Tri-City man writes new book about Pakistani people

Dori O'Neal, Tri-City HeraldMarch 8, 2014 

Haroon Ullah's heritage is Pakistani, but he proudly calls himself an American -- his family moved to the Tri-Cities when he was 3 years old.

But that doesn't mean he cares any less for the people of his homeland. He recently wrote a book titled The Bargain From the Bazaar, which introduces readers to an entirely different side of the Pakistani people.

Ullah, 36, comes home to the Tri-Cities on March 15 to sign copies of his book starting at 4 p.m. at Hastings Books in Richland.

The book is published by Public Affairs Publishing in New York City and sells for $25.99.

Growing up in the Tri-Cities with brown skin and a Muslim name prompted many questions from people, Haroon told the Herald in a recent phone interview.

"And those questions made me more aware of the world," he said.

"People would often ask me what's happening in Pakistan. And that got me thinking more about politics and religion and how ordinary people who live in south Asia cope with all that chaos and stress."

Ullah graduated from Richland High School in 1995. After earning his bachelors degree from Whitman College, a masters degree from Harvard and a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, Ullah served as a Belfer Fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, where he focused on counterterrorism and religious political parties in the Middle East and South Asia.

That led to his position on the policy planning staff for Secretary of State John Kerry.

The Bargain From the Bazaar is a compilation of eight years of research in Pakistan interviewing the country's middle-class business owners, lower-class shopkeepers, officials and politicians. He even interviewed key people involved with the Taliban, al-Qaeda and Haqqani.

"I approached them as a researcher," Ullah said of his interviews with the terrorists. "They knew I was American but since I could speak the language and was familiar with customs they were interested, and curious to talk to me."

His goal was to understand how terrorists could recruit innocent young people to their ranks.

"I wanted to see how the recruiters for the Taliban, Haqqani and Al-Qaeda forces made sense of their lives," he said. "At times, I was a little anxious when talking to them because I knew the horrific things they were capable of. But I also knew that what I was doing would help us fight against their rhetoric and defeat their strategy. I asked them questions about what drove them towards extremism, what were their grievances, why they were angry against others, how they justified the use of violence and what they hoped to achieve."

The book focuses mostly on the Reza family, middle-class shopkeepers in the famed Anarkali Bazaar in Lahore, Pakistan. It's thought to be one of the oldest surviving open markets in south Asia.

The eldest of three sons helps his father run the shop in the bazaar. The middle son is swept up in radical Islamist politics. The youngest is a law student who believes a secular future is Pakistan's last and only hope for peace.

"They are a remarkable family whose story of triumph and resilience is truly inspiring," Ullah said. ""They were able to make sense of the chaos around them, and amazing at how they learned to cope with the turmoil. They found comfort and grace in small things and making sure they continued doing their best as parents."

In many ways, the Rezas reminded Ullah of his own parents.

"They were amazing and sacrificed everything for me," he said. "They are really fantastic role models in the best of American tradition."

His parents are Kaleem and Zarfshan Ullah of Richland. Kaleem Ullah was a nuclear engineer at Hanford before he retired a few years ago, Ullah said. His sister Sarah lives on the East Coast and his brother Noor lives in Richland.

Ullah hopes to catch up with many old childhood and high school friends at his book signing.

"I loved growing up in the Tri-Cities," he said. "I was even a paperboy for a while when I was in middle school. That job really taught me discipline. And I really hope to see many old friends while I'm there."

-- Dori O'Neal: 582-1514;; Twitter: @dorioneal

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