In memory of Dr. Akhter Hameed Khan
October 12, 2010 marks 11 death anniversary of Dr. Akhter Hameed Khan. His teachings have brought about significant changes in the efforts to alleviate poverty across South Asia. I am giving below some of his ideas for strengthening collaboration between communities, NGOs and government. These ideas assume significant importance in post flood situation characterized by extremely low trust level between the people, welfare organizations, donors and the government.
According to Dr. Khan traditionally the territory around the village belonged to the Feudal Chiefs. The villagers could only beg or steal from it. Feudal authority was exercised with an iron hand and the forests were well preserved. Now that the iron hand has been removed, the territory is ownerless and derelict. Its resources instead of being developed are being ruthlessly depleted. The absence of protective ownership on the one hand and the increased pressure of population on the other hand have hastened the destruction of forests, pastures and natural resources. Existing pattern of administration cannot fill the vacuum created by the collapse of feudal authority. Existing pattern of administration is law and order oriented and not development oriented. Law and order and revenue collection units existed at grass-roots level. Revenue department was expanded to the village level. Development Departments were missing.
Akhter Hameed Khan used to identify three essential infrastructures for DA, namely, Administration, Political and Socio-economic. The Administrative Infrastructure comprises the entire government set up from the grassroots to the federal level. Here he used to identify the vacuum below Tehsil level. Neither the departments nor the government supplies reached the people with the exception of a few like the police and the revenue departments. There was need for all so-called nation building or line departments to be devolved like the Police or Revenue Departments with the hub at Thana level.
The Political Infrastructure comprises all the elected bodies from Union Council to the National Assembly. The Devolution Plan has mainly concentrated on the Political Infrastructure and tried to empower it by transferring many of the powers from Administrative Infrastructure. This simple transfer of power, that too in a half-hearted fashion, does not ensure access to services and supplies to the grassroots. The Socio-economic Infrastructure comprises involvement of the people at the grassroots in not only decision making but empowering them for economic and social development. This entails harnessing the potential of the people by organizing them requiring them to fulfill the obligations for their development. It enables the grassroots to enter into development partnerships with government, local councils, donors, commercial and private development agencies, NGOs etc., on equal terms.
The first requirement for a DA is a viable unit of administration. Akhter Hameed Khan (AHK) demonstrated through TTDC that the district as well as the Tehsil or subdivision or Taluka was not a viable unit for DA. It was the Thana. DA envisages provision of services and supplies easily accessible to the people. District and Subdivision, Tehsil or Taluka headquarters are too far removed from the village or the mandi towns now emerging through urbanization. First experiment in bringing about this change in present day Pakistan was done in 1972 in Daudzai by Pakistan Academy for Rural Development (PARD) under the leadership of Shoaib Sultan Khan.
PARD realized that existing jurisdiction of the police station could be converted into a viable unit for administration – being viable for i) provision of services and ii) up-gradation of skills. Academy set out to persuade department to expand to Markaz Level. The departments of Health, Education, Animal Husbandry, Cooperatives, Forestry and Irrigation agreed to do so. In the case of agriculture, number of agricultural assistants was increased from 1 to 8. One assistant had 34,000 acres and 19,000 landowners to deal with.
Economies of scale were created by organizing the people for upgrading their skills and making best use of the services. People were organized through diagnostic dialogues on issues of high priority to them. People were asked in specific to identify schemes which would enhance their income the most. Economic uplift was made an entry point to improve social services as well. Problem centered organizations of the villagers were asked to i) group themselves and hold weekly meetings, ii) select a manager and learn to work cooperatively, iii) make weekly deposits to prove their bonafides that they could raise funds to defray maintenance cost.
VOs were used to i) execute local development works followed by education for maintenance work. This was done through project committees. Technical supervision was provided by the Markaz Engineer and his staff but payment was left to the VO. In the process the contractor was eliminated and project execution got reduced. The Devolution Plan does not address the issue of creating a viable unit for development administration. At best it only attempts at improving management and administration at District and Tehsil levels for services and supplies, which are both inaccessible and far removed from the grassroots. In Bangladesh and most of the States in India, they have at least created a viable unit for development administration to revamp the colonial law and order administration.
Daudzai like Comilla Thana Training and Development Centre (TTDC) or in India Block or Mandal was an attempt to revamp the law and order colonial administration inherited from the British into a Development Administration (DA). The Independent South Asia Commission on Poverty Alleviation set up by the SAARC Heads of State in 1991 had come to the conclusion that Socio-Economic Infrastructure should be the centerpiece of all poverty alleviation strategies of the governments of South Asia. The Commission had also concluded that Socio-Economic Infrastructure (SEI) is neither within the mandate nor the capacity of the existing government departments, ministries and corporations. SEI can only be implemented by independent and autonomous support organizations which should be fully funded by governments of South Asia. National Rural Support Programme (NRSP) was quoted an example by the Commission to which Government of Pakistan had provided an endowment fund. The Commission had recommended countrywide replication of independent and autonomous support organizations for countrywide coverage with governments taking lead role in provision of resources. In 1993 SAARC Summit at Dhaka, this recommendation of the Commission was endorsed.
 This piece is based on the notes of Dr. Akhter Hamid Khan during his 12 visits to Gilgit and Shoaib Sultan Khan’s comments in his book on Daudzai. I have taken the liberty to re order their notes.