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March 3rd, 2009
Pakistan at the Polls
Filmmaker Notes: Petr Lom

Filmmaker Petr Lom directed and produced the FOCAL POINT episode You Cannot Hide from Allah.

A Pakistani friend told me the story of Ihsan Ulaan Khan, and I was immediately intrigued. I had just completed a film on Muslims in far western China and was looking for a new topic. There was certainly enough material for a film here — an immigrant from Pakistan to the U.S., Khan was a taxi driver for many years until he won a giant lottery, winning almost 50 million dollars (he took a buyout that brought it down to about $30 million). Khan decided to return home to Pakistan and ran for the mayor of his small town, Batagram. While he was mayor, Batagram suffered the devastating earthquake of 2005, which killed almost 80,000 in Pakistan and several thousand in the town of Batagram.

While filming Khan I came to believe that his heart is in the right place — though I think the film makes clear what an ambiguous mix the combination of philanthropy and political action can be. Last fall, Khan ran for a seat in the National Assembly in Pakistan but after losing he’s decided to dedicate his efforts full time to philanthropy.

Shortly after I left Batagram, the troubles that plague the North-West Frontier Province in Pakistan, and in particular the nearby region of Swat, erupted. There were some riots in Batagram, and the CARE headquarters which had been newly constructed was burned down. I had filmed Khan dedicating this very building at its opening. Most international NGOs left as a result.

My strongest memories of Batagram are not, however, of Khan, but of my translator, Said Umar Wazir, with whom I am in regular email contact. Umar is a fundamentalist Muslim — with a beard down to the middle of his chest — and is one of the most admirably pious men I have ever met, whose religious devotion and gentle nature I admire. He is still trying to convert me to his faith. Umar unfailing reminds me that his mother prays for my soul every night. So far their efforts have not succeeded, but Umar’s piety has left a permanent impression on me.

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