The Winning Combination: Economics Students in Bangladesh

Cultural exchange is the best remedy for bigotry, prejudice, and even cultural narratives in these increasingly nationalistic times. To counter these specific vices, I was honored to represent my institute and my country at the 14th edition of the South Asian Economics Students Meet (SAESM) in Dhaka, Bangladesh in January, 2018, with some very talented and amazing colleagues. With representation of students and faculty from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal, and Bhutan, this was a truly cosmopolitan South Asian affair. The World Bank’s aim of #OneSouthAsia was the norm at the entire conference, and I saw it first hand in the areas of events, academics, and, above all, clearing up misconceptions.


Starting in reverse order: The truly cherishable moment of the conference was destroying the misconception that Indians and Pakistanis cannot live in tandem or that they are intolerant to each other. From the very first ice­breaker at a Chinese Restaurant to an admittedly tearful goodbye at the motorway, we saw this narrative of hate being dismantled. In my relevant Politics and Sociology courses, I have taken it as an axiom that culture is socially constructed. And, when you do not know the culture of a so-called “other”, there have always been fear and consequent prejudice against “them”. However, it was a beautiful, unadulterated feeling to see how much the entire region had in common—how what I had read came to life. From enjoying the same films, music, biryani, humor, and a sense of adventure, I saw how I truly had friends from across the regions whom I had never even imagined to meet before. We have the same yearning for peace, as exhibited by the respect we gave to each other during the heat of competition. We have the same appreciation for beauty. We saw in awe the sunset in the majestic Bay of Bengal after the ferry ride. We joked, gossiped, and had common standards of fun—as exhibited by the late nights my friends from all the countries spent in the floor room lobby listening to music and playing charades.

However, the friendships developed were complemented by rigorous and respectable competition among the countries in the areas of conference events and research paper presentations. Activities included the truly rigorous Budding Economist Competition and Quiz Competition, in which national pride was on the line. I was truly in awe to see the level of effort and passion showed by my colleagues in these. But perhaps the most special part of the conference for me was the inaugural Inter-Country British Style Debate Competition organized by the conference to discuss economic issues. Partners were by lottery and, as fate would have it, I was drafted with my Indian co-speaker, Deepak. It was a poetic affair—why would it not be? Pakistan and India working and eventually winning the debate competition together; despite the shroud of political difference usually highlighted. The truly inspiring moment for me was to witness the entire hall look at Deepak and me in an awestruck fashion as we spoke our hearts out in the grand auditorium to win the tournament. That will remain perhaps one of the most touching moments of my lifePicture1

At the end, I would like to appreciate the core activity of the conference. All of my colleagues spent the entire semester writing regression analysis-based papers to present at the conference, in themes as diverse as education and trade. My friends Ibrahim, Ramsha, and Hadi won the Best Research Paper Awards in their respective themes. Ibrahim even won the overall best research paper award at the conference. We were all really proud of him. As for the events aspect, we finished runners up in the Economics Quiz Competition and shared the Parliamentary Debates victory with India. None of this would have been possible without the support of our esteemed mentors and instructors: Dr. Turab Hussain, Dr. Irfan Qureshi, and Dr. Imtiaz Ul Haq. In terms of joy, making my professors and the country proud stood equal in learning that I had friends all over South Asia.

Sarim Jamal is in his senior year at MGSHSS.


This article was first published in the MGSHSS newsletter, 'Guftugu'.

Aurat March

Jab tak aurat tang rahay gi, jang rahay gi, jang rahay gi

Awaiting us at the LUMS Khokha, on the 8th of March 2018, was the bus that was to transport us to Lyton Road, the starting point of the Aurat March. At first the turnout seemed quite disappointing, but as word spread, more people began to gather until the bus was completely filled. We set off on our journey with popular Pakistani songs blaring from the speakers. A majority of us had taken the decision to miss our classes to be a part of this monumental event. The thrill of momentarily disregarding academic responsibilities in pursuit of a cause such as this was heightened by the fact that many of us (despite our strong feminist/activist sentiments) had never taken to the streets in such a manner before. For us, this was an adventure we knew we would regret not partaking in.


