Letter from Afghanistan [6] – Simerg’s Special Correspondent Visits Ismaili Families in Sia Sang, a Remote Village in Wardak, Central Afghanistan

[This is our Kabul based special correspondent’s sixth report to provide the global Ismaili Jamat and our readers with reliable information regarding recent development in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover. His previous letters can be read by clicking on the following links 1. August 26 2021, 2. August 29 2021, 3. September 5 2021, 4. December 4 2021 and 5. December 5 2021 — Ed.]


FEBRUARY 13, 2022

Ismailis in Remote Villages Face Hardships Due to Meagre Food Reserves and Difficult Health Conditions: Local Jamati Institutions Have Failed to Meet Their Needs Over the Years

Please click on photos for enlargement

Sia sang- Bai Qobi - houses were once inhabited by Ismailis,
These houses in Sia sang — Bai Qobi — were once inhabited by Ismailis. They left the country upon the first reign of the Taliban. The houses are now occupied by Twelver Hazaras who are involved in farming activities in this village. Photo: Simerg Special Correspondent.


Dear Jamats:

In my effort to continue to provide the world wide Ismaili Jamat with updates and insights about the latest developments in Afghanistan, I took the initiative to visit small villages in the remotest corners of the country. This report is based on interviews I conducted with five Ismailis in Sia Sang village, a remote village located in mountainous areas of Hesa-e-Awal Behsood, a district in the central province of Wardak (see map, below). I visited this gregarious small village which is mainly inhabited by Hazara ethnic minority. According to my information, once over 80 Ismaili families lived in Sia Sang. Now, only a small fraction of Ismailis, six households, live altogether. The vast majority that remain in the village are Twelver Shiites (Ithnasharies). The people of Afghanistan face an uncertain future, unemployment, poverty, hunger and drought since the Taliban takeover of the country on August 15, 2021.

The Ismaili villagers I met are surrounded by high mountains and hills and have been adversely affected by the recent upheavals as well. They are struggling with the current financial and economic crisis looming across the country. Afghanistan’s economy was facing severe challenges, and the international support was starting to wane even before the collapse of former western-backed government. The US congressional research noted that this past year 90 percent of Afghanistan’s population lived on less than US$ 2.00 a day, and warned that the loss of American support would weaken one of the world’s smallest economy.

Concerns about food insecurity are mounting and a looming drought is expected to make matters worse. The prices of food and other basic goods have soared and even doubled after the regime change in the country.

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Wardak, Bamyan and Kabul Maps Simerg
Enlarged map of the Afghan provinces of Bamyan, Kabul and Wardak. The author of this piece visited the district of Hisah-ye Awal-e Bishud (circled) where the remote village of Sia Sang is located at an elevation of 3,117 meters (10226 ft) above sea level. The current daily minimum and maximum temperatures for the week of February 14, 2022 in Sia Sang will be in the range minus 17°C to minus 6°C. The map has been adapted from the provincial map of Afghanistan at the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection, University of Texas. For full provincial map of the country, click HERE – it will open in new tab.


According to the local Ismailis I met, they have to consume half of the food that they used to previously. For decades, these Ismaili farmers survived on stored wheat from their summer harvest and income from selling of farm animals and potato in the market. This year’s farming yielded good crops. However, with little access to the national market, they were unable to sell their agricultural products at a fair selling price. Unlike urban population, the farmers residing in rural areas of the country do not have a certain source of income other than agricultural production. There is no orderly and regular transportation system. Thus they are unable to take their family members in critical condition to a hospital. They have difficulty in purchasing food and other basic goods from the market.

Due to lack of access to a permanent and established market to procure food, and necessary goods and items, the local villagers in this part of the country have to take a trip to the neighboring province of Bamyan or the capital Kabul. Transportation fee, 3000 AFN (US$ 30.00), is high and the impoverished community settled here cannot afford paying such a high amount.

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A boy standing in front of mud houses in Sia Sang Dasht- e- Rashak. Photo: Simerg Special Correspondent.
A boy standing in front of mud houses in Sia Sang Dasht- e- Rashak. Photo: Simerg Special Correspondent.


Lack of access to basic health care services has made the living condition challenging. The closest local health care centers are three to four hours away by foot from this village, making it impossible to take their patients on time. The services provided by the health care centers do not enjoy high quality. So, they have to take the critically ill patients to Kabul or neighbouring Bamyan (see map above).

