Second Month Begins with ‘The Man in the Hat’ & Senate Sessions

As I finished off my first month in Islamabad, my second month began with some exciting and interesting developments.

On Thursday, I returned to the World Bank and interviewed another individual directly related to a project of my interest. It was initially difficult for me to take some of the bad news about the development program I had been studying for several years, but regardless, it remains important to include as part of my research.

Friday was a great way to end the week and start the new month of fieldwork. In the morning I was finally being able to meet a key contact I was hoping to meet here in Pakistan. It was such an incredible honor to meet Mr. Shoaib Sultan Khan, the “Man in the Hat.” The Founder/Pioneer of the Rural Support Program Networks (RSPN), arguably the largest and most successful country-wide rural support program network in Pakistan and South Asia.

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I was determined to not allow the moment to slip from me, just carefully listening to him tell his story with grace and eloquence, ignoring my questions and just sharing his remarkable experience of the RSP. I told him how embarrassed and apologetic I was to have come across the most successful “bottom-up” RSP Phenomenon from the “top-down” research, studying CDD programs implemented by the World Bank, which incorporates a similar RSP model of social mobilization. Admittedly, I believe this to be an unfortunate product of being an American. Others may disagree. But that’s why we embrace “fieldwork”. So much you feel embarrassed about yourself and what little you know, the way you think/perceive/act/behave/talk/etc, when you begin “ground-truthing.” You gradually begin to see how the people you meet and the experiences you take in, are transforming you into something much better. It also teaches you humility.

And it was the humility and gentleness in his voice that was inspiring and heartwarming. I felt like I was sitting beside a campfire and it wasn’t just the gas heater he had his servant place right in front of me.  lol. I brought my copy of “The Man in the Hat” book for him to sign, but he refused to sign it, rightfully so, since he didn’t write it. Instead he generously gave me his book on The Agha Khan Rural Support Program and signed it for me. Just being graced by this man’s presence and elegance is a memory I’ll always cherish. I hope to write more about him later when I get more time.

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I unfortunately had to the end the meeting early, as it seemed the meeting with Mr. Shoaib Sultan Khan could have gone a little longer. The reason was because of my plan to sit in the finale of the Senate Sessions. It was unfortunate that I was double-booked that day, because I felt I missed something of both experiences. But I am glad I got a little out of each.

Though I arrived later than intended to the Parliament, it was incredible to be able to finally be inside the building I always see and reside across from. I am grateful to Senator KhushBakht Shujat Ali for making me have a little of that experience and introducing me to some Senators afterwards. I made it to the Sessions for just 10 minutes at the end and it was good enough as I still had an experience of the it. Not only that, they captured my short presence on Pakistan TV!!!

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Thanks to Senator KhushBakt Shujat, I was able to make it to the Senate sessions for just a few mins today at the very end. This segment above, with this PPP (Pakistan People’s Party) Senator kept repeating on various Pakistan News Channels throughout the evening, which is how we were able to capture the photo from the television.

Overall, it was a wonderful honor to sit in the chambers across from where I stay, and watch even just a few minutes of Pakistani Senators passionately sharing their issues and concerns. It was fascinating that even within this small time period, each Senator was bringing up new ideas and concerns, speaking really fast and then screaming at each other when they were not in agreement. I wish I could have had more time, but even within those minutes I got to see how things run, and they had to close the session at the Friday Prayer time. It was really fascinating to witness the emotions in the room. I was informed that members from PTI and others sat on one side and the opposition (PPP) sat on the other side closer to where I was sitting. It was a great experience to see how a Pakistani Senate runs.

Afterwards, I was introduced by Senator KhushBakt Shujat to a FATA Senator who I had the opportunity to interview briefly. I hope from this contact I’ll be able to connect with others working in FATA.

We also took several photos around the Parliament and with the President’s house, Prime Minister’s House and Supreme Court of which I will update and post here at another time.

I am glad that after a month I was able to at least check out the Parliament and experience the sessions just a few moments, and it is an experience not many people, including other PhD field researchers get to have, being in the Red Zone of the capital of Pakistan.

I look forward to the opportunity to visit and experience Peshawar the next few weeks. Because Peshawar is just 2 hours away, I may drive in a few times and if it becomes necessary, I will stay in the evenings. This was a good end to the experience and It’s time to get out of Islamabad and experience more outside of Islamabad.

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