En route, we all scrounged up an assortment of highlighters, markers, and pens from the depths of our bags and passed them around alongside a pink chart paper. In the hustling, jolting bus we managed to scribble down a variety of empowering slogans ranging from the clichéd but timeless “Smash the Patriarchy”, to the more optimistic “The Future is Femme”, and included the more fun pop culture references such as “Girls Just Wanna have Fun(damental) Rights”. Upon arrival, we were met with a huge crowd outside of Hamdard Hall which mostly consisted of women and girls (and, surprisingly, a few men as well), who were carrying colorful banners and placards. The air was abuzz with excited chatter and the enthusiasm of all the participants was palpable. Everyone seemed unfazed by the glaring sunlight and sweltering hot weather, because their minds were preoccupied by a greater purpose.

Eyes were glistening with the hope of a better future, arms were raised in tandem with shouted slogans in a gesture of triumph not achieved but strongly anticipated, as we began to march. Henceforth, we claimed the streets as our own. With every confident stride forward, we distanced ourselves from the traditional notion of women’s rightful place being rooted in the domestic sphere. We were out on the streets and we did not care if we were ogled at, sneered at, or ridiculed. Every chant began with a single voice, until more voices converged, and it rose to a crescendo, blocking out the sounds of the vehicles rolling by our procession. We were marching and raising our voice for women of all kinds—rich, poor, working, trans.

Whilst marching, all of our differences seemed to dissipate and there was one thing uniting us all: determination. The need to get out onto the streets and voice our demands was driven by the realization that writing lengthy statuses on Facebook, or posting frequent tweets about the subjugation and oppression of women, and the subsequent importance of feminism and human rights, would no longer suffice. It was time to take action. It was time to show our sexist, misogynistic, and patriarchal society that women are, indeed, a force to be reckoned with.


The media coverage taking place during the march would ensure that this message would be heard loud and clear.

The Aurat March was the first of its kind and scale in Pakistan, as it involved a reclamation of public spaces as never seen before, by women who had previously been too anxious to venture out alone or were forbidden to do so. It was a rebellion against patriarchy and repressive societal norms. The entire event was rich with purpose towards a better tomorrow. The collective chanting of witty slogans signified an end to the silence surrounding women’s rights issues and the beginning of an era of raising our voices against the perpetuation of inequalities and exploitation. There were pink scarves that were distributed amongst all the participants, which were either laced around necks or tied around the hair as headbands. These scarves created an image of us as a unified force, an army that was ready to wage war against unjust institutions. The hour long walk from Lyton Road to Regal Chowk was representative of treading the path towards progress and positive change. The organizers could not have picked a better day than International Women’s Day to start the (hopefully) annual tradition of the Aurat March.

Sana Tahir is a Junior at MGSHSS and a member of the Feminist Society.


This article was first published in the MGSHSS newsletter, 'Guftugu'.

Sikh Architecture in South Asia: An Interview with Dr. Nadhra Shahbaz Naeem

Dr. Nadhra Shahbaz Naeem Khan is an Associate Professor of History at MGSHSS. She specializes in Mughal and Sikh Art and Architecture in the Punjab. Her book, Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Samadhi in Lahore: A Summation of Sikh Architectural and Decorative Practices, has just been published as part of the University of Bonn’s SAAC series (Studies in Asian Art and Culture).


You joined LUMS in 2009. What did you do before then?

I studied and specialized in advertising during my undergraduate and Master’s programs and later taught this at different institutions in Lahore. These included the Department of Fines Arts (PU), Lahore College for Women University, and the National College of Business Administration and Economics (NCBAE). In between my teaching career, I also worked as a Senior Creative Manager in an advertising agency for almost two years. Art History came to me much later in life. It was in 2002 when the Department of Fine Arts (PU) announced its PhD program in art history. My initial plan was to work on a topic that covered both art history and advertising but finding no possibility of such an option, I switched full time to the formal study of the history of South Asian art and architecture in 2003.


