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Seasons Greetings!

Written by NikkiDy-Liacco
Illustrated by Quix P. Maiquez

Shoaib Sultan Khan

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.