“Having accepted the invitation to deliver the lecture, I started wondering how am I going to do justice to a person of the stature of Akhter Hameed Khan. I had always looked upon him as my mentor and teacher. My relationship with him was truly of a sage and a disciple. His presence was overpowering and commanding a respect not out of fear but intellectual superiority of a level which belies any description. I feel like a pygmy trying to describe a giant. My relationship with Akhter Hameed Khan was more like Boswell's with Dr. Johnson. I can at best be a biographer or a historian recounting my association with the great man but to capture his innate qualities, his intellect, his vision, his depth of knowledge, his scholarship, his understanding of the religions of the world, his Sufi streak, his Buddhist way of life, his understanding of Islam and the Quran, his academic work, his poetic muse, his love for his family and above all his mission to help the suffering humanity and his passion to benefit his countrymen by his experience is beyond my capabilities. I have captured only a few facets of a personality which was so versatile and complete that in the words of Shakespeare “that nature might stand up and say to all the world: This was a man”. Akhter Hameed Khan was a complete human being. His motto was simple living and high thinking.
When I asked him, “why did you resign from ICS”? Unlike the general impression that he resigned in protest against the policies of the colonial regime his answer was typical of his personality. He said he had learnt a great deal from the British and he realized that they had nothing more to offer him. The British were masters of good administration of establishing pax Britannica but they had not much to offer to alleviate the sufferings of impoverished humanity. To understand the problems of the poor, Akhter Hameed Khan decided to quit the prestigious civil service but he was all praise for the British for respecting his views, his way of living and never interfering with his personal life. Akhter Hameed Khan became a labourer and accepted the internship of a blacksmith. However, he said one day he realized that God had not created him to be a labourer. He, therefore, decided to join the Jamia Millia in Delhi where Dr. Zakir Hussain, the future President of India was the head of the institution but Akhter Hameed Khan was disillusioned somewhat in the same manner as with Allama Mashriqi. Akhter Hameed Khan was a pacifist. He was a follower of Buddha's teachings of peace not war. He did not subscribe to German philosopher Nietche's heroes. He was a man of peace. He used to despair at hero worship in Pakistan. Sometimes he used to compare contemporary Pakistan to Ranjeet Singh's regime when the Khalsa Army used to boast to fly their flag on the Red Fort. The Maharaja used to beg his generals by putting his turban on their feet to desist from adventurism and never to take on the British army. Immediately on Ranjeet Singh's death, the chauvinistic Khalsa engaged the British and lost the Sikh Kingdom.
The first time I heard of Akhter Hameed Khan was from the younger brother of a Bengali colleague of mine, while working as an Assistant Magistrate and Collector (under training) in 1956. The boy, very proudly, was announcing that the principal of his college at Comilla was a person who had resigned from the prestigious ICS and that he was a man of very simple habits and was always dressed in home-spun cloth. I dismissed the whole thing as the babblings of a teenager. Three years later in 1959, however, I came face to face with Akhter Hameed Khan. He had chosen my sub-division for the field orientation training of the faculty members of the Comilla Academy. I knew that whatever the Academy's instructional staff had seen at Brahaman Baria came under close microscopic inspection. I had read their reports of the faculty meetings. I was, therefore, pleased when Akhter Hameed Khan, on getting introduced to me, remarked “you were put under close scrutiny and came out with flying colours”. At the Brahaman Baria station he disappeared as brusquely as it could be. He did not allow me to offer him a lift in my borrowed jeep. However, this chance meeting was followed by many visits to the Academy and more than a year later, on the request of Akhter Hameed Khan, Chief Secretary East Pakistan lent my services to the Academy to help organize a course for additional Deputy Commissioners (Development). I was overwhelmed and somewhat embarrassed when Akhter Hameed Khan came to the railway station to receive me and personally escorted me to Abhoy Ashram, the abode of the Comilla Academy at that time. I was shown into the guesthouse cottage and told that the last occupant of the cottage died of Tuberculosis, after 15 years of protracted illness. I almost shuddered that after a week's stay in the infected cottage, I may not contract the disease. Perhaps Akhter Hameed Khan read my thoughts and assured me that the event took place many years ago and the cottage had since been fully disinfected. Although I did help in organizing and drawing up the course outline, I was unfortunately unable to join the course. Thereafter I did run into Akhter Hameed Khan at Lahore a couple of times and was always accused by him of “having run away”.
