Aga Khan Cultural Service Pakistan (AKCSP), a country affiliate of the Geneva based Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC), is the pre-eminent agency in the field of conservation and restoration of cultural heritage in Pakistan. Established under AKTC’S Historic Cities Progamme (HCP) in 1991, AKCSP aims at leveraging the unique transformative power of culture as a capital to improve socio-economic conditions of people through conservation, restoration and adaptive re-use of heritage assets, up-gradation of historic settlements and ensembles, institutional building, enterprise development and promotion of intangible heritage.

Successful restoration of historic 850-year old Baltit Fort in Hunza Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and opening for public in 1996 set in motion a new approach making conservation productive, socially acceptable and integral part of development and vice-versa. Saving the old village Baltit, beneath the Fort, from being abandoned in favour of scattered and unsuitable modern construction in the precious fields and orchards around the village was the next important step. Encouraged by tangible results and benefits to the local community, AKCSP launched community based rehabilitation of historic settlements of Ganish, Shigar and Khahplu moving out the cattle from houses and water supply before restoration and adaptive re-use of 400-year old Shigar Fort and Khaplu Palace in Baltistan and 900-year old Altit Fort in Hunza in 2004, 2011 and 2009 respectively.

Through the community based conservation of cultural heritage AKCSP established and nurtured new grass-root institutions such Town Management Societies in Karimabad, Ganish, Shigar, Khaplu and Altit. These successful endeavours motivated communities to start thinking about strategic development issues such as planning of public facilities, general land use, the impact of tourism and preservation of precious cultural and natural assets as a basis for sustainable development creating conditions for valley based institution building. During this period AKCSP actively supported local communities in establishing Karakoram Area Development Organisation (KADO), Baltistan Cultural and Development Foundations (BCDF) and Ciqam, the first women social enterprise in GB. Currently, AKCSP is working on Silk-Route Tourism Circuit development together with the government of Gilgit-Baltistan.

In 2007, and on the request of the then Government of Punjab, AKCSP went to Lahore and started strategic plan for conservation and rehabilitation of the Lahore Walled City. Since then, AKCSP has successfully implemented conservation and rehabilitation projects including historic Gali Surjan Singh and its neighborhood, 400-year old Shahi Hammam and historic Wazir Khan Mosque. Recently, AKCSP has signed a number of MoUs with the Walled City Authority of Lahore under Public-Private Partnership for conservation and restoration of Wazir Khan Mosque and its neighbourhood and conservation of Lahore Fort.

Anchoring restored landmark monuments in their local settings through carefully crafted re-use strategies AKCSP ensured sustainability of these assets and mobilised local communities and stimulated economies by creating socio-economic opportunities and reviving pride, identity and ownership. Recognising AKCSP’s conservation work, UNESCO Asia Pacific has awarded 14 restoration projects with different awards. In GB alone, AKCSP has restored 5 major landmark monuments, 21 religious buildings, 13 historic settlements and upgraded 2,000 households, established 1 traditional music centre, 3 social enterprises and 5 town management societies.

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