One Jamati member, Ahamad, told me, “I am alone and live only with my wife, I have no other family member to take care of me and my house. God forbid that if one of us gets sick, we must travel to Bamyan for treatment. So, who will take care of my house and belongings?”

The main highway passing through this village connects the central provinces with the capital Kabul. This highway is blocked to the traffic every year in winter due to heavy snowfall and storms that makes travel very difficult or virtually non-existent for several days.

Access to basic education is limited for children in this community. The nearest high school is one hour away from this locality. The former western backed government were in favor of girls’ education and encouraged the local population to send their girls to school. Thus, even with the Taliban ruling the country, education is not barred for girls in this community. The social perception towards education in this community specifically for girls is viewed in a positive light.

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Sia Sang Ismaili Jamatkhana, Afghanistan.
The entrance of the local Jamatkhana in Sia Sang. A signboard hung above the main gate of the Jamatkhana reads as, Jamatkhana Shia Ismaili, Sia Sang village at the center, surrounded by Allah, Muhammad, Ali, Fatima, Hassan and Hussain. Photo: Simerg Special Correspondent.


This local Ismaili community deems religious education to be of the highest importance and absolutely necessary for their children. They have asked the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board (ITREB) and other responsible authorities in the Aga Khan National Council for Afghanistan to open a Baitul Ilm center (BUI). There are more than 13 Ismaili teens who need to acquire religious education and the villagers had many times requested the local ITREB board based in Bamyan to open a BUI center for this community. The local Jamat was very keen and showed passion for starting such a center, but no one addressed this issue and showed interest in this regard, said Ali, one of the local Ismailis I interviewed.


It is extremely sad to report that no development project has been undertaken by either the government or by other NGOs including the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) agencies within the course of the past twenty years in this village. “Only a power station project had been initiated by Ismaili local council based in Bamyan province,” said Muhammad, another Jamati member I interviewed.

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Snowfall in Sia sang - Dawlat murad -following a storm. Photo. Simerg Special Correspondent.
Snow in Sia Sang – Dawlat murad – following a snowstorm. Photo: Simerg Special Correspondent.


Forty years of war and devastation have inflicted a major toll on infrastructure, economy and livelihood of its population. Civilians are the main victims and pay heavy price for instability and violence. Like other parts of the nation, this small Ismaili community is also concerned about insecurity and conflict in the future. Pashtun nomads used to come and graze their herds and camels on pastures in Hazarajat — the central parts of Afghanistan — during the summer. Many bloody conflicts had taken place between Hazara villagers and Pashtun nomads prior to collapse of US backed republic. “We are very worried about the future conflict and return of Pashtun nomads during the summer,” said Juma one of the local Ismaili interviewees. “They used to come and graze their flocks peacefully. But this year it is not clear what they will do to our farms,” he added.


The majority of interviewees agree that the economic catastrophe and collapse caused by the recent changes has negatively impacted their life and financial positions. They expect the AKDN and other aid organizations to help them and distribute food and other relief aid packages. They have enormous challenges and are very worried.

I again repeat my previous calls to Jamati institutions and the AKDN as well as Jamats around the world to go beyond their normal call of duty and involve themselves in action that will improve the situation of the Jamat and the citizens of Afghanistan. I am afraid the plight of Ismailis in some remote villages is not being addressed adequately, and I urge you not to be passive and indifferent to our well-being.

I look forward to submitting more letters to Simerg for everyone’s attention and consideration.

Thank you and Ya Ali Madad.
(Name withheld)

Date posted: February 13, 2022.


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Please note that Simerg has created a special page on Afghanistan where you will find links to all our posts published on Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover. Please click AFGHANISTAN.

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His Highness the Aga Khan Shows Path to Renew and Re-Express the Post Millennium Development Goals Agreed on by World Leaders in 2000

Compiled and presented by Abdulmalik Merchant
(Editor-Publisher, http://www.simerg.com and http://www.simergphotos.com)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper receiving an explanation about an exhibit displaed at the summit Saving Every Woman, Every Child: Within Arm’s. Phooto: The website of the Prime Minister of Canada.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper receiving an explanation about an exhibit displayed at the summit Saving Every Woman, Every Child: Within Arm’s Reach. Photo Credit: The website of the Prime Minister of Canada.