In 1971 I visited Comilla after more than decade as a member of a group to study Comilla Project, with a view to undertaking a similar project in West Pakistan, preferably in Peshawar District under the aegis of Pakistan Academy for Rural Development (PARD) Peshawar. The Director and I, as Deputy Commissioner Peshawar and another member of the PARD faculty made the group. We met Akhter Hameed Khan who was busy in writing a monograph on the tour of 20 Thanas. I was keen to visit my own sub-division and Akhter Hameed Khan encouraged me in doing this and I revisited, after ten years. Sarial, Brahaman Baria and Quasba Thanas, I found it a different world altogether. The whole countryside had been transformed in ten years. There was an excellent network of roads and thriving markets all along the way. The produce was in abundance and the Thana centers were live and pulsating with energy and activity. Even Brahaman Baria Thana (which had Tehsil Offices also) Development Centre was so crowded with people trying to learn new techniques or obtain services that one could only marvel at the effectiveness and utility of the Thana Centres. At Comilla when I asked Akhter Hameed Khan's advice, he was very candid and suggested that I take a Thana in Peshawar District and develop it as a model for replication in the rest of the country. Our return to West Pakistan in the wake of March 1971 events and my subsequent posting from Peshawar, brought the whole plan to a naught.
In October 1972 I learnt from my friend Tariq Siddiqi whose intellectual depth even AHK used to praise that AHK was visiting Punjab on the invitation of the then Chief Minister of Punjab. I suggested that AHK might also pay us a visit. A few days later he arrived at Peshawar. He was very discouraged by his experience in Punjab. In fact, he exhibited a clear mood of pessimism. I showed him around the Daudzai Markaz. He felt happy with what he saw but still he was doubtful whether the policy-makers in the Province wanted or would allow this type of work to continue. I tried to assure him in every possible way that this was the position in this Province and my reasons for stating so were because I was convinced that both in the bureaucratic and the political circles there was support for this project. I arranged his meeting with the Chief Secretary and with the Governor. It so happened when he called on the Governor there was a cabinet meeting in session, so AHK had an opportunity to meet the Chief Minister and some Provincial Ministers also. After the meeting AHK was still not so sure and his response was definitely not positive.
He was of the view that the policy-makers did not understand the programme. On my rejoinder that we should not worry about their understanding so long as we continue getting their support, Akhter Hameed Khan was left unconvinced. I could see the wisdom of his remark when a few days later, at a function of the Academy, the Governor publicly had a dig at me and said that a few years ago a project was started at Sardar Garhi and every body was taken there and no one found nothing there. Similarly Shoaib Sultan Khan has set up a Daudzai and every body is being taken there.
IRDP had been formulated by a Committee set up in 1972 by the Government of which AHK was the Vice-chairman. However, in implementing the IRDP Committee's report, AHK regretted he presented an architect's plan but the Government only accepted to build the dome without taking note of the foundation and the walls. He used to put great emphasis on the theory of development which he maintained, was as precise as the law of gravity and any attempt to go against the principles of development was like building crooked walls.
Akhter Hameed Khan left with a half-hearted promise to come back and finally I did persuade him to visit us before taking up his assignment abroad. By March 1973 the Markaz had been well established but we were almost in a blind alley. The mere appointment and physical location of Markaz functionaries at Daudzai was not showing any tangible results nor was it creating any impact on the public. In fact, every time I went to the Markaz, my heart sank seeing it a deserted place, although visitors praised us, encouraged us but I knew in my heart that we were literally doing nothing to solve the people's problems. Akhter Hameed Khan came and he looked at the situation and drew up a blueprint of work for us for the next one year. He not only did this but also encouraged us very much and assured us that we were on the right lines and the difficulties we were encountering were a sure indication of our making a headway.
After his departure from Peshawar and before going abroad, he wrote to me a letter “My stay at Peshawar was delightful for me, physically and intellectually except that sometimes I feel that your hospitality to me was excessive. I have told my friends here how you picked me up from the dustbin and used me. I shall remain deeply interested in the Daudzai Project. It is like an island of sincerity in a sea of hypocrisy”.
