Nadeem ul Haque: “the country that can kill the world”

Click to listen to Chris’ conversation with Nadeem ul Haque (15 minutes, 8 mb mp3)

Nadeem ul Haque giving a talk at TedxLahore

Nadeem ul Haque introduced himself with a bit of bluster as Pakistan’s official “growth” strategist, then began blurting out his frustrations. There’s no growth to speak of in Pakistan, he said — less than inflation anyway, and nothing like India’s 8-percent boom. The government he came home to serve in Pakistan is going nowhere. And then the line that spun my head around: “This is the country that can kill the world,” he said. “And your country hasn’t the foggiest idea what you’re doing here. Find a way to educate youth in Pakistan — 90 million under 20 — or don’t sleep at night. You haven’t got enough bullets to kill them… We can do without the Beltway Bandits and even the billions of dollars in what they call aid. What America should be sending Pakistan is C-SPAN and National Public Radio, and then reopen the USIA libraries… What you send is Raymond Davis and Blackwater… Are you out of your …. minds?”

The conversation we recorded a few days later is a slightly tempered version of that first burst at a farewell party in Islamabad for an American aid official. We’re getting Nadeem ul Haque’s heartfelt version of the Post-Colonial Blues. First, fond memories of the British and American cultural centers and mentors in the 1950s and 60s who propelled him to the London School of Economics, the University of Chicago and a career at the World Bank. Second comes the the appalled realization that a new native elite had slipped into the palaces, polo grounds and clubs of the old colonialists with, if anything, less interest in the mass of the population. And third, a rough critique of a distant and disdainful American connection with Pakistan: bullet proof cars for aid workers when they get out of the office at all; “they don’t use our toilet paper,” he says; and nobody, but nobody, knows where the other-than-military money goes.

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  • Christopher in Tokyo

    This podcast series has been fantastic and this was yet another good interview. Thanks for doing this. I’m wondering if this ‘South Asia listening tour’ will continue on to India or any of the other countries in the region? Otherwise, fantastic and valuable. I can’t recommend this enough!

  • chris

    Thank you, Christopher in Tokyo.

    Check out our series from last year on — and from — the Real India, please.

    We’ll end this Pakistan series with the great sage of Delhi, Ashis Nandy.

    • Christopher in Tokyo

      Thanks for pointing me toward the series on India – I’ll be sure to check it out once this series on Pakistan is over – and it’s a shame it has to. I seem to learn something new from each episode!

  • chris

    The economic commentator Richard Melson writes me by email:

    Your recent-most interview with the development economist Nadeem Ul Haque features a mention or two of “Lawrence of Arabia.”

    In the movie there’s a first meeting between Lawrence and Prince Feisal (Peter O’Toole and Alec Guiness) where Feisal mentions plaintively something like, “Once Cordoba under the Muslims had streetlights and amenities that London, then a collection of mudhuts, didn’t dream of.”

    You have a parallel rumination of this sort in the movie “Gunga Din”, when the Leader of the Thuggees, played by Eduardo Ciannelli says the same thing about ancient India and its ultimate defeat of Alexander the Great..

    These movie scenes tell you that the world of 2011 basically represents a fantastic “reversal of fortune” on a global scale.

    My website and dozens of CFG Japanese books going back decades try to show that at the deepest level, we are witnessing a reversal of the reversal.


  • Chris, your conversations are my continuing education. I’m so grateful that I have access to this. Bring back the libraries, NPR, CSPAN, I wonder if there needs to be a new Willis Conover.

  • Shaman

    So insightful.

    This is a great, timely series. Millions need to hear this.
    Wish I could wave a magic wand and make it happen.

  • Asjad

    Great work Christopher! You achieved a lot in this summer, I came to this site just after couple of months and now I have backlog of hours of audio to listen…… good work. I will pass my comments as I go through.

    I am bit disagreed with the notion Mr. Nadeem ul Haque is suggesting for opening of more US libraries in Pakistan. Being myself as lifetime librarian and worked in Pakistan and abroad in the profession. I think now the time is changed, even in Pakistan. it’s not 60s and 70s, the generation he wants to attract in libraries have already access to Internet and other gadgets and digital libraries of the world are on their fingers, on other side the ground reality is the hate for America in public is too high at this time, they will burn those libraries anyway. I agreed with the point, to counter the propaganda that is coming from conservatives and from mullahs but have to look some other innovative ways to reach the ordinary public and especially new generation.

  • Thanks so much for your show, Christopher. It’s terrific work.

    While I do agree with Nadeem ul Haque that more Americans need to go to Pakistan and experience it, and produce intelligent media about it, I would also like to point out the obvious practical limitations to this idea:

    I myself an am American documentary filmmaker (twice Oscar nominated) who DID exactly what Nadeem suggests: I travelled to Pakistan and lived there for over a year. Not once did I set foot in a bullet proof car.

    I rode in taxis and rickshaws and stayed in whatever hotels and guest houses were available. I registered with the Ministry of Information, received NOC letters for everything I wanted to film and everywhere I wanted to go, and played very much by the official rules.

    I had two full-length documentaries in the works – one about students in a school in Rawalpindi and one about a family in central Sindh, displaced by the massive flooding in 2010. My films were entirely humanistic and non-political in nature, and were designed to show the other Pakistan – the one that is not seen in the mainstream media in the United States.

    And yet I found myself expelled from Pakistan by the government – not once, but twice. Most recently I was expelled in July, 2011, while making a humanitarian film for a well-known UN aid agency about the plight of flood refugees.

    I was not expelled because of my films or because I had done anything wrong – I hadn’t. I was expelled from Pakistan because I am an American. In the last instance, my visa was cancelled the day after 800 million dollars in military aid to Pakistan was cut by Washington.

    All the time we hear from Pakistanis how the American journalists don’t take the time and don’t show the complex human reality of Pakistan. Fine. But if you do go to Pakistan and try to make the kinds of media that Nadeem and others are demanding, chances are you’ll be thrown out of the country by way of thanks. You will not finish your projects, and your time and resources will go to waste. You will be treated like a criminal and a spy.

    Personally, I will never return to Pakistan after the way I was treated there by the Pakistani government. I will never again invest my time and energy into that country.

    I suggest that if Pakistanis see a lack of good media about Pakistan, they should learn to make it themselves. When was the last time a Pakistani film of quality that said anything about the nature of the country was released onto the world stage?

    If Pakistanis are not happy with the 60% illiteracy rate in their country, they ought to consider investing more money into their education system rather than spiriting the wealth of the country into foreign bank accounts and the military, and thinking only about their own families and the affairs of the ruling class. The problems of Pakistan are Pakistan’s to solve in the end.

    Pakistanis should stop asking everybody else to do what needs to be done in their own country and start learning how to solve their own problems, particularly if they intend to continue treating well-meaning Americans in the extremely unpleasant way that I was treated when I went there to help.

  • Potter

    Re Nadeem, nothing more need be said about the failure of our foreign policy. And bravo to James above- I hear him too. I worried when Chris went.

    Thank you Chris– and for the whole series which will be enduring. I echo those appreciative sentiments always.