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Chitral’s failed poverty reduction strategies

Garam Chashma Diary 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.]]>

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  1. Muhammad Amin says

    What I meant by openness introduced by AKDN in my comment is be open to transparency,accountability and knowledge and and as well all decision makings shall be shared by the stakeholders.It is in in another word contrast to resistance or radicalization. Secondly,I have nothing to say about the deceased family,perished in an ill-fated plan crash in Havelian on December 7,2016.My only pray is that May Allah ,the Almighty,give them an eternal peace in the Heaven alongwith other victims.

  2. A. R. Ahmad says

    Very strange logic indeed. It is also dangerous because such logic shows biasness because you seem to be looking at things through the prism of your inborn prejudices.
    I am unable to understand how for each and every malady you point fingers at the AKDN or for that matter the AKRSP. My second bewilderment is, can any development expert, scholar and literary person say that people commit sin or shatter their values and norms such as selling off their daughters due to poverty? Comm on, have some shame. Can you tell me that going against your values and doing wrong things is the habit of a poor and the rich are angels?
    Every now and then people with such mentality start shouting that the AKDN institutions are spreading vulgarity and they should not be allowed to work in Chitral etc etc. Even they say that women visiting bazaar is haram and is a big vulgarity. Shame on your thinking. If I accept your mentality all people in big cities are vulgar and not good Muslims.
    This only surviving girl of the Garam Chashma family had been married to an man from outside Chitral and she ran back home against the wishes of her parents three months ago, according to Mr Islamuddin. He holds poverty as responsible for the tragedy that fell on the family, and the AKRSP and other NGOs were to be blamed. I can expect such a sweeping judgment from a hardline cleric but when it comes from you, Mr Islamauddin, I can only say you have some grudge towards the agencies and NGOs otherwise nobody can have such a one-sided approach to issues.
    Is marrying off daughters to outsiders without any information about the grooms is new and happened to this Garam Chashma family for the first time? Were those selling off their daughters to unknown outsiders belonged to a specific community of Chitral? Why you are linking such blots of the name of Chiral to poverty. A poor person can have an equal or even bigger sense of self-esteem, love and dignity than a rich man does and never compromise on his respect and values for money. Those who are selling their daughters have lust and greed for money. Moreover, they lack awareness and are taken astray by trick. The victims of this have been all the Chitralis irrespective of their religious, cultural and ethnic background.
    We need to create awareness among the people of Chitral and in the form of vigilant committees and groups especially through the social media can check this evil to save ourselves from being dubbed as sellers of daughters for money.
    Please forgive me if I have used any harsh words as I have no enmity with anyone and have lived abroad for over 30 years but I say all this because my heart pain when I see such things. I love my Chitral and want it prospers always.

  3. Sadiq Murtaza says

    The living style of the deceased family was allegedly a breach of the social norms and involved in selling out daughters on account of poverty as depicted by Mr Islamuddin It is a slap on the face of affluent individuals, and the poverty reduction organizations either funded by AKDN or our government. Had they been provided by an honourable subsistence they would not stoop to that level of depravity. Mr Amin’s comments are self explanatory that AKRSP was resisted because it stands for openness. He is hundred percent correct because openness in the form of mixing men and women is a norm disapproved by the majority of the population. This sort of liberality sows the seed of family breakdown and moral depravity in our society.
    According to Mr Islamuddin, the Ismaili community had boycotted the deceased family because they had crossed moral norms on account of their ultra openness. openness in the sense of free mixing will lead to such casualties because ours is a culure totally different from that of the West.

  4. Muhammad Amin says

    A good scholarly analysis by Mr.Islamuddin about the poverty reduction strategies adopted by different government and non government agencies since 1895,when Chitral became a princely state after negotiation of subsidiary alliance with the British Indian government. Before early 1880,s the state was the sole player in the poverty reduction process of the district,however with the introduction of AKDN institutions real changes began to appear in the life standard of the people of the target areas.It is a fact that government intervention in the development of Chitral has been minimal due to lack of interests on the part of government and public representatives and geographical remoteness of the area.The holistic strategies of AKDN heralded a new approaches in poverty reduction,health and education sectors of the district instead of resistance from hardliners.
    Although visible impacts are apparent,but can not be presented as indicators,envisaged by the founder of the AKDN,the His Highness.
    The need is improvement and strengthening of these democratic practices,such as transparency and accountability, on sound and sustainable basis,then we can cope with the aftershocks of poverty in a meaningful manner.
    It was unfortunate when some members of a politico-religious party staged protest against AKRSP interventions.These are not against AKRSP,but resist openness, a healthy and improved live standard of the people of Chitral and are pushing us to the stone age.Bcoz.AKRSP is considered to be the mother of NGOs in the district,despite of some limitations on its part.It along with AKESP,AKPHBP,Focus Humanitarian etc.gave awareness about our civic rights,leadership,entrepreneurship, healthy and safe life.After the passage of three decades the fruits and benifits of AKDN interventions are realised throughout the district.

  5. Sher Wali Khan Aseer says

    We were told that the six members of one family travelling to Islamabad by the crashed PIA plane on Dec. 7, 2016 and who met tragic death living behind a 14 year old girl, had to attend a wedding ceremony of their relative at Lahore. But, the story told here by Mr. Islamud Din narrates quite different reason of their journey. It just dawned upon me that God Almighty has saved the poor girl who had fled from the custody of her aged husband three months ago, against wishes of her parents. It is one of the heart-aching stories which Mr. Qazi Inayat has referred to on face book, to day. An eye opener for all of us.

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