A year later true to his promise, he did return from America. At Peshawar Akhter Hameed Khan was in his elements once again after the trauma of East Pakistan he found his bearings. Reading monthly progress reports of Daudzai project made him leave the comforts of the Michigan University and on my invitation to participate in an International Seminar the Academy was arranging, he offered to come back permanently on condition that he would not accept more than Rs.1,500 per month. On my insistence that he will have to accept a salary equivalent to my emoluments as Joint Secretary to Federal Government, he relented to accept Rs.2,100.00. In Peshawar he found his old friends especially Prof. Durrani of the Engineering College Khan Sahib used to argue with him, debunking his spiritual claims and Durrani Sahib would always laugh these away. Once I asked Durrani Sahib why doesn't he respond to AHK's criticism. He laughed and confided when he sees AHK angry he feels love and affection for him as he would feel for a small child and it brings a great urge in him to pick up AHK and caress him like an innocent child.
My wife Musarrat persuaded him to publish his diary written in Urdu of stay in America and wrote the preface herself which Khan Sahib greatly enjoyed as she wrote: “to some people Akhter Hameed Khan appears a fraud to many others a saint. The reality is that he is a perfect human being”.
Daudzai attained widespread acclaim specially from foreigners and foreign aid-giving agencies. Edgar Owens after his visit to Daudzai wrote to me “Thanks to you, there is at least one good rural project in Pakistan. How do we persuade Presidents and Prime Ministers to make a Daudzai the basis for nation-wide rural development? When someone can answer that question, one can begin to believe again in a better future for all of us”.
The success and fame of Daudzai project aroused jealousy and hostility in certain quarters. The Pakistan Academy for Rural Development became the target of a whispering campaign and sometimes of open propaganda that it was becoming a provincialised Academy and was only providing services to NWFP. The factual position supported by relevant data proved these allegations false and baseless and yet attempts to subvert Academy's work and Daudzai project continued. The Academy made it abundantly clear to the Rural Development Wing of Federal Government that the principles on the basis of which Daudzai Model has been developed are as relevant in Daudzai as anywhere else in the country. In fact, Professor Guy Hunter commenting on “Daudzai a Case Study” pointed out “the important point of principle which have been applied in Daudzai and are relevant to the Rural Development projects in almost any context”. Guy Hunter circulated over 100 copies of the Case Study, later published in Journal “Agricultural Administration” from Reading, England. The Provinces specially Sindh and Punjab at policy level (Chief Minister, Chief Secretary etc.) did express interest in Daudzai and the possibilities of starting projects in those Provinces on these lines. The Academy always endeavoured to be of service to other Provinces and in fact the Director made many visits to Lahore and Karachi to canvass for the acceptance of Academy's approach on rural development. But it must be appreciated that the Academy could only canvass and it had no authority to force any province to accept its approach. Belated the Federal Rural Development Wing realized the need for giving encouragement to the Academy in its IRD work. But alas! too late!
On the basis of an invective submitted by a disgruntled trainee (a tehsil level officer) who was sent back by the Academy in the fifth week of the course for indifference and lack of interest in training, the new Chief Secretary NWFP and ex-officio Chairman of the Academy Board of Governors commented on the allegation that Akhter Hameed Khan was fanning a Sindhudesh Movement at the Academy:
“I am enclosing a copy of the explanation of Dr. Iftikhar Ali Khilji (Assistant District Health Officer) for your prompt consideration and comments. As you would notice he has made some telling observations and asked some leading questions as regards what the Academy is doing and what some of its staff members are saying. From the way he has questioned certain loyalties, disputed certain bona fides, mentioned certain names and criticized certain views, one would seriously wonder whether the Academy was serving its true purpose. You are indeed the right person to tell”.
I did try to convince the Chief Secretary through an explanation followed by an interview at Akhter Hameed Khan's request which again was followed by Akhter Hameed Khan's explanation in writing that the allegations were baseless. But the Chief Secretary was probably not convinced of our bona fides or may be he was? However, on 8 August 1975 while opening the “fresh receipts”, the following words stared me in the face:
Notification No. 812/75-AI Dated 7th August 1975:
Mr. SHOAIB SULTAN KHAN, Director, Pakistan Academy for Rural Development, Peshawar, in Grade 20, is appointed as Officer on Special Duty, Establishment Division, Rawalpindi in his own grade with immediate effect and until further orders.
