islamuddin
In 1980s, the World Bank and IMF, driven by the interests of the corporate world, launched a model of development, which later on came to be known as “Filter Down” theory, first propounded by Dr.Mehbubul Haq, who was then associated with the Bank. Under the theory investors had to be facilitated through infrastructure development and those at the receiving end had to be contented with basic needs fulfillment, through handouts in the name of social safety nets, funded by the Bank and its partners in the corporate world, before the fruits of development can filter down to them. The net result of this approach was increase in poverty, rampant corruption and growth of parasitic mindset in the society. Social sectors were ignored leading to all out deterioration in health, education, environment and other sectors, tasked to develop human resources, leading up to the creation of egalitarian society and quality democracy.
In Pakistan this era is called the era of lost decades, when politics became a big business and voters saleable commodity. The resultant game of musical chairs overseen by the USA, exacerbated fault lines in our social fabric, the bitter fruits of which, would continue to be reaped for years to come. Chitral, until then a model of peace and social harmony, for the first time in its history, saw communal clashes taking place. Independent analysts traced the origin of this phenomenon to rising poverty, parochial/ sectarian politics to find shortcut to get into the corridors of power. Without a paradigm shift in our attitude and conflict resolution mechanisms things would remain more or less the same. Putting back the lid and shying away like an ostrich can only be a recipe for bigger problems.
It was in this background that international NGOs led by AKDN came to Chitral to address its poverty issues and rebuilt communal relations through participatory development and welfare projects. Had it not been for these NGOs, Chitralis would still be living in cave age. It is another matter that wrong priorities, jobbery and non-existent third party oversight deprived Chitralis of the full potential of development that the hefty funds would have brought. The strategy that the local communities themselves would own and supervise their projects was misconceived because the poor and illiterate people having the mindset of being loyal subjects, with no sense of citizenship or democratic rights lacked the capacity to make these NGOs accountable or projects sustainable. In fact the Government itself had failed to empower the people in this behalf through regulations, which could have ensured supervision and audit control. The resultant free for all benefitted the already privileged and increased frustration among the majority thus creating another fault line and culture of impunity.
While it is largely correct to say that poverty leads to hatred and conflict but there could be other factors. Without an integrated and inclusive approach complete success would remain a distant dream. While INGs, including AKDN, pursued development projects, other institutions working for communal harmony through better mutual understanding, did nothing to bridge the communal divide and create common ground, which was there till the beginning of 20th century when one set of alien influences were implanted paving way for cultural invasion followed by another set of invasion in the last quarter of the century. The rolling back of these influences and restoring the old sectarian paradigm required visionary leadership. Unfortunately this leadership is either non-existent or simply not allowed to come forward, especially among Ismailis. The bureaucratic system, built around institutions, has been so contrived that fresh air or fresh proposals are successfully blocked out. Visits of His Highness are stage-managed to shield incompetent leaders and strengthen the feeling of all is well, as we so frequently see in Pakistan. As a result opportunities for critical input and better decision making are lost. The establishment finds comfort in the status quo and makes every effort to entrench its position and the people stay caught up between the rock and hard place or try to find other avenues for comfort and that also explains the emergence of Khana-i-Hikmat and the resultant controversy refusing to go away.
No system can be sustained through lies, which was so evident when Prime Minister Khaqan visited Chitral to inaugurate the Golengol hydro project and tried to take credit for every development project in Chitral including Lowari Tunnel, Chitral-Gilgit road and others. The fact of the matter is that Chitral was brought to the development limelight in 1970s by Z.A.Bhutto. It is he, who visualized and started Lowari project but Nawaz Sharif’s mentor and spiritual father Ziaul Haq rolled back the project and Nawaz Sharif was part of his regime. The project was restarted by Mushraf who was then considered as Bhutto reincarnated. It is another issue that after three years, in 2002, Musharaf turned politician and lost his aura. It is an irony that Bhutto’s party slowed down the project and diverted funds to the areas of political heavy weights. The Chitral- Gilgit road owes its origin to the MOU signed by Asif Ahmed Ali with Central Asian republics after the collapse of Soviet Union, which provided framework for the present CPEC projects including the road projects under reference. Other mega projects like the Golen project and Chitral Ring Road project were also visualized and launched by other Governments. Nawaz Sharif and his mentor Ziaul Haq had contempt for Chitralis and considered them mice on whom such a big amount cannot be invested. They may have done things for individuals but not certainly for Chitralis as a people.
