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Speech by His Highness The Aga Khan At the Inauguration of the Restored Baltit Fort-1996-09-29

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Event - 1996-10-01
Sunday, 1996, September 29
Aga Khan IV (H.H. Prince Karim)

Your Excellency President Leghari, Honourable Ministers, Your Excellencies, Dear Guests

We gather today to celebrate the completion of one important element in the critical and ambitious undertaking of protecting the historic core buildings of Karimabad. The restoration of the Baltit Fort and its handover to the Baltit Heritage Trust represent the culmination of an enormous amount of work, over three and a half years of time, by several hundred people in many and varied backgrounds. I congratulate and admire them. To each of them in person, I express my gratitude for the expertise, the time and the energy they have contributed to the array of efforts represented by the restored fort. Let me also recognise, in the same terms, the many men and women who have made possible this ceremony and its related events, here and in Gilgit.

I would like to express my special thanks to His Excellency President Leghari for making time in his busy schedule to attend these proceedings. I am very grateful for the warm welcome and hospitality he and the Government of Pakistan have extended on this occasion. I hope that my remarks will elucidate my convictions about the larger significance of this project for the people of Karimabad, Hunza, Pakistan and those in similar communities around the world, and thereby justify the efforts that His Excellency has made to be with us today.

But before turning to those matters, I would also like to thank Mir Ghazanfar Ali Khan and his family for donating the Fort, thus making the restoration project possible. Your donation of the Fort is a shining example of generosity in which the gift and the act of giving are ends in themselves. But ends which, I hope, will mark the beginning of a new trend in community participation in, and in sustenance of, local tradition and cultural identity here in Pakistan, and around the developing world.

We live in a fast changing world. And the nature of change today is different from what it ever has been. It is different because it is taking place at an exponentially accelerating pace. It is different also in that, for the first time in history, the change is global in scale and impact, reaching even the most remote areas and populations of our planet. Today's world is a shifting environment in which everybody must adapt much faster in order to learn to manage the external forces of change, and ultimately mould them around specific values and traditions. Paradoxically, it is the most isolated, best preserved and least changed individuals, communities, and places that are most vulnerable to the tendency of so-called progress to erase tradition, local identity and values. For these are the places most surprised by sudden economic liberalisation, commercialisation, industrialisation, by the globalisation of travel, enterprise and service industries, and by growing communication technologies.

People are on the move as never before. And necessarily, with change and movement come problems, and even the threat of chaos. Prevention of these crises should be at the top of our agenda. The needs of the world's populations for shelter, health, and sustenance are immense. No government, no international organisation and no corporation has the power to meet all those needs on its own. The lessons of the development effort of the last forty years also show that even when working together, governments, international organisations and corporations have not been able to create conditions in which most, if not all, of the world's population is able to live in dignity.

This brings me to the first proposition I would like to put before you for consideration today. It is that only when government, non-government, and commercial organisations come together in, and especially with, a community that the necessary resources can be generated and change can be sustained. This is a guiding principle for the work of the institutions which make up the Aga Khan Development Network, and it is exemplified in its work in the Northern Areas. Sustainable development requires village organisations, the empowerment of those organisations, and the creation of partnerships between them and the government, local and non-governmental organisations, and experts from the leading centres of research and teaching around the world.

Allow me to place a second proposition before you. It is that the satisfaction of needs for medicine, food, education, and housing, even if accomplished, is not enough for the health of any community or society.

Values and ideals, and the identities to which they relate and give form, have always been important for humankind. They give direction and points of reference in the face of rapid change. Successful development requires community engagement and mobilisation, but it also needs to occur in a cultural context which preserves individual local values and ideals.

Culture takes many forms and is expressed in many ways. The three-dimensional, physical aspect of a particular cultural context is architecture. Maintaining cultural identity and tradition in the physical environment is a central and integral part of preserving the identity of a place or a community, and it is the physical environment that is most directly affected by rapid change.

The Aga Khan Development Network has a long history of involvement in Pakistan: The Aga Khan Rural Support Programme has provided help in social organisation, technical know-how, and economic support to rural areas, enhancing local income generation. The Aga Khan Health Services have provided primary health care to a large number of people, improving health management and making secondary health care available to many. The Aga Khan Education Services have provided modern schooling to youngsters, particularly girls, who did not have access to it before, and have improved teaching standards.

Since the 1980s, these various, but definitely interrelated, activities have developed, expanded and been replicated elsewhere with the generous support from at least a dozen external agencies -- public and private, bilateral as well as multilateral -- and valued cooperation from the Government of Pakistan. While I cannot list them in detail, I want to give my warmest thanks and public recognition to all those agencies, many of which are represented here today. They have contributed immeasurably to increasing both the reach and the effectiveness of the Aga Khan Development Network in working with the peoples of Northern Pakistan to improve the quality of their lives. Today, as many of you know, the Network stands on the threshold of an exciting new phase, the main objective of which is to create innovative local institutions and resource bases, such as a new Development Bank, an Enterprise Support Company, a Professional Development Centre for Teachers, maybe even a front line hospital -- which will complement the accomplishments to date. We aim to bring new levels of sophistication, stimulation and sustainability to benefit the resilient hard-working peoples of this area.

