The Middle Way, the Difficult Way—Sharper than a Sword and Narrower than a Hair

by Maniza Naqvi

WhirlingWe drank hot tea which helped to cool us down. Without the fans swirling the air around us, it was sweltering hot in the room. And the many layers of silk I was wearing were beginning to stick to my back and arms. Just as we were getting started, the lights went out—load shedding—a power cut. This was normal for Karachi. It could have been October or maybe May–must’ve been early evening because just as I was wondering how to peal of a few layers— I remember also wondering how the lovely azaan in the background would affect the overall sound. Like a mantra he invoked his teachers: Rumi and Saadi and the Buddha and Bishop Grundtvig and Confucius, and Gandhi, and Raiffeisen the Americans and the Chinese. He talked about Al Ghazali and Imam Hunbal, and he talked about how he learned of the Prophet’s teachings at his mother’s knee.

His response to my questions whirled around the Cooperatives movement, land grants, Development, technology, how change happens, China, the British and the Indian Civil Service, the Orangi Pilot Project, Sufism, Buddhism and the World Bank. And how “money is not the answer it only corrupts”.

I grew anxious when we discussed religious beliefs and stumbled upon the threatening and most dangerous menace of being accused of blasphemy in Pakistan by anyone for anything if they provoke and upset the established power base. A very real menace that he had faced from 1989-1992. A menace, which continues to threaten Pakistan and beyond. To the point where to simply exercise one’s brain let alone be brilliant or brave is to be blasphemous. “No one can help the poor without evoking the ire of one vested interest or the other,” said I.A.Rahman, the director of the non-governmental Human Rights Commission of Pakistan when HRC took up the case of Dr Khan back in 1989.” (here).

He, Dr.Akhtar Hameed Khan, was the founder of three important Development programs which are examples all over the world for community based approaches for low cost and appropriate technology solutions in low income communities. These were the Comilla Pilot Project in Bangladesh, the Orangi Pilot Project, in Karachi Pakistan and the Aga Khan Rural Support Program in the Northern Areas of Pakistan. He was called Dr. Sahab though he was not a medical doctor. I had first met Dr. Hameed Khan when I started working in Karachi in 1986. That’s when I also met his very dynamic team including the brilliant urban planner and architect Perween Rahman and her colleague Anwar Rashid. Together they have run the Orangi Pilot project and its training institute which supports the replication of the approach and its lessons in other towns and cities of Pakistan and other countries. Dr. Hameed Khan died in 1999.

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