It is proof enough that today Chitral is standing on the precipice of disaster. Our natural eco-system is gone. Massive deforestation, land erosions, environmental degradation, shrinking land space, limited career opportunities and subsistence living, aggravated by frequent natural disasters, are taking their tolls. It is best exemplified by the recent census report which places its population at 450000 as against 350000 in 1998. Given its current birth rate this population should have exceeded one million. The only explanation for this census result is that almost half of its population has migrated to other areas for survival. It the present trends are not arrested Chitral may well wither away in a few decades. The only ray of hope is the Aga Khan who has called upon his institutions to pay more attention to Chitral and Northern Pakistan. AKAH has to lead this effort. The Aga Khan model to supply potable water in cold regions has been successful and there are indications that the model would be replicated by the Government. But in the presence of contractor cum commission mafias the Government may well be hamstrung. AKESP and AKHSP have to radically redraw their priorities to make their service delivery outfits sustainable. This may not be possible without visionary leadership. The recent turnaround in AKESP may not have been possible without competent leadership. AKHSP can take a leaf out of it. Excessive interference by honorary leadership in professional matters should be stopped as have been observed in SEDP. In no should the identification criteria of the poor for the purpose of life support be violated to please a honorary leader and efforts be made that the dole-outs do not lead to the rise of parasites. The current individual support system may be supplemented with endowment support to genuine sustainable community based institutions working in the education and skill sectors.
It is good to know that after successful intervention in providing clean drinking water, the newly created AKAH would now intervene in the areas of safe housing, sewage disposal and disaster mitigation after successful intervention in drinking water sector. Recently WASEP, a subsidiary of AKAH, completed a landmark project to save three villages from seasonal flooding through dredging the water course and erecting protective walls. It is a measure of their successful partnership with the community that a project has been completed at 10 times less cost. It may be noted that these villages have been completely inundated by floods thrice in recent memory. Only last year they could sleep well in flood season after the project was completed. Earlier Hashoo Foundation successfully piloted a check dam project to save couple of villages from avalanches. These two are successful models that need to be followed to restore our eco-system. In the next stage land management, massive plantation and conservation work should be taken up. There is a lot of awareness coming to the people, which need to be cashed through creating opportunities for climate compliant cropping, diverse means of livelihood and capacity building. Today as matters stand, people have sold their livestock to restore the eco balance. This they have done at a great cost to their livelihood but this sacrifice will go waste if matching steps are not taken on war footing by the Government and NGOs to rehabilitate their pasture lands, glaciers, barren lands, mountains, river beds and forests devastated through centuries of neglect and misuse.
Last but not the least is the urgent need to invest to change the mindset of people. Religious leaders have a great role to play here. The law against using religion for political gains should be strictly enforced. Leaders of all three communities in Chitral should sit together to guard against divisive tendencies. For this a leadership forum was proposed in the past by late MPA Zainul Abiddin and it is time that this forum is put in place. Alien influences tending to negatively impact on communal relations must be rejected. Ismaili leadership will have to pick up courage to come out of the shadows of their patrons in Karachi and start taking contextual decisions, both in matters of theology and development directly drawing on the vision of His Highness. The Ismaili worldview developed in IIS should be transmitted undiluted without distortion because this worldview has the potential for inter-faith harmony and world peace, built on the edifice of our common humanity. Imam’s vision of Muslim unity and common spiritual leadership of the Prophet (SA) can only come true only if his followers can put their acts together and get for themselves the kind of institutional leadership capable of translating his vision into reality and for this to happen matters should not be left to positional leaders alone. Everyone has to play his/her role. .. Islamuddin, Chitral 10 Feb 2018