Editor’s note: In 2000 world leaders joined together in an unprecedented UN summit to develop a blueprint to meet the needs of the world’s poorest, with the targeted date of 2015.  The leaders along with the support of worldwide institutions set the following eight goals in what became known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs):

  • Eradicate Extreme Hunger and Poverty
  • Achieve Universal Primary Education
  • Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women
  • Reduce Child Mortality
  • Improve Maternal Health
  • Combat HIV AIDS Malaria and Other Diseases
  • Ensure Environmental Sustainability
  • Develop a Global Partnership for Development

A special summit in Toronto under the theme Saving Every Woman Every Child: Within Arm’s Reach, is addressing some of the MDGs goals and we are pleased to publish below excerpts from His Highness the Aga Khan’s remarks made at the summit on May 29, 2014.



His Highness the Aga Khan, 49th Ismaili Imam and the direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s), delivers keynote remarks at the Maternal, Newborn and Child Health Summit in Toronto on 29 May 2014. Photo: The Ismaili/Zahur Ramji.

His Highness the Aga Khan, 49th Ismaili Imam and the direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s), delivers keynote remarks at the Maternal, Newborn and Child Health Summit in Toronto on 29 May 2014. Photo: The Ismaili/Zahur Ramji.


“Like you, I am here today because of my conviction that improving maternal, neonatal and child health should be one of the highest priorities on the global development agenda. I can think of no other field in which a well-directed effort can make as great or as rapid an impact.

“I am here, as well, because of my enormous respect for the leadership of the Government of Canada in addressing this challenge. And I am here too, because of the strong sense of partnership which our Aga Khan Development Network has long experienced, working with Canada in this critical field.

“Leadership and partnership – those are words that come quickly to mind as I salute our hosts today and as I greet these distinguished leaders and partners in this audience.”


“Mr Prime Minister – I recall how our partnerships were strengthened four years ago when you launched the Muskoka Initiative. It led to an important new effort in which our Network has been deeply involved in countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tanzania, Mozambique, and Mali.

“In all of these efforts, we’ve built on our strong history of work in this field. It was 90 years ago that my late grandfather founded the Kharadhar Maternity Home in Karachi. In that same city, for the last thirty years, the Aga Khan University has worked on the cutting edge of research and education in this field – including its new specialised degree in midwifery.”


“One of our Aga Khan University scholars [Dr. Zulfiqar Bhutta] helped fashion the new series of reports on this topic that was released last week – an effort that involved more than 54 experts from 28 institutions in 17 countries. The reports tell us that right intensified steps can save the lives of an additional 3 million mothers and children annually.

“To that end, our Development Network has also focused on building durable, resilient healthcare systems. One example is the not-for-profit health system by the Aga Khan Health Service in Northern Pakistan – a community-based network of facilities and health workers, including a growing number of nurse-midwives.

Photo: The Government of Canada.

Photo: The Government of Canada.

“We have extended these approaches to other countries, including a remarkable partnership in Tanzania funded by the Canadian government and implementing in close partnership with the Tanzanian government.

“Such AKDN activity now serves some two-and-a-half million people in 15 countries, with 180 health centres both in urban and rural areas, often in high-conflict zones, and embracing some of the world’s poorest and most remote populations.

“Last year alone, these facilities served nearly 5 million visitors, inpatients and outpatients, with more than 40,000 newborn deliveries.


“So our experience has been considerable. But what have we learned from it? Let me share a quick overview.

1. Sustainable Systems

“First, I would underline that our approaches have to be long-term. Sporadic interventions produce sporadic results, and each new burst of attention and activity must then start over again. The key to sustained progress is the creation of sustainable systems.

2. Local Ownership

“Second, our approaches should be community-oriented. Outside assistance is vital, but sustainable success will depend on a strong sense of local “ownership”.

3. Broad Health-Care Focus

“The third point I would make is that our approaches should support the broad spectrum of health care. Focusing too narrowly on high-impact primary care has not worked well – improved secondary and tertiary care is also absolutely essential.

4. New Financial Models – Savings Groups, Debts Financing, Tax-Privileged Donations

“Our approaches should encourage new financial models. Donor funding will be critical, but we cannot sustain programmes that depend on continuing bursts of outside money. Let me underscore for example, the potential of local “savings groups” and micro-insurance programmes, as well as the under utilised potential for debt-financing. Also – and I think this is very, very important indeed – we have watched for many years as many developing countries, and their economies of course, have created new financial wherewithal among their people. These growing private resources can and I think should, help social progress, motivated by a developing social consciousness and by government policies that encourage tax-privileged donations to such causes.

