Development of Chitral

Chitral takes bottom-up development approach

For the Chitralis there is a flickering light on the other side of the Lowari Tunnel. The unfinished Lowari Tunnel is 8.7 Km long and connects Chitral with Dir in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. “The opening of Lowari Tunnel is going to change Chitral,” claims ex-city Nazim Maghfarhat Shah.

Explaining the basis of his forecast, he said: “Chitralis used to feel detained because they were cut-off from the rest of the country for seven months in winters when it snows a lot.” “But now people can travel to other parts of the country, although the tunnel is incomplete and is only partially opened,” he added gleefully. “It’s just not the economic benefits you should look at,” Shah pointed out, “it is the breaking of the psychological barrier of our people who were isolated from the rest of the country for a good part of the year.”
With the opening of this all-weather tunnel it has reduced the 14-hour drive between Chitral and Peshawar by almost 50%. In winter when the Lowari pass used to get closed, Chitralis had to take a detour and travel through Afghanistan to enter back in Pakistan. The valleys of Chitral are surrounded by the Hindukush Mountains range including the 7708 meters high snow-capped Tirich Mir.
Isn’t it pity that although the need of this Tunnel was identified in 1956 by the government, but the work on it was started almost 18 years later in 1974 by Prime Minister Bhutto. The project was abandoned in December 1979 on the flimsy pretext that the Soviet forces can use it if they will attack Pakistan. Although the Soviets forces were withdrawn in 1989, still the work on Lowari Tunnel was restarted by the Musharraf government in 2005. “We are grateful to Musharraf for re-starting this project,” says a Jamat-e-Islami activist Rahmat Ghafoor Baig keeping political differences aside.

But the travelers who use this tunnel complained that there are no lights in this 8.7 Km long dark tunnel, the unmetalled road has big ditches and the roofing and walls have not been lined yet, as a result vehicles have to wade through standing water that seeps into the tunnel. This is the reason that you see a long queue of vehicles on both sides of the tunnel, as traffic is opened form one side at a time. Chitralis told me that the Korean construction company has stopped work on this Rs8 billion project because of non-payments of dues. Thus the Chitrali’s biggest demand is that it should be completed immediately.

Chitralis also have a distant dream that their valley will become a busy transit route and a business hub once the road connecting Central Asia and South Asia is constructed via the Wakhan corridor. This is the shortest land route to connect Central Asian countries with Pakistan and even India. Another plus point is that it passes through a relatively peaceful area of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Their observation is true but given the present geo-political situation and economic condition of Pakistan it may remain a dream for many years to come.
However, the good news is that Chitral is at present development economists’ cherished dream. Development planners have always held that the development approach should be bottom-up instead of top-down. For years we have a development policy under which rural development projects are identified by the politicians and bureaucrats in the federal or provincial capital. The community involvement in identifying the projects for their areas is missing and hence there is no feeling of ownership for such projects which are bestowed upon them from the top. The counter argument is that the involvement of the elected national and provincial assemblies’ members knows better what is required by their community. To a certain extent it may be true in the case of bigger projects, but for smaller projects that meet immediate and direct needs of the local community their involvement is necessary.

Another very important aspect of this programme is that the projects are executed with full community involvement and the Area Development Committee formed at each settlement level. The community has to also chip in 10% of the project mostly in the form of labour and sometimes they even give their land for the projects.

In cash-starved Chitral the elected district government lobbied to get the funds from Norwegian and Netherlands governments for undertaking various development projects at settlements and UC level. Both the governments obliged them and approved a five-year Chitral Integrated Area Development Programme (CIADP). ‘Thrive’ was appointed by the donors as the CIADP asset manager and to liaise with the City District Government, provincial government, communities at the grass root level and other stakeholders. It was also assigned to supervise the assessment and implementation of the projects in close collaboration with the CDG.

While the provincial and federal governments have not been able to attend the needs of the people of Chitral a number of donor funded organisations are active in this remote district which sits on the Northern tip of KPK and shares a long border with Afghanistan. “The beauty of the CIADP projects is that they are identified and prioritized by the local community and CDG,” DCO Chitral Rehmatullah Wazir observed proudly. He was also grateful to the donors for investing in the capacity building of the line departments of the CDG by way of computerizing and networking all the departments. CIADP has also conducted a number of trainings for the line department officials.

In the education sector on the demand of the Government College of
Management Sciences and Government Degree College, Chitral, most modern IT laboratories have been set up by CIADP. Principals of these colleges say that over 3000 students are now being benefited by these IT labs. To maximize its utilisation the same labs are being used to train officials of other departments of the Chitral District Government.

EDO Health Dr. Sher Qayyum and MS of the District Hospital Dr. Nazir Ahmed told me that they had identified renovation and provision of new equipment for the district and two Tehsil hospital’s casualty and gynecology wards. CIADP and donors came forward and have built a high-quality casualty ward in Chitral city, while the work on Tehsil hospitals is in progress. But the MS lamented that they cannot find doctors to work in Chitral although they have 100 open vacancies. Even the doctors who get admission on the 6 reserved seats for Chitral students every year do not want to come back to their own homeland.

Building of thousands of feet of protective walls to save the villages from the changes in the course of Kunar River and the rain water courses which come down from the top of the mountains has saved many families in the recent monsoon. CIADP is also building irrigation water channels in the mountains to support a number of settlements from Bumberet in the South to Mastuj in the North of Chitral city. The biggest challenge the local people says is that given the harsh winters of Chitral, infrastructure work can only be done in this district in a short window — April to October. Most of these channels are built at least 300 to 500 feet up in the mountains, which makes it extremely difficult to take the construction material to the site. The labourers have to carry heavy material on their back and climb the mountains.

To help the poverty-stricken Chitralis whose main source of earning is subsistence level agriculture and livestock farming. CIADP is training people of various settlements identified by the community in good agricultural practices, honeybee keeping, fruit gradation and preservation and livestock health management.

Visiting Chitral gives you comfort that people in this remote area are tolerant to other religions unlike many other tribal areas of the North West. Pagan Kalash and predominantly Sunni population of Chitralis are living peacefully with each other. Most of the young Kalash girls and boys go to school. I even met Kalash girls who had masters’ degree in different disciplines.

The Norway and Netherland funded CIADP is also working with the Kalash people. They are renovating and constructing their ‘Jestakhan’ (prayer places) and dancing places. There are a number of other projects being done under this five-year programme which may help change the life of docile Chitralis. Other NGOs are also making a difference in the area but the good thing is that CIADP is not duplicating their work. Thrive and CDG has identified settlements for its projects that are not covered by other NGOs.

I think that traveling to the remote places and watching development work by the government or foreign donors-funded programmes is essential to rejuvenate our faith in the dynamics of development and breaks the dark pessimist clouds that hang over us in the urban setting of Pakistan. Feeling depressed and frustrated visit Chitral and see how people are helping themselves. (ayazbabar@gmail.com)

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