ISLAMABAD, Jan 31: It is inspiring that social media has given voice to the common people for projecting their ideas, lodging their complaints, discussing the institutional efficacies, and pointing out the strengths and weaknesses in social bodies and so on.
This luxury could not be even thought of a few years back. It is a remarkable social contribution, on the one hand helping in building and harmonizing the societal organizations; while, on the other, its pessimistic blows are sometimes even more blatant.
Sher Wali Khan Aseer Sahib had contributed an article in an Urdu website titled “GHALAT FEHMI” or “Misunderstanding” based on his view point, which was liked by some as well as criticized by others. It is though one’s right to criticize some idea, fact, phenomenon or a public matter that is raised in the media, but crossing the limits to the extent of abusing each other on the basis of cast and creed, and dragging sectarian matters in the discussion is unfortunate.
The discussions in the electronic media usually portray a poor reflection of Chitrali youth and, particularly the educated class. Going through the comments is not a dissimilar experience in the case in point in a number of ways.
One, the comments were full of emotional outbursts instead of being well though-out arguments.
Two, most of the writers seemed grossly prejudiced for one or the other reason.
Three, personal issues overcame the common societal issues.
Four, the writings, baring a few, lacked depth with regards to ideas, facts and examples.
Five, most of the writers resorted to meaningless comments thus contributing little to the subject matter.
Some of the points which were raised included the question of affiliation with the institutions basing on sectarian attachment, usurpation of rights of one ethnic group by the other, nepotism in the award of employment, poor management, vision of the Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, remaining unfulfilled, and so on. However, very few writers came up with concrete arguments and empirical details.
At the very outset of endorsing my comments here, I would like to clarify that I have been quite critical to AKRSP in my comments in the past. Even here I am not defending the AKRSP on the basis of any affiliation, rather trying to highlight some theoretical misunderstandings.
For clarity of understanding the matter under discussion may be viewed from two broad angles.
First is the vision of the Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, in establishing social organizations. Second is administering the institutions by their respective management, both overseeing by the honorary leadership, and operating by the paid managers.
Coming to the vision of the Imam, as the readers are aware, the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) is a group of development agencies with mandates that include the environment, health, education, architecture, culture, microfinance, rural development, disaster reduction, promotion of private-sector enterprise and the revitalization of historic cities.
For working in the above stated areas, some of the major AKDN organizations include Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance (AKAM), Aga Khan Education Services (AKES), Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED), Aga Khan Health Services (AKHS), Aga Khan Planning and Building Services (AKPBS), Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC), Aga Khan University (AKU), Focus Humanitarian Assistance (FOCUS), etc. One of the highly important organizations of AKDN is the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) which is a non-denominational, international development agency, established in 1967, with the mission to develop and promote creative solutions to problems that impede social development, primarily in Asia and East Africa.
Created as a private, non-profit foundation under Swiss law, it has branches and independent affiliates in 19 countries. AKRSP is an offshoot of the AKF. While each institution pursues its own mandate, all work together within the overarching framework of the Network so that their different pursuits interact and reinforce one another.
The website of AKDN states that AKDN agencies conduct their programmes without regard to faith, origin or gender. It is thus explicit that AKDN has the mission of working for the benefit of people without any prejudice. Thus nobody or group can monopolize these institutions on the basis of faith, origin, gender, race, etc, to the extent of being prejudiced to others.
In the context of backward Chitral, having quite weak social indicators, these institutions should be taken as the best opportunity for social sector development. Chitral can no longer afford to miss the opportunity of benefiting from AKDN institutions. The institutions are to work for Chitral as a whole. As regards the second angle, the issue of administering the AKDN institutions by the management in Chitral, it has been questioned several times from a number of perspectives, as raised by the valued writers here as well.
But, being emotional outbursts, some of the comments have gone much beyond the conceptual framework of the original article. Aseer Sahib had elucidated that the people of Chitral in general and those of Southern parts in particular could not benefit from the socio-economic development programmes of the AKRSP, which was not because of the AKRSP but due to community’s misunderstandings. This hypothesis is true but it is not the only cause of the lost opportunity. The fact of the matter is that “misunderstanding” of the community is just one construct among the many, which led the AKRSP to remain short of its objectives, thus leaving vision of the Imam unfulfilled (as referred in the article by Aseer Sahib), and generating considerable level of frustration among the community, especially the youth, irrespective of their sectarian viewpoint.
However, it needs to be understood that the shortcomings were not in the vision of AKDN institutions as envisaged by the Imam or in the programme launched. AKRSP had an explicit goal of socio-economic development and nothing more or less. The rest of the negative suffixes and prefixes attached to AKRSP are either due to “misunderstandings” at the community level, or inadequacies at the management level. In both cases the leeway of human miscalculations is evident.
AKRSP is a noble and novel vision, backed with gigantic financial support. Had this been accurately understood by the people of Chitral, and implemented by the management in the real spirit, Chitral, from socio-economic development viewpoint, would have been a different place today. Alas! A golden opportunity has been lost and now unsubstantiated debates and mocking is left. One major misunderstanding visible from the comments is that AKRSP is for the Ismilies only.
In reality it is unfounded, both on the bases of stated vision of AKDN, and the practice on the ground. It is evident from the fact that with the exception of a few years, AKRSP has been steered throughout by the non-Ismaili professionals, and some of those are still profoundly regarded by the community.
Had it been purely an Ismaili enterprise, there would have been no place for any other. However, what so ever has been the success of AKRSP in Chitral is due to the communities in the Northern parts who endeavoured to implement the underlying concept of AKRSP. Failure of AKRSP to attract Southern parts of Chitral should not have happened. Though the communities in Southern parts could not benefit from AKRSP projects, yet the workforce from the Southern part has been the backbone of AKRSP, and had gained more than people from any other part could. Even today most of the AKRSP workforce is from the Southern part of Chitral, who should work diligently to attract the Southern communities towards AKRSP projects. Some of the comments had been pointing towards preferential treatment on cast and creed basis, while some others harshly hitting back in response to that.
Empirical evidences do not favour or disfavor a claim rather afford unbiased judgment. Just for putting an end to some unhealthy comments the readers should accept the facts on ground. Quite obvious ill-balances were noticed, when a rough enumeration of the workforce of the AKRSP was undertaken.
There are instances where a single fortunate family from Chitral town has a number of officers in the AKRSP, occupying responsible managerial positions. One aspect is more evident, that AKRSP has been open to people irrespective of sectarian affiliation. Had it not been so, there would have been more people in AKRSP from the thickly populated Islmaili localities, right from Booni to Baroghel, whereas only one odd individual is employed in AKRSP. A social phenomenon is difficult to have fixed conclusions — some may say they got it as they were the ablest of all, while yet others may call it nepotism. This is how debates continue.
What I suggest to AKDN institutions is a simple panacea to all its ills relating to human resource selection and award of scholarships for higher education — follow a standardized selection criteria and test like the one offered by National Testing Service (NTS), which is now being followed by all kinds of major organizations in Pakistan. One unparallel achievement of AKRSP is the social change … which may be discussed some other time.