HIGHLIGHTS

  • As a young civil service officer, KHAN learned from Akhter Hameed Khan that democratic village institutions can empower the rural poor to become masters of their own development.
  • In his initial dialogues with villagers, therefore, he explained that the Programme would give each village a one-time-only grant for such a project — but on certain conditions.
  • To date, more than one thousand local projects funded by the Programme have brought 20,000 hectares of new land under cultivation.
  • the RMAF board of trustees recognizes “his nurturing self-reliant development and bringing hope to the forgotten peoples of high Pakistan.”

 CITATION

To Gilgit, Chitral and Baltistan, merchants on the Silk Road to China once brought trade, news of the world, and Islam. But by the 1970s global shifts had rendered these high mountain regions Pakistan’s remotest districts. Lost behind the ranges, their hardy farmers and herdsmen survived by wresting sustenance from a stingy and progressively degraded habitat. They faced bleak prospects when, in 1978, the Karakorum Highway renewed their links to the outside world and exposed them to the forces of Pakistan’s modern economy “down country.” Stepping in to help them catch up, and to channel outside forces to the good, was. the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme and its able general manager SHOAIB SULTAN KHAN.

As a young civil service officer, KHAN learned from Akhter Hameed Khan that democratic village institutions can empower the rural poor to become masters of their own development. He adapted his mentor’s insights to mountain communities in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier and in Sri Lanka, where he lived in a forest village to help UNICEF devise an effective social development program for rural settlers. He was thus an experienced development administrator when, in December 1982, the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme asked him to introduce income generating activities to nearly a million people in Pakistan’s vast and rugged northern areas.

KHAN believes that physical infrastructure projects provide the best catalysts for collective decision making and accountability in poor, rural communities. In his initial dialogues with villagers, therefore, he explained that the Programme would give each village a one-time-only grant for such a project — but on certain conditions. The villagers must choose the project collectively and it must benefit everyone; they must form an organization to plan, build, and maintain the project; they must meet regularly with everyone present; and they must make systematic contributions to a common fund so that there would be savings and collateral to help meet future needs.

As projects got underway, KHAN’s staff members carefully monitored the construction of each new irrigation channel and link road, and funnelled equipment, supplies, and essential expertise to the village builders. And as new land was opened to irrigation, KHAN urged villagers on to the next stage. “The sooner you develop the land,” he told them, “the sooner you will benefit.” To help, the Programme introduced new strains of plants, taught villagers new skills, and encouraged the region’s illiterate and ever-toiling women to assert themselves and participate in collective initiatives of their own.

To date, more than one thousand local projects funded by the Programme have brought 20,000 hectares of new land under cultivation. Seven thousand villagers have been trained as managers, accountants, and specialists in farming, animal husbandry, forestry and marketing. Local organizations in some 1,400 mountain villages now manage livelihood projects, generate capital, and conserve local resources. Millions of trees supplied by the Programme anchor the thin mountain soil and yield apricots and apples for selling “down country,” as well as fuel and timber for the future. The hills are alive with a new and confident spirit.

As his working method attracts the attention of other development workers world-wide, KHAN’s vision is spreading. Meanwhile, the amiable and gentle KHAN spends much of his time walking and talking with villagers. In this way he reminds his staff that at the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme the needs of villagers come first, and that the heart of any successful development effort lies not in the office but in the field.

In electing SHOAIB SULTAN KHAN to receive the 1992 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership, the Board of Trustees recognizes his nurturing self-reliant development and bringing hope to the forgotten peoples of high Pakistan.

 RESPONSE

My mentor and teacher, Akhter Hameed Khan, received the Magsaysay Award nearly three decades ago. It was not in my wildest dreams that I would one day follow in his footsteps to this august ceremony. I learned the art of rural development at his feet in the late fifties and continue to benefit from his vision and deep insight until today. It is to Akhter Hameed Khan that I owe my understanding of the theory and practice of rural development.

