By Z. A. Zulfi, Booni Chitral
The year 2017-18 is being celebrated as the diamond jubilee year of His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan IV’s 60 glorious years of Imamat starting from July 11th 1957, to commemorate the achievements of their spiritual leader at various international, national and local fronts.
However, the contribution of Ismaili Imamat has a long history affiliated with the time ever since the creation of Pakistan and hence, the contribution of Ismaili Imamat in the development of our country goes beyond 60 years of imamat. It is because of the fact that the first Aga Khan school was established in Gwadar in 1906 and first maternity home was set up in Kharader, Karachi in 1940s. Our beloved country is now 70 years old and the affiliation of the Aga Khan’s family with the land and people of Pakistan is much longer than the history of the country.
Celebrations of jubilees have been an Ismaili tradition since long. Various historical records reveal that Ismaili celebrated the jubilees in different eras of times to acknowledge and commemorate the successes of Ismaili Imamat. In Ismaili school of thought, Imamat is not just a symbolic position occupied by successor of Imam Ali (AS) rather it is an institution to guide the community in temporal and spiritual manners. Ismailis, at various times contributed to the intellectual, social, moral, and economic development of the world. However, it is a fact that never in the history Ismailis received such a recognition and acknowledgement among the global communities as they did in the recent times under the guidance of HH Prince Karim Aga Khan. History reveals that wherever Ismailis went, they built schools, hospitals, community centres and other welfare organizations for the whole humanity irrespective of their origin. Jamia Al-Azhar of Egypt, a seat of scholarship was founded by the forefathers of the Aga Khan (The Fatimid).
In the recent time, a number of international learning institutions are in the credit of HH Prince Karim Aga Khan. Following the footsteps of his forefathers Aga Khan founded The Aga Khan University Hospital (AKU) in Karachi, Kenia and Tanzania, University of Central Asia (UCA) in Kazakhstani, Global Centre of Pluralism and Aga Khan Museum in Canada and Institute of Ismaili Studies London besides Aga Khan Academiesand Ismaili Centres in various third world countries. Other than these institutions HH has established a network of institutions, Aga Khan Development Network, that work for financial inclusion, development historic cities, promotion of tourism, architecture, infrastructure development, media, and most importantly rural development in South Asia, Africa and many other third world countries. The purpose behind all these institutions is to promote scholarship and contribute to the knowledge society, and to develop the underprivileged and marginalized societal group of the world.
The life of HH is a story of untiring struggle and hard work for the global communities. Prince Karim Aga Khan is of 80 now who was enthroned in 1957 as the 49th heredity Imam of Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims residing in more than 25 countries of the world. He succeeded his grandfather Sir Sultan Mohammad Shah, the champion of Indian independence movement, founding president of the All India Muslim League, chancellor of the Aligarh Muslim University and the longest serving president of League of Nations (now UN). Sir Sultan Mohammad Shah celebrated his diamond jubilee in 1946 and contributed in the socioeconomic development of the Muslim world, especially Pakistan, during its nascent years of creation in 1940s and 1950s. The Diamond Jubilee Schools in Gilgit-Baltistan came into existence after the Diamond Jubilee of Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan that has the direct impact on the socio- economic life of the people in that particular region.
Chitral is the loftiest region of the world. It is surrounded by the mightiest Karakurum and Himalayas ranges of mountains. Historically, it has been under different conquerors mostly outsiders. The socio-economic life in Chitral was not promising in the old days. Here both the kings and common people lived a life of extreme apathy. There were very few opportunities of earning and education. Getting education was a herculean task for the inhabitant of the region. For that they had to fight with the nature’s wrath and socio-political environment. Only a handful of people were privileged to do so.
Similar to other part of the world, Chitral and northern Pakistan have been the focus of AKDN and other Jamati institutions.
In 1946, Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah delivered his diamond jubilee message to his Jamat in northern area of Pakistan, the first ever direct communication between the Jamat and their spiritual master, through all India radio. In his message he advised his jamat on three very important aspects, i.e. getting education and learning English and European languages and more importantly on the health hygiene. Both were the dreams for the mountainous communities living under harsh condition of poverty and distress. Imam’s Farmans to the Jamat were seen as a far achieving goal and mere dreams in a time when even male education was declined and communities had very tough life conditions due to various restraints such as poverty, geographical and meteorological barriers and to some extent state policies. Getting education in those old days was against all odds. Though it was a coveted dream for everyone however difficult.
