NGOs: The Growth Industry of Chitral

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NGOs: The Growth Industry of Chitral

Postby babak » Sun Feb 14, 2010 8:25 am

Related to this article: Les Kafirs Kalash


NGOs: The Growth Industry of Chitral

The recently published article, “The Widening Credibility Gap”, makes a clarion call for the restoration of Chitrali values in the muddled world of local institutions and Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs). The author details a litany of problems with local groups, ranging from the absence of basic operating standards to unbridled opportunism based on greed and nepotism. Importantly, the article stresses the uniquely Pakistani obsession with individuals and the cult of personality over respect for institutions or processes.

During a recent trip to Chitral, my father detailed further abuses in what he calls sarcastically, the “NGO industry” of locals. Tales of NGOs begetting new NGOs would be laughable were they not undermining our society and genuine efforts to help the population. The sad spectacle of mushrooming NGOs tripping over themselves to solicit funding is a blight on Chitrali society. The observation that groups are trying to discredit the government in their zeal to outmatch government donor support is both shocking and pathetic. I have long questioned the sight of placards and hoardings championing the projects of foreign government agencies in Chitral. Throughout Chitral one sees signs, boards and banners advertising the work of one or another NGO. Nowhere in Pakistan is this crass display so prominent as in Chitral. If the purpose of these groups is to alleviate the condition of locals, why has advertising become such a priority?

The simplest Chitrali knows that the giving of alms or charity does not demand public recognition. It is often said, “ The needy deserve a hand up, not a hand out ” in some form of partnership. Moreover, to engage locals in a mutually beneficial partnership does not imply creating a parallel set of institutions or challenging the writ of state. Why cannot donors work with existing government organizations or the few developmental groups with proven track records?

To accept the premise that we are a sovereign state worthy of self-rule demands that we support our institutions of state. Political scientists would argue that state institutions are an extension of the collective citizenry, irrespective of local, ethnic, provincial, religious or class affiliations. Most observers agree that Pakistan’s ultimate salvation resides in the development of civil society organizations and sound public institutions. Despite worries about transparency in government departments and institutions, the importance of capacity building at the federal, provincial and district level is imperative for any real development. Several months ago, Pakistanis were encouraged to hear that a greater portion of developmental aid was to be channeled through governmental institutions. This would serve the goals of capacity building as well as provide basic human development needs. It is the job of all involved to ensure that groups claiming to serve the public good are held accountable.

To speak of a return to the Chitrali values of honesty, simplicity, decency and hospitality obliges us to revisit the social order, governance, culture and traditions of the district. Chitrali values are one visible manifestation of the relatively benign and tolerant rule of many centuries of Chitral’s ruling house. I whole-heartedly endorse Chitral News’s article enjoining Chitralis to reclaim our traditional values. However, in an otherwise well written article, the author levels the misguided charge of intolerance against Chitral’s former rulers. He chooses to ignore the reality of Chitral’s rich ethnic and religious diversity instead of celebrating it. I suggest he look again to Chitral’s former lands in Afghanistan’s Kunar region and Nuristan where no Kalash are to be found. In an era of absolute monarchs, European rulers were as equally harsh as Afghanistan’s King Amanullah in dealing with minorities. Under the enlightened rule of the Mehtars, the Kalash of Afghanistan were welcomed in Chitral. Similarly, many others fleeing persecution in Central Asian and neighboring Kingdoms found security in Chitral. Perhaps this too explains why mutual respect, truth and tolerance are Chitrali values?

S. Sofia Baig,
California, USA.
09 Feb 2010
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