In my career of nearly four decades, I have had three benefactors: the Government of Pakistan; the United Nations (particularly UNICEF); and His Highness, the Aga Khan. The last one, with whom I have now been associated for a decade, gave me a long-term perspective and inspired guidance, commitment, and dedication to the cause of eradicating poverty. The Aga Khan evinces a level of interest and gives the kind of support that I have never had before, to do the type of work I want to do for the rural poor. His Highness truly made my dream come true. The decision this month by Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif to extend the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP) to the whole of Pakistan, through a National Rural Support Programme patterned after AKRSP, is a direct result of His Highness?s desire that AKRSP develop a replicable model of rural development, as it improves the standard of living of the people of the Northern Areas of Pakistan.

To my colleagues in the Aga Khan Foundation in Geneva, Pakistan, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States, I owe special thanks for helping AKRSP in every possible way, as I do to the Aga Khan Development Network and the donors of AKRSP in the governments of Canada, United Kingdom, Netherlands, the European Union, Germany, United States, Norway, and various foundations, namely OXFAM, Konrad Adenauer, and Ford. The Operations Evaluation Department of the World Bank, through its two interim evaluations of AKRSP, gave the program a great impetus and global acceptability.

The support I received from my well wishers in Pakistan and abroad and my erstwhile colleagues in the government of Pakistan, the administration of North West Frontier Province and the Northern Areas, and a score of other agencies contributed tremendously to the development of AKRSP.

However, the people who made AKRSP possible are the workers of the program, who have been performing their duties, over a sustained period of time, with a sense of dedication and sincerity rarely found in most organizations. Their acceptance of the primacy of the village organization and their willingness to listen to and respect the views of the rural poor are the greatest strengths of AKRSP. Above all, it is to the people of the Northern Areas and of the Chitral District of Pakistan that the full credit for the achievements of AKRSP must go. It is they who responded so positively to the terms of partnership offered by AKRSP and fulfilled their obligations of organization, human resource development, and capital formation, the three cardinal principles on which AKRSP is based. It is the workers of AKRSP and the people of the program area who truly deserve the honor the award has bestowed on me.

I am sorry that my wife is not present here to share with me this moment of glory because she has made and continues to make the greatest personal sacrifice to enable me to work in a remote and isolated region, comprising the program area. I wish my daughters Roohi, Afshan, and Shelley and her husband Tim, and my grandchildren Sarah and Amil, were also here. But the one person whom my wife and I miss most on such occasions is our daughter Falaknaz, who died nearly four years ago with her two children in a gas suffocation tragedy at Islamabad. She would have been the happiest to see her daddy receive the Ramon Magsaysay Award, which I accept with the greatest humility and with profuse thanks to the trustees of the Magsaysay Foundation.

 BIOGRAPHY

By virtue of a master’s degree from Allahabad University and a superb command of English, Shoaib Sultan Khan’s maternal grandfather, Sultan Ahmad Beg, won a coveted position in the state civil service of Uttar Pradesh, known in the days of the British-Indian Raj as the United Provinces. He maintained a large household that embraced his children and grandchildren, all of whom moved with him from one posting to the next. Sultan Ahmad Beg was assigned to the small city of Moradabad when, on 11 July 1933, his grandson Shoaib was born, the second child (and second son) of his daughter Husna and her husband, Mohammad Nasim Khan. When Husna died just a few years later, Shoaib remained with his grandfather’s peripatetic household as it shifted to Shahjahanpur, Dehra Dun, Lakhimpur, and Hamirpur. His father stayed permanently behind in Moradabad, where he was employed as the city clerk.

As part of Sultan Ahmad Beg’s household, Shoaib grew up in the daily company of his older brother and male cousins and uncles, who became his playmates and companions. There were other relatives, too, and plenty of servants, including a majordomo who “ordered everyone about” and whom the children both feared and respected. Compared to the vast majority of Indians, the family was affluent. Shoaib’s earliest memory is of the arrival of his grandfather’s new Ford convertible in Shahjahanpur. In Hamirpur, where Sultan Ahmad Beg was deputy commissioner, the family occupied a compound of one square mile and a house “like a palace,” as Shoaib remembers it.

Over the entire family, Sultan Ahmad Beg cast a warm, nurturing shadow. He was the patriarch who acted out his role in grand style. “He would welcome everyone,” says Shoaib. “Magnanimity was his hallmark.” As the youngest grandson, Shoaib seems to have come in for special affection, which he happily returned. “I never felt a need for my mother or my father,” he says, “because I was so well looked after.”

(For the complete biography, please email biographies@rmaf.org.ph)