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Pakistan Center for Philanthropy

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
September 2, 2008 — The News

By S. Amjad Hussain




One would think that the new government would be more prudent and discerning than previous governments, which were in the habit of dismantling everything that their predecessors had done. By undoing some of the projects initiated during Pervez Musharraf's rule, the current government is about to throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water.

While the method by which Pervez Musharraf engineered his ascent to power was and remains illegal, some of the schemes that he started during his rule were innovative. It would be a mistake to kill those projects just because they were started during his rule. One needs to take a closer look at some of these schemes and decide them on merit. One is the National Commission of Human Development (NCHD) and the other is the National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA).

The NCHD was established in 2002 as a federal statutory body 'for the express purpose of starting a fast track initiative to improve social sector at the grass roots'. In seven years, it opened thousands of adult literacy centres across the country where 85 per cent of the beneficiaries are women. It also succeeded in opening a large number of feeder schools in remote areas of the country. In the health sector, the NCHD trained several hundred thousand women as primary healthcare workers. These women have had a palpable impact in reducing mortality from childhood diseases.

As if that were not enough the commission has also established welfare centres in the entire district headquarter hospitals of the country where efforts are made to provide free medicines, blood donations and transportation for the local people. Unlike other government schemes, the bulk of NCHD manpower comes from 300,000 volunteers. In addition to this, around 85,000 people were employed by the commission.

There has been a lot said about the man behind the NCHD. Dr Nasim Ashraf has been derisively called Mr Musharraf's crony for whom the commission was created. The truth is quite the opposite. A 1973 graduate of Khyber Medical College, Dr Ashraf has had a successful career as a nephrologist in the US. While president of the Association of Pakistani Physicians of North America (APPNA) in 1987, he conceived and implemented an ambitious health and literary scheme for Pakistan. Called APPNA Sehat, the scheme was meant to improve the health in rural villages in Pakistan through adult literacy and public health. Funded completely by the association's members, the scheme was hailed by many international organisations as a unique and innovative approach to improve lives of ordinary people. At its height a decade ago APPNA Sehat covered 300,000 people in rural areas of Pakistan. Later he co-created Human Development Foundation (HDF) of North America. The HDF is now being successfully managed by its co-founder Dr Khalid Riaz of Chicago.

The other organisation on the chopping block is the NAPA located at Karachi. Founded in 2004, NAPA is a unique institution where formal education in performing arts is offered that leads to a bachelor's degree. Instead of being a repository of performing arts like any cultural museum, the academy is a commendable initiative to teach and propagate and thus preserve age-old artistic traditions.

Zia Mohiyudin does not need any introduction. A cultured man of English, Urdu and Persian letters he came out of his well-earned retirement as an internationally-acclaimed actor and agreed to establish the academy. Who else, pray tell, could synthesize our great native artistic traditions with Persian and English and pass on the precious legacy to our younger generation?

History will give the final verdict of Mr Musharrf's rule and the misrule. But among many mistakes he committed he also gave the country some solid institutions. It is up to the new government to separate the good from the bad and preserve those institutions that have done commendable work and hold great potential for the country. The NCHD and NAPA are two such institutions.

The writer is professor emeritus professor of thoracic and cardiovascular
surgery at the University of Toledo. E-mail: aghaji@bex.net




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