My exit from PARD resulted in AHK's immediate resignation from the advisorship of the Academy. He joked to his wife that he was going to go back to Karachi to work as a labourer on his brother's under construction house. Khan Sahib would let pass no opportunity to tease her. Many a time she and I used to gang up against him. She always used to reassure me you were his most coveted disciple and behind you he expresses great concern and solicitude for you.
I wrote to the Chief Secretary that posterity will ask people responsible for this debacle for having deprived the poor of this province to get out of poverty. The greatest social scientist Pakistan had produced was at the disposal of the province but no one cared. Akhter Hameed Khan went back to Michigan and I felt great anguish to have subjected him to the whims and mercy of people who had no idea what a great person he was. I was subjected to an investigation by FIA for indulging in subversion through Daudzai project approach and when cleared of these baseless charges, decided to seek protection of the UN umbrella and left the country.
My new pastures first took me to Japan and then to Sri Lanka. By now AHK had come back to Pakistan and initiated the now world famous Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) supported by late Agha Hasan Abidi. AHK described his first meeting with Abidi in which he asked AHK to come up with a grandiose project befitting the image of now defunct BCCI. In his next meeting AHK presented OPP's plan asking for a few lacs of rupees as against millions which Abidi wanted him to take. At one time, once a reluctant Abidi had agreed to his plans AHK wanted me to come and work with him at OPP. I was invited for an interview accompanied with AHK who briefed me that Abidi was like a Tsar.
In the meanwhile Robert Shaw of the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) approached AHK to suggest a suitable person for initiating the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP) in Northern Areas of Pakistan. On my invitation AHK came to Sri Lanka and advised me to come back to Pakistan. Having been bitten once I told both my well wishers the BCCI and the AKF to secure my services on deputation from UNICEF my employers in Sri Lanka. Agha Hasan Abidi as well as His Highness the Aga Khan wrote to the Executive Director Mr. James Grant of UNICEF. Since UNICEF had collaboration with AKF my deputation to AKF for five years was agreed to. AHK was quite pleased. The only reason he wanted me to come to OPP was to deal with the local officialdom as according to him the people of his generation in government had now given way to a new generation whom he called “ghatia petty” and considered me to be better equipped to deal with them. Later on in Tasneem Siddiqi, Arif Hasan and Parveen Rehman he found an excellent team who todate are keeping AHK's flag fluttering not only in Karachi but in many towns of Pakistan and abroad.
During my stay in Northern Areas, AHK made twelve visits and the twelve reports serve as the best text book on poverty reduction programmes that I have read or seen anywhere in the world. I was shocked when on his first visit to Gilgit, he advised me to forget about Comilla and Daudzai. Whereas the earlier two programmes were implemented and supported by government, AKRSP had no such advantage or disadvantage. Comilla and Daudzai both showed the fickleness of dependency on government. Although the conceptual package embracing organisation, upgrading of human skills and generation of capital through savings remained unchanged but government was supplemented by a support organisation independent and autonomous endowed with adequate resources human, technical and monetary. He compared AKRSP to the Joint Commission for Relief and Reconstruction (JCRR) set up by Americans in Taiwan in the wake of Kumantang defeat at the hands of the Communists. In a more expansive mood he compared me to Montgomery the way he amassed massive resources before launching the assault. He always decried high salaries and extravagance. I would always accuse him of being an exploiter and insensitive to others who could not live in Rs.5,000 p.m. as he used to do. He would relent in case of others but never in his own. He used to immensely enjoy his visits to Northern Areas despite physical hardships. Besides traveling on tortuous and dangerous roads in the programme area, many a time due to inclement weather resulting in cancellation of PIA flights, he wouldn't hesitate for a moment to embark on the 600+ kms journey on the Karakoram Highway (KKH). He would endorse Guy Hunter's comment when he came to visit AKRSP that this was not a rural development programme it was a heroic programme. Despite AHK's full involvement in OPP, his heart was still in rural development. He used to say “Chor chori say jata hai heera pheri say nahin jata”. In fact he persuaded me to give a small grant from National Rural Support Programme (NRSP) in early nineties to initiate a rural development project in the villages surrounding Karachi and persuaded his son Akbar to come back from Canada and take charge of the rural component of OPP.
