Lehigh University
Lehigh University


Former Pakistani ambassador to the UN discusses economic crisis, its political repercussions

Ambassador Ahmad Kamal described several unsustainable practices that contributed to the economic crisis.

Ambassador Ahmad Kamal discussed a surprising topic when he addressed the students and a handful of professors and staff members filling Sinclair Auditorium.

The former diplomat barely mentioned the 10 years he spent at the United Nations representing Pakistan or the prestigious posts he was appointed to, such as Vice President of the General Assembly and President of the UN’s Economic and Social Council. Nor did he dwell on Pakistan’s connection to Afghanistan or its uneasy relationship with the United States.

Instead, Kamal focused on what he considered to be a much more important issue: The root of today’s economic crisis and its political repercussions.

“We are meeting undoubtedly at one of the most interesting times in history. This is the moment of intense crisis,” Kamal said during his April 15 visit to campus. “There is a breakdown of society and structure, new rules are being annunciated and a prolongation of this crisis is almost as serious as a world war in itself.

“We are in World War III.”

Kamal is the eighth in a line of distinguished and sometimes controversial diplomats to give the annual Ambassador Speaker Series. His lecture was possible because of a donation from the Fred and Ester Kucklinsky Foundation and because the United Nations recognizes Lehigh University as a non-governmental organization (NGO).

Lehigh was the sixth university in the world to receive this status. Through the Lehigh University-United Nations Partnership, the school offers weekly trips to the UN Headquarters in New York City, access to conferences, meetings with UN diplomats and officials, and opportunities to interact with other NGOs. Former speakers have represented South Korea, Iraq, Iran, Syrian, Palestine, Sudan and Germany.

‘Anything goes was unsustainable’

Before he spoke, Kamal ate dinner with select Lehigh students, including Puja Parekh ’11.

Kamal blamed the current crisis on unsustainable business practices and a disregard of morals and regulations.

“This is not the first time, incidentally that we have seen a serious crisis,” he said. Once the misery and destruction of World War I ended, people rejected conventional ways for those of utter license, as expressed in the Dada art movement or in the rising popularity of anarchy.

“The concept of no restraints, anything goes, was the result of the end of the World War I. That ‘anything goes’ was unsustainable,” Kamal said. This attitude led first to the Great Depression and then World War II.

After the Allies declared victory in 1945, people once again indulged in excessive euphoria, and thrust aside conventions, regulations and religious beliefs.

Kamal said, “The interesting thing is that after World War I it took us 12 years to hit the Depression. This time, it took us at least 60 plus years to hit the depression. This is a depression.”

Today, many have abandoned their spiritual roots, and thus have no gauge for their behavior other than their own judgment, Kamal said. Without a moral yardstick, they mixed up their priorities and confused “wealth with welfare.” They amassed money without considering whether their practices were honest or contributed to the general good. Advertisements encouraging frivolous spending, for example, may bring in more customers, but are not contributing to the general welfare if buyers don’t need the goods and don’t have the money to buy them.

In addition, disparities between the world’s wealthiest and poorest nations have increased. About 40 years ago, the average income of the wealthiest nation was 40 times greater than that of the poorest. Today, that ratio is 90 to 1.

“That is serious because that is not a sustainable gap, and it is going to create frustrations,” Kamal says. He suggested that this repressed resentment was expressed on September 11, 2001 and might be expressed again.

Coincidently, differences in wealth and class are currently being exploited by members of the Taliban to gain support in Kamal’s home country, according to the New York Times.

You, personally, can make a difference.

Kamal responds to Parkland High School students’ questions about religion, the financial crisis, and politics.

Kamal concluded his lecture, saying, “The only good news I can give you,” he said, “is that you are young.” Youths can correct the wrongs of past generations, and the current political and economic climate gives today’s students an unusual opportunity to change entrenched behaviors.

Kamal reiterated his point during the question-and-answer session that followed his lecture, Chris Whittaker, a student at Parkland High School, asked Kamal who should address the ongoing crisis.

“It should be you,” Kamal said, pointing at Whittaker. “You personally.”

After most of the Lehigh students departed, Kamal sat down with eight students from Parkland High School’s political science club who won the Model UN competition held at Lehigh University’s campus over spring break. The students reenacted a UN General Assembly meeting in the annual competition sponsored by the Lehigh Valley Association of Independent Colleges and run by Easton High School. As a first place prize, the students were granted a private 10-minute conversation with the ambassador following his formal lecture.

Parkland High School teacher Calliope Volikas advices the school’s political science club. She says this is the first event her club has attended at Lehigh University; however, the club’s president, Alex Stein, 17, was on campus last fall to attend an undergraduate U.S. foreign policy course.

“It’s rare as a high school student to hear a perspective that’s different from the American perspective,” he said, prior to Kamal’s lecture. “It’s important to hear that opinion.”

Puja Parekh ’11 stayed to hear Kamal address the high school students. Kamal’s lecture “makes me think more about consumption and how we got to this place,” said the global studies major.

--Becky Straw

Photos by Douglas Benedict

Posted on Friday, April 17, 2009

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