5. Reaching the Hardest to Reach with Modern Communications Technology

“Our approaches should also focus on reaching those who are hardest to reach. And here, new telecommunications technologies can make an enormous impact. One example has been the high-speed broadband link provided by Roshan Telecommunications, one of our Network’s companies, between our facilities in Karachi and several localities in Afghanistan and in Tajikistan. This e-medicine link can carry high-quality radiological images and lab results. It can facilitate consultations among patients, doctors and specialists at various centres. And it can contribute enormously to the effective teaching of health professionals in remote areas.

6. Multi-Sectoral Challenges Need Effective Multi-Input Coordination

“Our approaches should be comprehensive, working across the broad spectrum of social development. The problems we face have multiple causes, and single-minded, “vertical” interventions often fall short. The challenges are multi-sectoral, and they will require the effective coordination of multiple inputs. Creative collaboration must be our watchword. This is one reason for the growing importance of public-private partnerships.

“These then are the points I would emphasise in looking back at our experience. I hope they might be helpful as we now move into the future, and to the renewal and re-expression of the Post Millennium Development Goals.”


His Highness the Aga Khan, President Kikwete of Tanzania and Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada, who hosted the 3 days summit in Toronto. Photo: The website of the Prime Minister of Canada. Copyright.

His Highness the Aga Khan with President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania and Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada, who hosted the summit in Toronto. Photo credit: The website of the Prime Minister of Canada. Copyright.

“As we undertake the new planning process, the opportunity to exchange ideas at meetings of this sort can be enormously helpful. And potential partners must be able to talk well together if they are going to work well together.

“I would hope such occasions will be characterised by candid exchange, including an acknowledgment of where we have fallen short and how we can do better. The truth is that our efforts have been insufficient and uneven. We have not met the Post Millennium Development Goals.”


“At the same time, we must avoid the risk of frustration that sometimes accompanies a moment of reassessment. Our challenge – as always – is a balance [between] honest realism with hopeful optimism.

“And surely there are reasons to be optimistic.

“In no other development field is the potential leverage for progress greater than in the field of maternal and newborn health.”


“….I thought I might close by talking about some of the results. My example comes from Afghanistan – a heartening example from a challenging environment.

“The rural province of Afghan Badakhshan once had minimal infrastructure and few health-related resources. Less than a decade ago it had the highest maternity mortality ratio ever documented.

“It was about that time that the Afghan government, supported by international donors, contracted with the Aga Khan Health Service to create a single non-governmental health organisation in each district and in each province. Today, the Badakhshan system alone includes nearly 400 health workers, 35 health centres, two hospitals, serving over 400,000 people. Its community midwifery school has graduated over 100 young women.

“The impact has been striking. In Badakhshan in 2005, six percent of mothers died in childbirth – that is 6,000 for every 100,000 births. Just eight years later, that number was down twenty-fold – for every 100,000 live births, death has gone from 6,000 down to 300.

“Meanwhile, infant mortality in Badakhshan has fallen by three-quarters, from over 20 percent to less than 6 percent.”


“For most of the world, science has completely transformed the way life begins, and the risks associated with childbirth. But enormous gaps still exist. These gaps are not the result of fate – they are not inevitable. They can be changed, and changed dramatically.

“When government and private institutions coordinate effectively in challenging a major public problem, as this example demonstrates, we can achieve substantial, genuine, quantifiable progress – and fairly rapidly.

“This is the story we need to remember, and this is the sort of action we need to take as leaders and as partners in addressing one of the world’s most critical challenges.”

Date posted: Friday, May 30, 2014.


Photos and text used in this post compilation were obtained from the following sources.

1. http://www.pm.gc.ca (Prime Minister of Canada)
2. http://www.akdn.org (the Aga Khan Development Network)
3. http://www.theismaili.org (official website of the Ismaili Community)
4. http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/mdgoverview/
(The Millennium Development Goals)

Photo Essays: His Highness the Aga Khan in Alberta and His Past Meetings with Leaders of US and Canada

Simerg’s photo blog, www.simergphotos.com, brings you two more informative photo essays following the publication recently of some magnificent photos of Chateau de Chantilly and His Highness the Aga Khan’s visit to France’s cultural gem. Please click on the following links or images to read the latest photo essays, as well other previously published posts.

Photo Essay: Historic Signing of Agreement in Alberta Between His Highness the Aga Khan and Premier Alison Redford

Please click for Alberta photo essay


From John F. Kennedy to Pierre E. Trudeau to Stephen E. Harper – A Selection of Photos and Videos of His Highness the Aga Khan with USA Presidents and Canadian Prime Ministers

Please click for photo essay, His Highness the Aga Khan with North American Leaders