During his visits to AKRSP, he used to spend hours with the field staff and the activists and get to the bottom of the rural situation. Every time I accompanied him, I used to learn something new. He was literally a walking encyclopedia. His knowledge was fathomless. When on his visit to Sri Lanka, he asked me to take him to a Buddhist monastery to meet a Monk he surprised everyone there by reciting Dhammapadda in original Pali which monks could not understand because they had learnt only the translation in Sinhalese. He used to caution me never go to the original sources in matters of religion. You would be in for a shock what interpreters have made of the original and any challenge to their interpretation would be fought tooth and nail forcing you to retreat for the sake of your own skin. He was greatly influenced by Buddha's teachings and often used to call himself a Buddhist Muslim. He would have chosen Buddha's way and got rid of the worldly desires but he said I love my family too much. I can't leave them. But in adversity he would always seek solace in Buddha's saying “This world is full of Dukha”.
If AKRSP had the Aga Khan as its founder and inspiration Akhter Hameed Khan was indeed the mentor and guide of the programme. AKRSP was initiated at a time when AHK had reached the conclusion that any programme which depends on foreign aid and assistance will not be sustainable. He used to contrast Comilla with the Chinese Commune and the difference between the two he clearly saw, was of outside dependence and self-reliance. In OPP he finally succeeded in mobilizing loca Resources from the community to undertake development. When he first came to Gilgit, he chided me for offering a development partnership which nobody would refuse because of the element of subsidy. He insisted that the people themselves should raise the resources for whatever they want to do or if they don't have the capital, they should take loans but no grants. However, when I took him to some of the villages and he clearly saw that unlike Karachi or Orangi, the poor villagers of Northern Areas had no regular income or employment opportunities, he relented and agreed to AKRSP policy of one time grant for a productive activity not only for their economic empowerment but also as an investment in their institution building at the grassroots. Through the holistic approach under the guidance of AHK, AKRSP succeeded in doubling the income of the people in ten years according to the two evaluations undertaken by the World Bank in the first decade.
Unfortunately when the stage came to put AHK's vision of self-reliance in its comprehensive form into practice through AKRSP, the experts in Geneva felt AKRSP has reached 'terra incognita” and started strategizing a new direction. AHK's advice was considered redundant and dismissed as more of the same and a golden opportunity to develop a self-reliant, self-sustaining rural development programme for poverty reduction was lost. AHK felt very dejected and I felt helpless before the superior wisdom of Geneva-based AKF experts and accepted UNDP's offer to take lessons from AKRSP to South Asia.
I tried getting AHK interested in National Rural Support Programme (NRSP). Initially he was very skeptical of my having accepted an endowment of Rs.500 million from government for NRSP. He had reached the conclusion that in Pakistan there was no government and no governance. He used to quote Dante's hell as equivalent of Pakistan Government which had these words inscribed on the gate “All that ye enter. Give up hope”. With some reluctance he agreed to visit NRSP regularly and encouraged us by saying “NRSP is a great national asset. It is our last hope. I also tell you, yours is no easy job”. His apprehensions about the danger of supping with government came to the fore when the government of the day wanted NRSP to return the five hundred million rupees given to it. Fortunately on AHK's advice, the money had already been converted into an endowment and when government demanded that all the directors should resign and liquidate the company, AHK being one of the directors reminded the Board of its moral responsibility to NRSP's cliental the 100,000 (at that time now the number has risen to over 500,000) rural households and the staff of NRSP and carried the day with him against liquidation of NRSP.
Once when I asked him will I have to wear Khaddar like him to do the work he was doing? He retorted you don't have to become a behroopia. Don't insult the intelligence of the people. They will recognize your true worth in any garb. In Northern Areas he used to remind me that your western dress or hat or travel by helicopter has made no difference in poor people recognizing your real worth.
My coming away from AKRSP greatly saddened him that another opportunity to develop a self-reliant model for Pakistan was lost. I terribly missed the regular contact I used to have with him in AKRSP. He concentrated more and more on urban development and when I would complain to him about not giving me enough time supported by his wife, he chided me for not concentrating on developing and replicating models at home instead running abroad all the time. He was most solicitous about my health and sometimes would innocently ask me “do you really need to earn so much money?” He would never understand that I did not need the money for myself but like him I also loved my family and wanted to give them everything in this world. He had already seen me living in a small room without modern amenities in the elephant country in Mahaweli forests of Sri Lanka or in a small apartment in Gilgit for fifteen years. Anyway I was happy that he had started finding new disciples and the complaint he made in 1983 in the following speech was no more true:
“Nowadays there is a curious reluctance, especially among the younger generation to understand and learn. Everyone seems to think he is a master. It is strange because Masters are not born. What my sneering friends dismissed as my charisma was an acquired skill, a skill acquired after a long period of apprenticeship under British, Gandhian and American masters, askill further sharpened by the study of many successful models in other countries Japan, Taiwan, Yugoslavia, China, India and Israel. I never felt ashamed of my long and multiple discipleship. I never pretended to be an original thinker. I thought I could teach after I had devoted much time and labour to learning from many sources. When I was young I accepted the wise precepts of Khwaja Hafiz: “Nasihat gosh kun janan ki as jan dost tar darand javanan-i-saadatmand pindi-piri-dana ra”.
