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SS Khan's book on AKRSP-letter


Shoaib Sultan Khan was in Canada recently launching his book The Aga Khan Rural Support Programme: A Journey through Grassroots Development and I was privileged to attend one of his presentations and also having a one-to-one conversation with him. Fortunately, I had acquired a copy of his book prior his arrival and had read almost to the last chapter which made my meeting with him and listening to him much more enjoyable. A man of towering success yet very humble about his achievements Khan speaks with heart, believes in unbounded potential of human spirit and spells out facts without any ambiguity but does so with dignity, respect and grace.

The book captures his experience of working for five decades in rural development stretching from Sri Lanka in the southern shore of South Asia to Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan, the very threshold of Central Asia and also provides a fresh look at the broader issues of development. It unfolds the very human potential for socio economic change otherwise embedded in the vicious circle of poverty only to remain dormant and ineffective. Divided into three sections, the first section is the author’s autobiographical account and his career as a civil servant in the Government of Pakistan’s bureaucracy; a fascinating insight into a professional life always at risk in the midst of conspiracies and power politics within the bureaucracy and beyond. This section also details the successes and challenges of the Daudzai Project and the will and capacity of government both to make or break a development project.

In the second and third sections, the author spells out what he calls “learning approach” to development combining well tested principles with trial and error through a social process. The process was guided by three simple but powerful principles, namely organization, capital and skill. Appreciating the role of teachers and retired army personnel in the local communities in Passu, Gilgit-Baltistan, Khan writes: “They were indeed the real social capital of the community.” Succinctly outlining his pragmatic approach in planning and executing the development initiatives, he substantiates them with the thoughts of Akhtar Hamid Khan, his mentor and a known authority on rural development. The Village Organizations (VOs) structure in his view was the backbone not only for successful implementation of the development initiatives but also for their sustainability. Khan delightfully writes: “The two siphon irrigation projects at Prawwak Chitral and Sonikot Gilgit constructed by VOs which the Canadian Development Counsellor (who was an engineer) declared incredible and had serious doubts about their sustainability even after 20 years are as functional today as at the time of construction.”

Shoaib Sultan Khan’s book is an enjoyable reading and anyone interested in rural development will find in it inspiring ideas and practical strategies for development at the very grassroots level. For educated segments of population in Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan, there is much in this book to learn and appreciate the author’s contribution as he does for others who joined hands with him in his endeavours. He leaves no one unacknowledged who has contributed to the AKRSP’s achievements and does so not as a formality, but with genuine feelings. He acknowledges that in his fifty-four years of working life, he had three major benefactors: the Government of Pakistan, the United Nations and the Aga Khan Foundation. Alluding to his departure from the AKRSP, he writes: “ I left AKRSP in August 1994 with a heavy heart because I knew I would never again have an employer like His Highness the Aga Khan to inspire and encourage me in my work.” The Aga Khan Rural Support Programme: A Journey through Grassroots Development is a must read for the educated people in Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan.

Dr. Mir Baiz Khan
Toronto, Canada.

24 June 10



Comment -1
I read an article about SS Khan’s book titled “The Aga Khan Rural Support Programme: A Journey through Grassroots Development” in August 2009. The article was contributed by Dr. Pervaiz Tahir and appeared in the daily ‘Dawn’ of August 11, 2009. The learned writer has succinctly summarized the gist of the book in few paragraphs. Dr. Mir’s article on the topic in created an urge in me to reproduce some parts from Dr. Pervaiz’s article and to contribute a little of my own.

The masterpiece work of SS Khan discusses his professional career first with government and then with NGOs. S.S. Khan, as a member of prestigious CSP group had first hand experience of working at district level with opportunities of closer interaction with the people. Khan later on left his government position and worked with UNO and Akhtar Hamid Khan- another CSP, who had resigned his prestigious position and had become a development guru.

The new approach of participatory grassroots development was tested first in Comilla in Bangladesh by A.H Khan and then in Daudzai in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa by his disciple SS Khan in 1950s and 1960s respectively. In early 1980s, the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme was approved by His Highness the Aga Khan IV for GB and Chitral to systematize community participation and grassroots development because these areas were far away from the centres of decision making and were not on top of government development priority. His Highness the Aga Khan has been chief exponent of people-centred development. According to Aga Khan IV, “Development is ultimately about people; about enabling them to participate fully in the process and to make informed choices and decisions on their future”.