DJ schools were set up in Northern Areas (now Gilgit-Baltistan). However, in Chitral it proved to be merely a dream due to unfavourable socio-political milieu. Had there been schools in 1946 we would also have achieved highest literacy ratio. Here, in Chitral, the dream of access to education and literacy came true only after 80s when AKESP put its foot in Chitral. The role of AKESP in the socioeconomic development in Chitral is phenomenal. Chitral stands among the top in the list of district with highest educational ratio in the country.
The AKDN agencies proved it that with the community participation the provision of quality education and health facilities is not in the realm of impossibility.
The purpose of writing these lines is to highlight and showcase the achievements of Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN). Covering the contributions of all the agencies of AKDN is beyond the scope of this piece of writing therefore only the services provided by Aga Khan Education Service (AKESP) and Aga Khan Health Services (AKHSP) will be highlighted. It is a glorious history of achievements. AKDN has its entry into Chitral in the form of AKHSP intervention. Many of the lady health visitors travelled to Chitral from down countries especially Sindh and Karachi to look after the health of people of this loftiest and most difficult terrain. It is worth mentioning here that the communities of Chitral are highly indebted to the services of those health professional who rendered services to the under privileged people. And who rendered service in the field of education and health during the most difficult time in terms of accessibility and facilities.
Aga Khan Health Service initiated its intervention first in 1962 in the shape of basic health facilities especially focussing the maternal health and child mortality rate. The initial maternal health unit were established with the community participation in Charun and other parts of Chitral. In the initial days Chitral has scarcity of health professionals therefore, health professional came from the down district especially Sindh and Karachi who served the community with full potentials despite harsh climatic condition and poor facilities. That resulted in creating awareness about the maternal health, diseases associated with child care and decline in the child mortality rate, thus repudiating the centuries old superstitious beliefs held by the inhabitant of mountainous region. With the passing time AKHSP extended its services to various other localities in the form of Medical Centres and Basic Health Units. Chitral has now three full-fledged Maternity Homes, 14 Basic health units and hundreds of health professional. Moreover, AKHSP has not only provided health facilities but also provided employment to thousands of people thus contributing to the socio economic status. The result is that Chitral is now among those regions with better health indicators in Pakistan.
The intervention of AKESP is phenomenal. Aga Khan Development Network has another feather in its cap in the form of providing education to the people of Chitral. The AKESP started its work in early 80s. The journey of AKESP is a living story of successes. The institution provided education to the female of the region enhancing the female literacy above 90 percent among the top three district of KP in with the highest female literacy in the region. With the dawn of new millennium AKESP focus shifted towards the quality of education instead of only access. Chitral has now two premier institutions, Aga Khan Higher Secondary Schools. The students excel in their academic performances and have been able to get admission in the best institutions of the country and the world. Former governor, State Bank of Pakistan Dr. Eshrat Hussain once remarked that AKDN intervention had opened the door of highest education institutions for underprivileged students of Northern Pakistan. Today AKHSS graduate have been able to enter prestigious education institutions of the country and abroad such as LUMS, GIK, IBA, AKU, QAU and many more. The students of students are not only high academic achievers but also have been equipped with the life skills necessary for the 21st century.
Here the role of Aga Khan University, Institute of educational development is highly appreciative because it has trained dozen of educational leaders, teachers and that has shown real impact on the classroom teaching and school adminitration. AKU professional development centre in Chitral is actively engaged in the development of teachers in ECD, Educational Leadership and Classroom teaching.
The above mentioned success stories of AKDN in education and health sector are only the two fields. The achievements of the Development network are multi fold. Social Development, awareness about disasters, provision of safe healthy drinking water, skill development and promoting micro entrepreneurship are also in the list of our achievements. It became possible with the community participation, of which AKDN is a champion. Throughout the globe rural development model follow the footstep of AKDN. Various institutions of AKDN have received global level awards, recognition and appreciation on global owing to its services to the poorest population.
The journey of AKDN and its agencies is a living story of success. AKDN has always been strictly following the guidance of its Chairman HH Prince Karim Aga Khan and ethical framework of Sharing and Caring, generosity and inclusiveness. In the time to come the humanity especially the mountainous people of Chitral and other parts of Northern Pakistan will be thankful to the Ismaili Imamat for transforming their lives from distressful apathy to a renewed hope. Pulling together the write up I would quote one of the line from the many speeches of His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan.
‘There are those, who enter the world in such poverty that they are deprived of both the means and the motivation to improve their lot. Unless these unfortunates can be touched with the spark which ignites the spirit of individual enterprise and determination, they will only sink back into renewed apathy, degradation and despair. It is for us, who are more fortunate, to provide that spark’. (Mumbai, Jan 17, 1983).
By Z. A. Zulfi, Booni Chitral