Why and when did you decide to focus on the history of Sikh art and architecture as your field of specialty?


As part of the doctoral studies coursework, we were asked to write a research paper on any topic related to South Asian art and/or architecture. One of my professors asked me to visit the Lahore Fort and look for something that fascinated me. While walking in the fort, I noticed a structure—an L-shaped covered platform with five openings on one side and three on the other adjacent to the Musamman Burj. I jumped onto it fascinated by the beautifully carved marble arches and pillars and started taking pictures without any knowledge of its history or significance. One of the Lahore Fort guides (whom I can never thank enough for doing so) informed me that it was the Ath-dara and was built by the Sikh Maharaja Ranjit Singh to hold his court or kachehri.


Up till that point, I knew only what I had read in different books about Sikh rulers and the now-debunked narrative that their architecture was only a cut­-and-paste of pillaged Mughal material without any artistic merit of its own. Another important part of this rhetoric Mughal monuments for its sake and to resurrect them by studying different parts of the Sikh period monument. With my untrained eyes, I did not for a moment think of studying the important commemorative structure for its own style or merit—a realization that set in only after I started getting acquainted to it and developed a familiarity with the nineteenth century assigned to the Mughals and the latter to the Sikhs. One of the main actors propagating this (mis)understanding and playing an extremely important role in shaping people’s opinions, was Thomas Henry Thornton, a British civil servant in pre-Partition India.Picture2

Thornton wrote a small guidebook on Lahore’s architecture, first published in 1860. I remembered at that time that most of the pillaged white marble and red sandstone veneers of Mughal monuments were taken to Amritsar for the Golden Temple while some were used for their own residences, etc. The guide then told me that the Maharaja’s funerary monument (samadhi) was right across the fort on the other side of the street. A visit to the samadhi in the next twenty minutes gave me clear directions for my doctoral thesis—even though I was a year and a half away from that stage in my program. My intentions of taking up the samadhi as my research topic were to investigate the extent of damage caused to patrons and craftsmen and their art and architecture in the Punjab.

That leads me into my next question. Do you think that your work on Sikh art and architecture in the Punjab, as a historian, has an activist element as well, especially when it comes to the historical narratives that feed into religious exclusion and hatred?

Absolutely. The narrative created in the colonial period concerning Indian art and architecture was formulated around the ‘Hellenic–Barbaric’ binaries. In the Punjab, the first of course was Montgomery, who was the Lieutenant-General of Punjab at the time (serving in this position from 1859 to 1865). It was republished in 1862 and remained in print afterward as well. In 1875, John Lockwood Kipling moved to Lahore after his appointment as the first Principal of the Mayo School of Arts (now the National College of Arts, or the NCA) and was asked by Thornton to collaborate in expanding the scope of his guidebook. Divided into two parts, ‘Lahore As It Is’ (in 1875) was done by Kipling; ‘Lahore As It Was’, was essentially a reproduction of Thornton’s earlier work with some additions. The book, in its various forms and multiple editions and reprints became a standard reference for those interested in the art and architecture of Lahore and surprisingly, is still in circulation as part of the NCA’s historical reprint series—misinforming untrained minds and spreading biases.

This bibliographical background is important because it attests to the impact that Thornton’s ideas have had on the narrative of Sikh rulers and their contributions to art and architecture in the Punjab.

And what does Thornton say in his book?

To summarize his comments, he completely dismisses the originality of Sikh art and architecture claiming that the Sikhs were looters; that Ranjit Singh did not have any aesthetics as he was illiterate and ‘of martial habits’; that all he did during his rule of forty years was to disfigure Mughal monuments and rob them of their marble and red sandstone to embellish the Golden Temple.