These experiences of Khans’ and the financial and institutional support given by His Highness the Aga Khan in the shape of AKRSP provided a unique opportunity of participatory development in GB and Chitral. The people of these areas had some awareness and had traditions of cooperative labor and community participation. The people of these areas used to work together on voluntary basis in joys, sorrows, defence and in building and constructing roads, bridges, water channels and other public services on self help basis. This provided a good opportunity for SS Khan to institutionalize the innovative approach of participatory development.

In his book, based on his experiences in Daudzai and with AKRSP in GB & Chitral, S.S. Khan, as reported by Dr. Pervaiz, maintains that development ‘can not be dictated or directed. Rather it is motivating, mobilizing and meaningful participation of beneficiary communities that guarantees sustainable development within manageable and bearable costs.’ S.S. Khan mentions the success of AKRSP’s innovation of grassroots development through a galaxy of community organizations that materialized the dream of ‘development of the people, by the people and for the people’ at least in limited areas.

S.S. Khan, having experience of working with elite CSP and then with communities at grassroots level rightly understands the limitations of both. A paragraph from Dr. Pervaiz’s article on the book which pinpoints the limitations of participatory community development initiatives is reproduced as under:

“But it is only a demonstration. It needs scaling-up of a huge magnitude to cover a rural population of 105 million. A network of support organizations working outside the government will never have the resources to carry out the huge undertaking. Nor is it its mandate. Only the government has the resources to reduce poverty. But it does not know how”. Dr. Pervaiz comments that working in the government for long time has given S.S. Khan this important insight. As a district officer, he made honest attempts to implement the programme blueprints handed down from the top. However, districts, even tehsils, turned out to be too big to serve rural communities in any meaningful way.

Akhtar Hamid Khan can rightly be regarded as the pioneer of participatory development. A true humanitarian and a man of cosmopolitan outlook, he devoted his life to ameliorate the living condition of the down trodden and Orangi Pilot Project is one of the examples of his many developmental efforts. But as admitted by SS Khan, small NGOs with innovative approaches of community participation can not transform a huge landscape of poverty and underdevelopment. NGOs and rural support programmes can present workable and replicable models of development to the government for implementation at broader level. With support from communities and community organization the NGOs can impact and influence government development approach. But how RSPs in GB and Chitral have been successful in institutionalizing participatory development and in influencing government is some thing that needs in-depth research and evaluation. Development is a complex agenda and requires multiple approaches ranging from rule of law; accountability; elimination of corruption and corrupt practices and consistency in policies by government and a vigilant and conscious citizenry from the side of the people. In his article on SS Khan’s book, Dr. Pervaiz comments that: “Working with government had brought home to SS Khan the inadequacies of departments to reach the desired locations. Working with the communities led to the strong conclusion that eliminating mass poverty was beyond the resources of the non-governmental sector, no matter how unshakable the commitment and how sincere the effort.”

Given the human and material resource constraints and limited scope of NGOs, it is the government that has the responsibility and the necessary wherewithal to salvage the people from poverty. And from within the government, it is the permanent class of civil servants who can play a pivotal role in emancipation of the people. The permanent class of bureaucracy, because of their education, training and professional grooming, are in ideal position to help the people in helping themselves. This class is regarded as the cream of society and having long-term association with governance, they are better placed to give Pakistan her due status in the comity of nations. After all, it is good to be a public servant to educated and enlightened people than to be a ruler over hungry and ignorant multitude. As the idea of participatory development was introduced and implemented by two eminent ex-CSPs (Akhtar Hamid Khan and Shoaib Sultan Khan) in some parts of Pakistan, it is hoped the present class of civil servants will honestly analyze the implement ability of this innovative idea and sincerely endeavor its implementation at broader level to make Pakistan a better place for present and future generations.

Mir Wazir Khan
Awi, Chitral
June 28, 2010


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