The Aga Khan Foundation of Pakistan, and its different agencies, sometimes in partnership with foreign donors or the government of Pakistan, has wrought a silent revolution in the northern areas of Pakistan. On a visit to the northern areas I discovered that this corner of Pakistan, which had hereto been known only for its breathtaking natural beauty, was surprisingly clean, with no garbage or the stink of open sewage, the scourge of our cities and villages. Young children, clad in uniforms, could be seen, walking to schools in droves, where the emphasis is on the education of girls and learning of English. Slogans calling for aman or peace were painted in lime on boulders lining the roadside.
The most notable project of the Aga Khan Foundation of Pakistan, established in 1969, has been the Aga Khan Rural Support Program in the Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral districts. It started participatory rural development in the northern areas that has now become a development model internationally. With great emphasis on education, it has raised the literacy in places like Hunza to almost 95% as compared to the national average of just 58%, with a heavy emphasis on the education of girls. Primary health care centers dot the countryside of the northern areas, with a special focus on child and maternal healthcare.
The Aga Khan Cultural Service or AKCS started its operation in Karimabad in 1991 with the restoration of the Baltit fort, and its community based integrated village improvement project improved the sanitation, waste management and helped owners to restore their houses. The work of restoration and conservation has in more recent times been extended to Baltistan. The Swiss assisted Baltistan Enterprise Development and Arts Revival (BEDAR) has sought to revive the local music and crafts, which amongst other things has led to the marketing of apricot kernel oil and the revival of traditional skills of woodcraft.
Amongst the Aga Khan Foundation’s many achievements is the establishment of the pre-eminent Aga Khan Hospital and medical university in Karachi, as is the excellent chain of Serena hotels all over Pakistan. The mountaineering school in Shimshal is producing women mountaineers, Samina Baig being the most famous of these having got international recognition with the scaling of Mount Everest.
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