This misguided narrative of Thornton has seeped into popular imagination and has rendered the entire history of Sikh contributions to South Asian art and architecture moot. My passion project is to investigate these contributions and set the record straight. I am sure my findings will inevitably help save some extremely important monuments and other artefacts in the Punjab and elsewhere that have been suffering from neglect and disregard ever since the British occupation of this land in 1849.

On a more direct note, I have noticed that whenever we study Hindu deities or Sikh wall paintings in the art of the Punjab—we have some in the Fort, in the Sheesh Mahal, in the Ath-dara, and at the samadhi—some students have difficulties in ‘handling’ such iconography, presumably because of their educational and socio-religious backgrounds.

I always bring up this issue with them and like talking to them about how these are religions observed by hundreds of thousands of people around the world, especially in South Asia, in our neighborhood. I try to highlight the importance of respecting all traditions and religions associated with them, especially if we want our own sacred entities and texts to be respected by others. These moments in the class turn out to be telling, impactful, and pedagogically gratifying.

What are some of the courses you have taught at LUMS? And what is the latest course that you have designed for your students?

I have taught 9 or 10 courses, including: Mughal Art and Architecture; Art of the Ancient Cultures; French Art; Geometrical Patterns in Islamic Art; Buddhist Art and Architecture; Nineteenth Century Sikh Wall Paintings; Architectural Heritage of Lahore: Mughal, Sikh and Raj; and others.


The latest course I have designed is the History of Miniature Painting (in South Asia). We start with Jain and Buddhist Palm Leaf manuscripts and come down to modern miniature paintings. We trace their development, their concepts, and the religious, social, and political sentiments they carried and communicated in the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. We also study their dismissal by the British and their replacement with Company Paintings. Finally, we come down to their post-Partition revival in mainstream art practices with a focus on the processes and people who brought this ancient indigenous art form back into circulation.

I learn through my teaching. Therefore, most of my courses are directly aligned to my research areas. Every new field I explore and each folder I make in my computer to stack new research material for a forthcoming publication gradually gets turned into a new course. A couple of these folders are ready to be sculpted into a course so I will hopefully shape it by next spring.


This article was first published in the MGSHSS newsletter, 'Guftugu'.

Dr. Nadeem ul Haque Looks Back at an Asian Tiger

The Department of Economics hosted Dr. Nadeem ul Haque on March 2, 2018, for a discussion on his new book Looking Back: How Pakistan Became an Asian Tiger by 2050. Dr. Haque is an eminent economist who spent a large part of his career at the International Monetary Fund. He is also a former Vice Chancellor of the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE) and served as Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission of Pakistan, in the previous government. He has published work on a wide range of topics, including corruption, human resource development, and macroeconomic stabilization.


In his book, Dr. Haque creates a fictional world in which Pakistan has “transformed itself from a poverty-ridden, malnourished, corrupt and aid-dependent country in 2015 to qualify for the ‘High-Income’ category by the World Bank, and the top decile in both the Competitiveness Index and Social Progress Index by 2050”. He then sets out to describe at length a set of key economic, political, and social reforms that led to Pakistan’s incredible (imaginary) transformation. The narrative provides an intriguing insight into Pakistan’s institutional decay and evolution.

The literature on socio-economic reforms in Pakistan can often be dry, leading to limited dissemination and readership. Dr. Haque explained that he chose the fictional trope—and avoided tedious jargon, which usually only economists appreciate—to communicate with a wider audience, especially younger generations.

Dr. Haque spoke about how in his fictional Pakistan the central government plays a peripheral role with power decentralized to local elected representatives. The civil service—our antiquated colonial inheritance—has been downsized and the political hierarchy abolished. The rent-seeking culture that supported the privileges, perks, and entitlement of the civil and military bureaucracy and nurtured crony capitalists and land-developers—thereby stifling growth and development—has been replaced with a culture of competition, entrepreneurship, and merit. Highly skilled professionals now manage institutions previously under the civil bureaucracy.