The Network recognises the need to maintain historical physical integrity in those places which will be affected by the strong forces of change. The Network, Pakistan and the Northern Areas cannot settle for an acceptable present, but must also prepare for, seek out, and bring about a brighter future. This implies that we must fight the degradation of our traditions in all fields.

The Baltit Fort is a perfect metaphor for tradition, history, and a cultural legacy. Over the last seventy years it has been decaying slowly, until it was decided that the Fort should be restored and reused in an environment-conscious way. In other words, the future of the Fort has been improved. Without the help of all the people gathered here today it could only have decayed further; in future, it could only have worsened.

This project will complement all the Aga Khan Development Network's initiatives in health, education, rural support, and economic development, by starting to reverse the hundreds of years of decay which have eroded our cultural identity and to provide some anchors with which we can face the strong currents of change. It will do so in a way that emphasises self-sustenance, which is a keystone concept in the Aga Khan Trust for Culture's work.

By recognising architecture as an important instrument of cultural identity, the Trust seeks to encourage renewal processes which are based both on local traditions and a sensitive integration of contemporary facilities and techniques, and to premiate projects of outstanding quality. It is the Trust's conviction that architectural heritage and environmental values can be assets for use by local communities as they look forward and reach out to take control of their own futures.

The settings in which the Trust works are particularly challenging. The historic cores of cities in the developing world have been neglected for decades. Rural communities affected by rapid change have neither the trained manpower nor the institutions to grapple with the powerful forces at work around them. Both settings are inhabited, for the most part, by populations without much by way of material resources or political influence. The Trust has taken up the task of demonstrating that cultural concerns and socio-economic needs are intimately linked, and that in interaction they can act as catalysts for improvement in every dimension of development. Planning is a key element in this approach. Designing plans and planning processes that build community consensus about the use of available space, the restoration and reuse of existing buildings, the location of major structures and infrastructure, is as important to the Trust as identifying the most up to date technique to solve a restoration problem in a community's most precious monument.

To achieve these goals, the Trust's Historic Cities Support Programme is now testing new strategies which combine state-of-the-art restoration, conservation, and urban development principles with community-based institutions and fresh entrepreneurial initiatives. By supplying financial aid through the Karimabad Town Management Society, by mobilising community resources, providing incentives, and demonstrating evidence of short- and long-term benefits for the local inhabitants, the Programme seeks to trigger a process which should lead to the economic and financial self-sustainability of each project. The Programme's intention is that each project also serve as an opportunity for enhancing local skills in conservation, restoration, planning, economics, and other related disciplines. A strong, field-based network is thus developed within each and around every project.

Before concluding, let me say a little bit about the Karimabad project as one of the first attempts of the Trust to deal actively with these interrelated issues. The planning efforts came about as a natural extension of the conservation of the Baltit Fort started by the Trust in 1990. The prime historic landmark of Hunza, the Fort, is also a major tourist attraction and a potential source of income for the local community. It can therefore be expected that the restoration project itself will act as a dynamic factor of change, benefiting from the improving accessibility of the Northern Areas. Accordingly, the planning projects for Karimabad set out to assist the community in the assessment of available development choices, with a view to preserving and managing cultural and environmental values, while at the same time benefiting from accrued economic opportunities. It is a particularly complex planning exercise since it applies to an environment which is in full transition, moving from a traditional rural community towards an increasingly urban way of life. The corresponding changes in notions such as good or bad neighbourliness applied to urban rather than agricultural land may not always be explicit, but may cause a completely new value system to be born.

In closing, I would like to return to two points I made at the beginning.

I spoke of this event as the commemoration of the completion of one important element in a critical and ambitious undertaking. I was very conscious of the use of the term "ambitious". Our aspirations are to develop models and techniques that will enable societies throughout the world to rescue, restore and reutilise monuments, structures and spaces that are products of their own distinct histories and therefore central to their identities, and essential reference points in the face of potentially disorienting change. The Aga Khan Trust for Culture is dedicated to working in societies where Muslims have a significant presence. But it seeks to develop, or at least stimulate thinking about, models for all parts of the world.

I also characterised the completion of the restoration of the Baltit Fort and its handover to the Baltit Heritage Trust as "one element in a process". It is not a beginning -- work on the Fort and the associated planning started some years ago. But neither should it be viewed as an end. This project will be a success only if the Fort is maintained into the future by the Baltit Heritage Trust and the people of Karimabad, and if it serves to symbolise something distinctive about the region, and its people, and is a successful catalyst for the vitality of the local community.

Thank you.

Audio for Speech by His Highness The Aga Khan At the Inauguration of the Restored Baltit Fort-1996-09-29

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