By Ghulam Amin Beg
11th July 1957,at the age of 20, His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan, became the 49th Imam (spiritual leader) of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims. The Ismaili community is a truly global community, spread around the world, coming from diverse cultures and background, living in over 25 countries spread over all the continents of the world.
Happy Salgirah Mubarak to all the members of the community on this auspicious occasion.
Since assuming office of the Imamat, Hazar Imam guided the community through ‘adapting a complex system of administering the community founded by his grandfather Sir Sultan Mohamed Shah, Aga Khan III, during the colonial era to a new world of nation- states’.
As the hereditary Imam, Hazar Imam transformed the spiritual and material lives of his followers in all corners of the world through his interpretation of his world view of Islam, which was liberating, logical and spiritual faith that teaches searching for new solutions, compassion, humility, tolerance, unity in diversity and that give practical expressions to the ethics of faith through generosity and relentless services be it material, knowledge and of time.
In Gilgit-Baltistan, the Ismaili community living with the tradition since the 11th century, continue with the values of hard work, generosity, peaceful co-existence and tolerance. Since 1960, when Hazar Imam first visited Gilgit-Baltistan and Hunza, people celebrate the Imamat Day and other occasions in a serene, peaceful and dignified manner.
These are days where tributes are paid to the Imam for his leadership and guidance and the services of those volunteers and leadership of the jamat are acknowledged who made great contributions through their voluntary services, time, and material and knowledge nazrana to better the lives of other people and to contribute to the mission of the Imam.
In Hunza-Gojal, especially in Gulmit, my hometown, which is partially submerged in the lake now, used to celebrate Imamat Day in a unique way all over Gilgit-Baltistan, or may be all over Pakistan.
A week of preparation precedes the 11th July grand ceremony at the Polo ground stadium. Fully uniformed ladies and gents volunteers, boy scouts, girl guides, school children in uniform, guided by the beautifully dressed Silver Jubilee band takes a flag march. The band plays beautiful tunes and takes applaud from the packed audience in the stadium over 3000, men, women, children and even guests and leaders from other villages, government officials, tourists, and travellers alike. It turns into a festival of its kind. Local youth entertain the audience with skits, drama, songs, dances, music. Elders present traditional dances and youth and senior citizens participate in various sports competitions.
What is going to happen this year in Gulmit?
When over 80 families have lost their land, houses and everything? The lake water has submerged one jamatkhana-community centre. The 80 families are living as guests with host families. The community leadership and the local volunteers have done great great work and continue taking care of all the distressed people with support from government, FOCUS-AKDN and other agencies like the PRCS, Bharia Foundation(running the hospital and providing medical services) and others.
It was encouraging to know that the community has decided to celebrate the Imamat Day with the same zeal, pride and emotions for the love of the Imam, as was demonstrated for the last many decades now.
The tradition would continue. The community has the resilience to face the crises with dignity. Bravo!
While, those lost lives in the Attaabad disaster would be remembered and those distressed would be taken care of and provided support, let’s celebrate the event in the unique tradition with prayers.
Now some reflections or retrospections!
We learn from the speeches and teachings of the Imam on different ocassions that such events are not only days to pay tribute to those who served, and celebrate our successes, but also a day to reflect back and see what our plans were, what did we achieve, what went wrong, what lessons we have learned, how to correct it and move forward with anticipation based on sound understanding of and planning for the emerging problems and opportunities.
In this context, this event is a day of reflection for all of us, who are affectees as well as carry some kind of leadership role in various capacities.
What went wrong, when despite knowing since 2003 about the landslide and its consequences, we were unable to find an alternate space for the families of Attaabad then, and continue to do so even now?
Before the disaster happened, what could have been done better to save precious lives?
What could have we done better to provide the IDPs a dignified living, rather then making a mockery of them putting them in school IDP camps for six months for political reasons and pushing them begging for food from ‘Benazir langar’?
With all the resources and networking of the community, what could have we done better to support the government to open up the dam barrier within the 45 days, as was envisaged by the government initially?
When the task was not achieved within 45 days by the government, what could have we done better to give a clear message or support to the people regarding their shelter and future accomodation,rather then waiting for the government to come up with their plans first?
when it was becoming very obvious and clear that the only thing clear from the government side was that there was no clear plan,there was confusion and that the worst thing was going to happen, what better plans could we make, what better actions could we take?
What other actions, except for sharing risk reports with the government and providing tents, could we take to identify the ‘at risk’ sites and communities in other locations,in GBC(Ishkoman, Mayun, Shehrsabz and Parsan are living cases) to save lives and resettle them away from the risk zone?
Time for reflection please!
So that we learn from our successes and also from our failures to minimize risks in the future.
Remember, this thinking needs to start from the grassroots level, at the village, union and tehsil levels moving to regional and national levels. A bottom up approach is required.
We saw the perils of top down approach, how messages of ‘saab acha hai’, everything is Ok, ‘don’t worry’, ‘nothing is going to happen’, ‘we will not let more then 9 houses submerge in ayeenabad’ etc. etc., made local leaders and activists complacent as if these people were standing on their toes, working day and night to make our lives better, save our homes and properties.
But as we woke up, the water was over our heads.