06 April 2004 Tuesday
15 Safar 1425
By Our Reporter
ISLAMABAD, April 5: The Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP) will be presented as a case study in poverty reduction before the international conference on poverty to be held at Shanghai, China, next month.
This was disclosed during a discussion which was convened at the World Bank office here on Monday as a preamble to the Shanghai Conference. Country director John Wall presided over the discussion.
A presentation on the objectives and principles underlying the rural support programmes was made on behalf of Shoaib Sultan, who was head of AKRSP and has since been leading the National Rural Support Programme (NRSP), and Mohammad Jehangir Tareen, adviser to the Punjab chief minister on new initiatives on social sector.
The federal government was expected to be represented by its ministers, but the only persons present from the government's side included one officer each of the education ministry and the National Commission for Human Development. Also present were MNAs Sherry Rehman and Duniya Aziz. Apart from some questions asked by them (and those too within the RSP context), the discussion remained rather one-sided.
The figures presented regarding reduction in poverty in the part of Northern Areas covered by AKRSP were deemed enough to assume that the RSP was indeed the road that could lead to poverty reduction.
But, one mediaperson pointed out that the AKRSP had been implemented, keeping in view the circumstances and needs of a particular community living in the Northern Areas.
Subsequently, this experiment was replicated in the four provinces of Pakistan under the acronym 'NRSP'. The government had even provided Rs5 billion for its implementation in 1992.
The programme, it was stated, had reached 72 districts of Pakistan and "benefited 10 million households". The decade of 1990s, nevertheless, was marked by an alarming increase in poverty as also admitted in the set of documents provided to participants.
In reply to a point raised by a newsman, it was stated that the interest charged on credit provided to the poor for their uplift was as high as 14.6 per cent, whereas the commercial banks were not offering credit to the rich at the rates close to eight per cent in order to offload their excess liquidity.
The attention of a senior World Bank official was invited to the fact that the focus of discussion had entirely been the RSP, although the invitees were given to understand that the experiences of other areas/countries where poverty had been reduced would also figure in the discussions.
His reply typically was in the vein of neo-liberal ideology of the World Bank. It was assumed, he said, that once the target communities were able to benefit from the RSP, their effects would also trickle down to others.