“As I grew old I began to think perhaps wrongly that I have not grown old in vain, that throughout my long life. I have been a good student; therefore, in my old age I could be a good teacher. In my delusion I thought that at last I too had become a pir-i-dana, a wise old man and I could give guidance to jawanan-i-saadatmand enlightened young men. Alas, in twenty years, only one enlightened young man Shoaib Sultan Khan cherished me as a worthy teacher. He applied my methods, of course with necessary modifications, first in Daudzai and then in Mahaweli. And now he is applying them with further refinement and thoroughness in Gilgit. He has definitely disproved the obscurantist charisma theory. Is it my fault that I found only one enlightened young man”?
Despite his modesty, the fact is that more than four of his disciples got Magsaysay Award, perhaps a record in the history of Magsaysay Award Foundation. AHK got the Award in 1963.
He used to tell with great glee that his contemporaries in the ICS, after his resignation from the service, used to call him a fool but a good fool. I found him most gullible. He would accept everyone on his or her face value and many a time he was disappointed. He could not think ill of anyone because his heart was so pure and so full of innocence. One of my relatives who had retired as a marine Chief Engineer and had also been the managing director of the Pakistan Automobile Corporation was introduced by me to him. Very soon he won over AHK's heart and so much so he started grooming him as his successor. Very soon AHK realized his folly and for the sake of OPP had to get rid of him. In this unjust and crooked world, the dismissed employee easily succeeded in concocting false allegations against AHK and blasphemy cases were instituted against him at Multan and Karachi. We all knew these were false allegations. Dr. Tariq Siddiqi even got written statements from religious scholars in defence of Akhter Hameed Khan but his persecution continued. Dr. Inayatullah mobilized public opinion in Islamabad against this injustice. Fayyaz Baqir approached all his contacts in Multan.
When I got an opportunity at a dinner hosted by the Prime Minister, I spoke to him about the injustice to AHK. He agreed to see him and Qazi Alimullah arranged the meeting. The Prime Minister listened to AHK for nearly an hour but I knew from his expression he was not listening because AHK only spoke of development and did not realize he had gone to him to talk about his blasphemy cases. After the meeting AHK observed the PM did not understand what he was saying. When I asked him “why didn't you speak about your blasphemy case”, he replied, “do you know when Monim Khan, Governor of East Pakistan used to complain against me to President Ayub. The latter used to brush away all complaints by retorting AHK is the only person in Pakistan who never comes to me for any personal favour”. Anyway the Prime Minister ordered the withdrawal of the cases against AHK. The request of the Government of Sindh in Karachi was accepted by the presiding judge and the case was allowed to be withdrawn however, the case registered in Multan was not allowed to be withdrawn by the court despite Punjab Government's request and remained pending till his death.
OPP gave him great satisfaction. I often used to visit him in Karachi. He would show me the new OPP premises designed by Arif Hasan and quote Shakespeare's jester who used to point to his rather not too beautiful beloved exclaiming “She is not much but she is mine”. OPP may not be too grandiose in the eyes of Mr. Abidi but AHK was very happy with it. He would advice me against grandeur and too fast an expansion but his greatest quality was flexibility and an open mind. He used to preach an organic pragmatic sociological approach. I saw how in AKRSP he adapted the Comilla and Daudzai experience and could immediately discern the difference between the situation obtaining in Karachi for OPP and the conditions in Northern Areas for AKRSP.
