By Abraham Ali
“Our faith is the faith of peace, our ethics is the ethics of peace…build strong bridges among the communities among whom you live…seek common grounds with other communities, common grounds are strong tools of your development,” says Prince Karim Aga Khan addressing the Ismaili community gathering of almost sixty-two thousand people at the Didar Gah of Garum Chashma, in a sublime emphatic tone.
The Aga Khan completed his tour to Pakistan on the eve of Diamond Jubilee of his spiritual leadership from 7-19 December 2017, visiting his community in Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan where his followers live in the most inhospitable areas with dignity and peace.
The Aga Kahn also runs one of the largest philanthropy organizations of the world under the umbrella of the Aga Khan Development Network in Asia, Africa, Middle East and Northern America, among the most marginalized groups.
In Chitral, the Network staged a strong presence in eighties to uplift the community from grinding poverty and social marginalization. Since then it has gone a long way in improving the quality of life of the mountain people through building institutions and community participation in social mobilization. The humanitarian services include education, healthcare, rural development, gender development, culture and heritage.
Prince Aga Khan claims to have temporal and religious authority to guide and interpret both worldly and faith related matters according to changing times and new challenges to his followers.
“Seek knowledge,” the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) ordains. In connection with that instruction, the model higher secondary schools, each for boys and girls established in Chitral has produced students who have made to the best higher educational institutes in Pakistan and around the world. Some of them have joined prestigious military and other services. More than fifty schools in the most inaccessible areas are functioning in illuminating the light of education by Aga Khan Education Service as one of the top priority of His Highness.
His Highness Aga Khan walks the talk through strong and evolving institutions working in different sectors in difficult and remotest areas of Chitral. Faith manifests in actions and his work and action speak louder than words due to which local people are enjoying a relatively better quality life in the backward mountainous areas.
In Chitral, almost one lack fifty thousand well organized and disciplined community welcomed their spiritual leader presenting an unprecedented volunteer work and selfless contribution regarding arrangement of his arrival. This was the time of exemplary unleashing of human potential.
“At Booni, a desolate and uneven abandoned tract of land near a river was transformed into a lively site where almost one lack members of the community gathered for reception of their leader,” Says Shahzada Sirajulmulk. “That is how community work was done in state era; you can’t put all the responsibility on government for community development,” he adds. Accommodating thousands of people in a small town, who were coming from most stretched district of the province, was no less a challenging task. “The people of the nearby villages opened their hearts and houses for the people who arrived in thousands to see a glimpse of their beloved leader,” says Sardar Hakim, the local president of Ismaili Council.
Almost 250 km long, uneven and broken jeep tracks were transformed into a smooth and jeep friendly roads to facilitate the visitors by the volunteers of the local communities.
The event of Didar entailed mobilization of almost one lack fifty thousand people including women, children and old age people, throwing transport and logistical challenges to communities in the nearby towns of Didargah.
“The businesses and transportation community accumulated years long profits within a week s times due to large scale movement and logistical needs. It was a great material benefit for the business community in terms of items sold,” says Islamuddin, a retired senior bureaucrat from Lotkuh.
Women empowerment remain a key in the development of any community in Chitral, Aga Khan Rural Support Program has been a game changer, involving women through Village Social Organizations with a mandate for compulsory Saving programs on the basis of which different projects like agricultural seeds, fertilizers and saplings are provided to farmers and handicrafts training are imparted to women so that they can stand on their own feet’s.
Although completely illiterate, Mass Begum, from a small village shows me her bank cash book with her signature for transaction because they have been taught signature for business purposes.
Local Arbitration Councils are lessening the burden on police and district court’s as a large number of disputes are being resolved through the participation and consultation of the local community members.
A landmark case of land dispute belonging to remote village of Sunich was referred back from a district court unresolved even after a decade for arbitration in Shoghore Local Council of Arbitration. The same case and many other disputes have been peacefully resolved under the auspices of local community institution. In many parts of the world the civil conflicts are eating away the very fabrics of human society. The Aga Khan takes most of the global conflicts as clash of ignorance instead of clash of civilization. The Aga Khan works for promotion of global peace through the principles of pluralism and unity in diversity.
By Abraham Ali