Self-reliance, productivity, compassion and thoughtful concern characterize the first programs initiated by Mawlana Hazar Imam for the betterment of the people of Tajikistan and for the deepening of contacts with the jamat in that country. These programs and contacts take place, however, at a time when Tajikistan is experiencing profound political and economic changes.
Tajikistan, in the heart of Central Asia, is bordered by Uzbekistan to the north and west, Kyrgyzstan to the northeast, China's Xinjiang Province to the east, and Afghanistan and its Wakhan Corridor, to the south. Isolated from much of the world by its topography, poop communication links and submersion within the former Soviet Union, Tajikistan has emerged a sovereign nation faced with daunting challenges, including those of greater political and economic freedom. There is no longer a central government in Moscow to plan Tajikistan's economy and the furnish it with the basic food and fuel that it needs to survive its harsh winters. Beginnings of the process of reform still lie ahead.
New realities and changes economic circumstances in Tajikistan have been accompanied by civil unrest. Amidst this transition, thousands of people sought refuge in their provinces of origin. Many returned to Tajikistan's easternmost province, Gorno-Badakshan. Still others crossed the border into Afghanistan. The collapse of the Soviet distribution system and the pressure of displaced populations, especially in Gorno-Badakshan, caused serious food and fuel shortages during the winter of 1992-1993. Hospitals, schools, and factories had to close.
The prices of basics goods soared, as did the number of unemployed. An already severe winter exacerbated the situation.
Gorno-Badakshan is dominated by mountains, most notably the Pamir range, which, like others in the chain of the Himalayas, the Karakorums and the Hindu Kush, combine spectacular beauty with the rugged conditions of life in many parts. The province has a well-developed internal road system and infrastructure of telephone and power lines, but can be reached overland through only two main roads: One which links Khorog, the province's capital, to Osh in Kyrgyzstan and the other which connects Khorog to Dushanbe, the national capital. This latter road crosses two high passes which remain closed due to snow for six months of the year. An established education system explains a literacy rate of 95% among Badakshanis, many of whom used to work outside the province. Hospitals and clinics are spread throughout Gorno-Badakshan. Partly due to Gorno-Badakshan's topography and partly due to the system of central distribution in the former Soviet Union, there is little arable land in the province and most of it is farmed with fodder crops for the extensive animal herds. The principal crops are potatoes, wheat, and barley, with some fruit vegetables.
Today, the Tajikistan jamat has been able to re-establish its links with the institutions of the Imamat, and the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) has an opportunity to use its considerable experience of development among high mountain communities for the benefit of the people of Tajikistan. The context within which these institutions have had to operate has called for a careful and considered approach.
Before embarking upon any kind of long-term development, however, it was necessary to address the more immediate need for relief aid. The Imamat's first project in Tajikistan has, thus, been an exceptional initiative to assure emergency food and fuel supplies to the people living and seeking refuge in the province of Gorno-Badakshan.
Last winter, the Aga Khan Foundation(AKF), with the assistance of its affiliates in Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States, and with the encouragement and help of the Government of Tajikistan, undertook an emergency relief program which replaced approximately 80% of the province's food supplies and all of the fuel previously supplied by the central government. The program was funded by AKF Canada, the European Community, European non-governmental organizations (NGO's) and the Swiss and U.S. governments. Also participating alongside AKF in the humanitarian relief program have been the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the United Nations International Children's Education Fund (UNICEF), the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the International Committee of the Red Cross (CRC) and Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).
To counter fuel shortages for the winter of 1993-94, AKF, through its USA affiliate, obtained funding from the U.S. government to enable completion of a hydro-electric power station close to Khorog that is vital to the power needs of the province. Upon completion by the end of December 1993, more schools, hospitals and factories are expected to function and fewer trees cut this winter. AKF, conscious of the agro-ecological similarity of the Pamir region to the Northern Areas of Pakistan, is aware of the damage that could result from extensive tree-cutting in the fragile mountain environment.
In early 1993, AKF helped the people of Gorno-Badakshan to establish a local NGO, the Pamir Relief and Development Programme (PRDP), which is operated entirely by Tajiks. PRDP will be a partner in the exploration of long-term development opportunities for all people living in the area, regardless of faith or origin. Its staff has already begun organizing villages and introducing private decision-making models in agriculture. Officials of the Tajikistan Government and members of the PRDP Board have visited London and Geneva to discuss long-term development of the region.
During October 1993, a team of AKDN consultants and specialists, with the support of the Tajikistan Government, completed a mission to Tajikistan to assess long-term development prospects. The team is preparing its findings, and consisted of the following individuals: Dr. Robert Middleton, AKF; Dr. Ken Sayre, agronomist, CIMMYT, Mexico; Dr. Tom Tomich, agricultural economist, Harvard Institute of International Development; Ms. Maliha Hussein, rural sociologist, Enterprise and Development Consulting, Pakistan; Dr. Stephen Rasmussen, Aga Khan Health Services, Pakistan; Dr. Jeremy Greenland, program officer, education, AKF; Mr. James Bristow, mining/geology consultant, Imperial College, London. Also participating were: Dr. Pat Petersen, AKF; Dr. David Fraser, Dr. Hugh Annett, Mr. Mirza Pardhan and Mr. Mohamed Keshavjee, all from Aiglemont; and Mr. Asif Zaidi, program officer for institutional development, AKF Pakistan. Mr. Azim Khan, seconded to AKF by the World Food Programme (WFP), is working on the study of long term development prospects.
A further effort, currently underway under the Imamat's direction, is assistance in provision of shoes and warm clothing for people in Gorno-Badakshan experiencing another difficult winter. As always, the Imamat institutions will focus their efforts on enabling people to become self-reliant and more productive, and the manage their own development, without creating dependencies on AKDN, other agencies or international aid community.
The jamat of Tajikistan has welcomed these first programmatic activities of the Imamat institutions with great warmth and enthusiasm. To enable the jamat of Tajikistan to share with others the wealth of its cultural and linguistic traditions, the Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS) has been actively studying these traditions. A special projects unit has been created at the IIS to address the needs of the Central Asian jamats. Earlier this year, the IIS published an English translation, along with a commentary, of selections from the divan of Nasir-i-Khusraw ("Make a Shield from Wisdom"), translated and introduced by Professor Annemarie Schimmel, the eminent Harvard scholar of mysticism. The poetry attributed to Nasir-i-Khusraw is a source of many of the Tajikistan jamat's traditions.
Links with the jamat of Tajikistan continue to grow in a planned, considered, and understanding way, through mulaquats that various members of the Tajikistan jamat have had with Mawlana Hazar Imam in the recent past, and through visits to Tajikistan by specialist scholars. Recently, a group of scholars and educators from the Tajikistan jamat attended a workshop at the IIS, visited Imamat institutions in London and Geneva, and had a mulaquat with Mawlana Hazar Imam.
Tajikistan and its jamat are faced with challenging opportunities in the still evolving environment of the post-Soviet aftermath. It is with great thought, affection, care and support that these opportunities will need to be explored. Mawlana Hazar Imam is reflecting over the appropriate institutional structures for the jamat in Tajikistan, and until such structures are in place, all activities related to the Tajikistan jamat will be carried out within the framework of the Imamat institutions and under the direct guidance of Mawlana Hazar Imam.
(Source: Ismaili Canada March 1994)
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