Islands of Hope – Life and Works of Akhter Hameed Khan

Raza Rumi reviews a book on the life and works of Akhter Hameed Khan, a legendary development guru

“It is not enough to say that he was a great man. He was one of the great human beings of the past century. He was so much ahead of everybody else that he was seen more as a ‘misfit’ than appreciated for his greatness…” (Nobel laureate Dr. Younas Khan on Akhter Hameed Khan)

In a country where idealism has taken a backseat and opportunism and greed are rampant, this book about the life and works of Akhter Hameed Khan (AHK) can be read as a kind of counter-narrative, a perennial challenge to Pakistan’s always-imminent descent into chaos. The AKH Resource Centre has done a fabulous job in putting the various trends of his thought and action into this lean volume, which is remarkable for its authentic voice and utter credibility.

Eighteen years ago I had the rare opportunity of working at the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP) under the leadership of Khan Saheb’s best known disciple, Mr. Shoab Sultan Khan. (AKRSP came years after experiments in community development and self-help programs such as Commila and the Orangi Pilot Project.) I was lucky enough here to meet the great AHK, if only briefly.

AHK, as he comes across in this book, was a curious mix of the Sufi visionary, the man of Gandhian principles, the subaltern researcher and a dedicated community worker. With his hybridized eclectic thought, in particular his approach to poverty and the poor, Khan Saheb was able to challenge Pakistan’s mainstream development discourse, which to date remains imperial. A colonial and post-colonial state acts as mai baap to its citizens and international agencies are the patrons, defining the problems and opportunities from a knowledge base that is detached from the people it seeks to serve and which, at the end of the day, always reiterates the ascendancy of the Western historical experiences of development, progress and prosperity. […]