At one time he vehemently argued against setting up support organisations and advocated using existing NGOs as support mechanisms. He felt I was unnecessarily wasting resources in replicating AKRSP type structures all over the country in shape of rural support programmes. However, when he found out after collaborating with more than 60 existing NGOs that only 2 or 3 were honest and the others cheated OPP, he had no hesitation in public admission that he was wrong and declared that RSPs are lucky that they are not like traditional NGOs and declared so publicly. His organic pragmatic, sociological approach often used to confuse people. They would declare AHK has changed. They would not realize he had the vision and foresight to adapt strategies to evolving situations. In the lanes of Orangi organizing people on the lines of village organisations in Northern Areas was not only difficult but also useless and when there were no organisations basing OPP's credit programme on savings was futile. He crafted new structures and new designs suitable to the evolving situation keeping organic, pragmatic and sociological dimensions in view. He had become a strong believer in self-reliance. In a talk at NRSP, he described the situation:
“As I look back, I realize that there is one main feature in Pakistan which is very disturbing; the failure of governance. Things, which were done competently in the colonial past, are neglected. Let me give you an example. In the Punjab, the world's largest irrigation network was built by Indian experts, the chief engineer might have been an Englishman but he had worked in India for 20 to 30 years. He was not a London-based consultant but an Indian officer and all his assistants were Indians”.
Now take, for instance, the sewerage system in Karachi. Its last expansion took place in Ayub Khan's time. Since then it has been grossly neglected and is all silted up and choked. We are sitting on a time bomb. Now what has been done to rectify Karachi sewerage? The Government of Pakistan and the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) has rushed to the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank and asked for loans. The first condition of loans is that the banks would bring foreign consultants. So, foreign consultants came and they recommended the most modern system which was not only 10 times more expensive than the old system we had, but also it was inoperable in Karachi. It was too deep and sophisticated. It needed robots to clean it. In the old system, the nalas could be cleaned by scavengers, as they only had to go down 8 feet instead of 30 feet.
We have been researching this problem in Karachi for the last 8-9 years and we are lucky that we have won our fight with the Asian Bank and the World Bank who are willing to accept our alternative model (the local design) which is much cheaper, functional and already connected to thousands of sewers. But our problem is the sewerage Board's Foreign Aid Section which is as willing to give up the foreign loan as a heroin addict is willing to give up heroin. They are not willing to forego the thrills and the highs that they get from dollar loans.
He had no complaint against the World Bank, ADB or IMF but he used to describe them as bad bankers, who unlike good bankers, kept on giving loans and increasing the debt burden of their clients.
Despite the gloom enveloping the country, AHK always could see the brighter side. He spoke of the resilience and success of the informal sector. He used to challenge anyone to find a beggar in Orangi. He had great faith in the people in their willingness to do things themselves to improve their situation. All they need, according to him, were support organisations and level playing fields. He used to say, “In Pakistan development will not come from the top. It will come from the bottom and it shall happen in pockets one island formed here and one island there and one island will be made by you”.
On his last visit to Islamabad when I mentioned Jahangir Tareen's request to visit Lodhran to initiate a sewerage and sanitation model for small townships, he readily agreed to go to Lodhran despite his earlier disappointment at nothing coming out of the Chief Minister's visit to OPP. He took keen interest in supervising the development of the model in Lodhran. In fact his last email to me from the United States was about Lodhran.
Akhter Hameed Khan was the very epitome of the principle of simple living and high thinking. In his non-rural development garb his humility and generosity as a man, was amazing. His rapport with the rustic, the non-genteel, the labour, the lower government functionaries and the like was inimitable. He was absolutely at ease with them as much as he was uncomfortable with the pseudo intellectuals and experts. He neither knew evil nor could perceive evil and thus in judging people was very gullible. He was often led stray by such unscrupulous persons leaving him hurt and confused. He had no cunning and accepted everything on its face value. Why such an open, forthright, honest and simple person should have ever been misunderstood was something beyond my comprehension.
Akhter Hameed Khan passed away in the United States where he was visiting his beloved daughter, three days before the change in government in Pakistan. Tariq Aziz persuaded a willing General Pervaiz Musharraf to posthumously honour Akhter Hameed Khan by conferring Nishan-i-Imtiaz.
In conclusion I will repeat what I have often said. “In all my travels throughout the world, I have never come across a person of the stature of Akhter Hameed Khan. I sometimes wonder did Pakistan really make the best use of the unique experience with which he was so willing and keen to benefit his countrymen and women. But now it is too late even to ask this question. The country has missed an opportunity of a century”.