Cities and urban landscapes are engines of growth and hubs of cultural and commercial activity. Zoning laws that separated the rich from the poor have been abolished. Museums, parks, and libraries dominate public spaces. Cities have walkways and sidewalks, making them accessible to pedestrians and limiting motorists. These thriving metropolises expose the youth to the richness and diversity of city life, catalyzing cultural movements and artistic expressions. This change has led to an increase in school enrollment, greater demand for vocational and technical training, reduction in extremism, and regulation of “the mulla”.


The reforms that generated this astonishing structural transformation were indigenous and not donor-driven. Donors no longer dictate the country’s development agenda, which is now democratically established by local stakeholders.

But how does this radical change come about? At the end of the discussion, Dr. Haque argued that a spatially diverse network of thinkers, writers, and intellectuals spur a discourse on local problems—shifting away from traditional themes such as national security and foreign policy—and become “agents of change”. The networks develop as the government diverts significant public funds toward universities, frees university administrations from bureaucratic control, and promotes independent think tanks. The networks set new agendas which spillover to the media and gradually become part of everyday public debate. Development policy recognizes “that local networks of thought are vital to the creation of a process of change that will crowd-source knowledge, create greater ownership of change and reform as well as develop democratic debate and society”.

The audience at Dr. Haque’s talk included students, LUMS professors, and local policy practitioners.

Sanval Nasim is Assistant Professor, Department of Economics, LUMS.


This article was first published in the MGSHSS newsletter, 'Guftugu'.

Call for Submissions – Deadline 15th November


Critical Interventions: Mapping Emerging Scholarship on South Asia

10TH & 11TH APRIL, 2019


This conference offers an intervention in the understandings of South Asia as reality and construct. By bringing together work across multiple disciplines from both indigenous and diasporic scholars working on the region, we hope to build upon the movement to decolonize the academy. This decolonial turn is critical because the academy functions as “a site of production and re-production of discourses that preserve certain colonial structures and maintain Euro-American hegemonies in the larger material world” (Davies and Peterson 2003). At the same time, that which exists outside the hegemonic perspective is rendered “invisible, is excluded from the real and is actively disdained, even unnamed” (Vazquez 2011), thereby highlighting the need for epistemic disruption that foregrounds and legitimizes emerging perspectives on South Asia.

By showcasing emerging scholarship on the region, this conference will work to challenge, resituate, and rename existing categories that essentialize South Asia given that “category creation itself is an act of power” (Cornwall and Lindisfame 2011). The conference will also enable scholars to generate newer critical paradigms to think through the “more complex and controversial…transformations of contemporary South Asia” (Bose 2003). In doing so, the conference will aim to dismantle reductive conceptions about South Asia, generate multidisciplinary knowledge(s) about the region, and enable academics to form transnational epistemic networks.

To this end, we invite paper and panel proposals based on research on India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives, and the South Asian Diaspora. Papers and panels may engage with the following themes, but need not be limited to them:

  • War, conflict, and regional (in)stability
  • Arts, literature, film, and cultural construction
  • History, coloniality, and hierarchy
  • City, neoliberal modernity, and citizenship
  • Challenging dominant governance paradigms
  • Ethnicity, class, and social stratification
  • Continuity and contestations of gender
  • Environment, natural resource management, and precarity
  • Religion, secularity, and ideology
  • States and revolutions
  • Education, autonomy, and reform
  • Narratives of nationhood and subject formation
  • Indigenous resistance and strategies of survival

The conference will be held on 10th and 11th April, 2019 at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), Pakistan. The deadline for submission of all proposals is 15th November, 2018 to

We welcome both individual paper and panel submissions. Individual paper submissions must include a 300-word abstract, paper title, and a two-page resume.

Panel proposal submissions must include a 300-word panel abstract. In addition, please provide paper titles, abstracts (300 words), names, affiliations, and contact information for each participant of the panel.

