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Khalid Sherdil — A Bright Flame Extinguished Too Soon

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Rina Saeed Khan writes a touching obituary for Khalid Sherdil, a bright and accomplished officer of Pakistan Administrative Service, who met an untimely death in the PIA plane crash last week.

Khalid Sherdil was a brilliant bureaucrat, a helpful colleague, a caring friend and a committed environmentalist at heart. He was a member of our cohort-10 during our training for Leadership in Environment and Development (LEAD-International). We traveled together to Mexico, England, Thailand and across Pakistan – Ziarat, Keti Bunder, Takht-e-Bhai to name a few places in between our course held in Islamabad from 2002-2004 at the iconic old LEAD-Pakistan building in F-7.

They say you don’t really get to know someone until you travel with them and Khalid turned out to be the funniest, kindest, most decent and probably the most adventurous person in our small group of dozen or so environmentalists from diverse backgrounds from Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

He loved exploring new places and exchanging jokes, often chuckling at his own wacky sense of humour. I never saw him lose his temper or get impatient even once. He made friends easily and given his good nature, people flocked around him. He was also extremely bright and fiercely competitive during our course, whether it was performing a skit during our graduation course in England or playing a game of football during our training in Guadalajara in Mexico! I would tease him for being a nerd as he also worked harder than most of us. Computers were his specialty, and in fact he had a Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees in Computer Science from McGill University, Canada and Washington University, USA respectively. For his undergraduate studies, he had completed a Bachelors degree in Physics from College of Wooster in the USA.

After our training was completed he always kept in touch – Khalid was the one arranging for us to meet and he was the one with the big plans. He took being a LEAD fellow very seriously and was an active participant at many of the seminars that were held at the LEAD office. He truly was a LEAD-er and we had high hopes from him. From bio-fuels to early warning systems, Khalid always had an idea he was going to implement. I traveled with him again to Cancun in 2010 to attend COP 16 and we had many discussions on climate change and what Pakistan needed to do. This was just after the super floods had hit the country and Khalid, as the founder and first director general of Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) Punjab, led from the front.

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Not many people know he also spearheaded the anti-Dengue efforts in Lahore at the height of the outbreak in 2011. He proudly presented me with the book he had written on it along with two others – “Dengue: Prevention & Control. The Lahore Model of Success”. I wrote an article on it, describing it as “A quick and easy read, without technical jargon; written by government practitioners who risked their own lives working in Dengue wards… a potent tool for government officers combating any epidemic”.

He went off to do his Phd in Computer and Environmental Science at the Western University in Canada but kept in touch by flying back every other month it seemed, only to return triumphantly to Pakistan when Nawaz Sharif came back to power as the PM. He was pro Nawaz Sharif, I was pro Imran Khan but that never dented our friendship in any way. I would remind him that he was in fact related to Imran Khan, being a Jullandar pathan from the Burki family but he had his strong views and I had mine.
I remember during the height of PTI’s dharna in Islamabad he told me: “We won’t give up without a fight. This government (PMLN) is not going anywhere, we will complete our term”. We placed bets and I lost. I bought him a coffee and told him “Ok let’s wait for the next elections”. His younger brother Mujahid, also a very bright civil servant, who had attended my alma mater Grinnell College in the US, was serving as DC Islamabad at the time. Their father AZK Sherdil, a well regarded bureaucrat, had served as Principal Secretary to Nawaz Sharif when he had last been PM.

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Khalid gave good advice and was one of those rare souls who truly liked helping people. He was interested in organic farming and experimented a lot on his family’s farm. He kept trying to interest me in his various innovative projects – there were so many! He was actually a great person to work with, very supportive and encouraging. I finally collaborated on a photographic book he was writing on the rural life of Punjab. I edited the chapters for him and remember thinking where Khalid gets the time and energy to do all this in addition to his full time job as a bureaucrat. From Assistant Commissioner of Murree to Project Director of the Model Villages Project in which 22 villages were equipped with schools, dispensaries, parks, solar electricity and bio-gas in flood prone areas of Punjab, he had been given so many challenging postings. His most recent appointment was Chief Executive Officer of the Punjab government’s Urban Unit in Lahore and he was playing an active role in combating the coronavirus.

Khalid always enjoyed a good catch up session over coffee as he hopped on and off flights, travelling between Lahore, Islamabad, Karachi, Quetta and internationally at a dizzying speed. He kept trying to rope us into more trips – “let’s go to Samarkand and Bokhara, I’ve heard Central Asia is amazing!”.

None of us could match his boundless energy. He was always on the go, a doer and an achiever. He boarded that ill-fated PIA flight to Karachi and his restless spirit would be happiest soaring into the blue sky. Khalid, you have only left wonderful memories for all of us behind. May you continue your journey onward in peace.

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