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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. […]

November 19th, 2010|Published in The Friday Times|4 Comments

Who’s afraid of Sherry Rehman?

Express Tribune: It has been rather disturbing to witness the way Sherry Rehman has been the latest target of the purists within the ruling PPP. For years, Sherry has represented the intellectual vigour within her party. From drafting of manifestoes to holding the important portfolios, she has been an articulate defender of the PPP and its government. Her decision to resign in the wake of the judges’ saga and media handling of the 2009 Lahore-Gujranwala Long March was a matter of democratic choice.

After her resignation, she did not defame her party leadership and continued to demonstrate her loyalty. She is now a victim of an unwise ban on PPP leaders and legislators preventing them from appearing on a particular television channel. Worse, she has been lumped with the other dissenters — Naheed Khan and Safdar Abbasi — whose politics is altogether different. […]

November 7th, 2010|Personal|6 Comments

The pampered Islamabadites

My piece published by Himal Southasian

Mahboob Ali

Islamabad is a very peculiar urban space. Though no longer a town, it is still struggling to become a city. Arguably, it is the most ‘inhabitable’ place in Pakistan, and ranks far ahead of several other capitals in Asia and Southasia, nearly all of which are plagued by pollution, traffic jams, crime cartels and civil strife. Islamabad, despite the disturbances and security threats that became endemic during 2007, remains largely aloof from this pattern – at least for now.

Located in the foothills of the Margallas, and boasting green spaces and forests intertwined among the folds of the city, Islamabad appears almost surreal against the densely populated rest of Pakistan. Built during the early 1960s by Pakistan’s developmentalist dictator, General Ayub Khan, Islamabad was seen as an antidote to politicised Karachi – which, in any case, was a bit too far from the Punjab and the NWFP, the popular bases for Pakistan’s powerful military. Laid out as a model city with the help of Greek architects, this city of the exclusive was formally born in 1965. Nearby Rawalpindi was already the seat of the army’s headquarters, and its proximity to the new capital was certainly intentional.

The new city’s layout was divided into sectors, numbered streets and broad avenues that are called ramna, using the Bengali term. The civil bureaucracy of federal united Pakistan moved here, and thus the sleepy town suddenly emerged as a new urban settlement in line with the earlier planned emergence of Chandigarh. In Islamabad, roads would empty out after sunset, and the national capital would be oddly deserted on all public holidays. After all, for decades none of the residents actually belonged to this city. […]

October 17th, 2008|Personal, Published in Himal Magazine|5 Comments

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan sings Bulleh Shah

I had earlier posted a video of Abida Parveen singing Bulleh Shah. While that is an all time favourite, the global voice of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan has also rendered Bulleh Shah with great ease and soulfulness. I am grateful to Cubano for opening the doors into this magical world of music. No words can capture the sheer beauty of this music. Videos are posted below […]