There will be limited funding available for accommodation and travel expenses, so we encourage participants to seek funding from their home institutions. If you have any questions, please write to us:

Everyday Urbanisms: An Interview with Professor AbdouMaliq Simone

In March, 2018, the MGSHSS hosted a workshop onEveryday Urbanisms, an opportunity for scholars to engage with a variety of perspectives on urban experiences. Professor AbdouMaliq Simone, an urbanist who has worked extensively on urban spaces in the muslim world, participated in and lead theworkshop. Professor Simone, who also gave a talk titled ‘The Spiraling of Stamping Feet: Peripheral Spaces and Practices for New Urban Worlds’, kindly agreed to give this interview for Guftugu.


You’ve been described as an Urbanist, I was hoping you could clarify what that means exactly—tell us a little about the field that you’re in and the work you do?

Well, the word urbanist, the designation, usually comes from a kind of French and perhaps Spanish kind of derivation—the French will use it more. It usually refers to those who do architectural projects that don’t just concern design issues for a building but the way in which the spaces relate to each other. For example, whoever is doing the new centre of Lahore. That would be the conventional notion of the word Urbanist. For me, I use it because the work that I do kind of has nothing to do with the degree that I have.

Which is?

I’m a Clinical Psychologist by training, like way way back in the day. So I sort of appropriate the the term to describe what I do, which is—I’m interested in urban processes, the lived experiences of people and more than people in urban life. I’m also interested in its materiality, its design, and its governance. So all these things I like to have a foot in, like to address in some way, it seems that the notion of urbanism allows me to legitimately say that I have my feet in all these things.

I noticed that you seem to have engaged very closely with just a couple of places, for example Amman and Djakarta. Is there a particular reason you were drawn to these places or did it just happen?

Yeah, I mean it was a combination of things. For example I spent ten years in South Africa, even though I was only going to spend one. It was at a particular historical period of time, at the beginning of the 1990s and a major transition was underway, where the liberation movement and the new government had to completely remake the legal framework and the institutions that govern urban processes. There were a lot of opportunities that were available to a stranger, a foreigner—it wouldn’t be that way today. Indonesia too was kind of an accident but then this one social movement—I went to an AGM and we hit it off, and I came back to work with them for two weeks, then two months, then a longer period of time. So of course there are things that attract you about a place, but there are also these opportune moments. And I guess I emphasize that because a lot of the research that I do is almost always 90% within the context of working with other people, other institutions, on either projects that may be medium-term or long-term. It’s about cultivating affiliations with groups of people over time, and out of these affiliations the research comes in the service of trying to make things happen in terms of what these institutions had in mind.


You mentioned this in your talk the other day as well, and I was actually hoping we could discuss the process of articulating the elements and connections you’re looking at. How do you balance the smaller everyday things that can only rise out of affiliations, with the larger concepts that seem to be your focus? You used particular frames in the talk like ‘spiralling’ and zaar—I was wondering if that sort of metaphor or frame is a way to understandably lay out the complexities you’ve observed?

Yeah, I see what you mean. So I did speak in—with the exception of some of the more ethnographic stuff about the kids in these areas of Djakarta—I did speak in fairly sweeping terms. And part of that can be a bad habit, really. It’s one of the limitations of trying to suture together very different kinds of languages in a kind of a more poetic strategy, of trying to link particular sensibilities, particular large-scale socio­cultural changes, and to make very micro-level investigations part of those things. A lot of times that’s not very useful, I mean sometimes you have to do it, but there is the danger of being carried away by your own sweeping motions. I guess what sometimes I’m concerned about is that large generalizations are made. Because, quite rightly, people want to think about the larger forces and structures and their impact on themselves, and what they think they can do about it. Who owns that kind of speech, owns that kind of generalization? And oftentimes those that own it are not interested in the more small scale kinds of processes, may choose to dismiss them as idiosyncrasies, or idiosyncratic performances of that larger structure. And I guess what I also want to do is try to take seriously the multiple forms of agency that different kinds of collectives have.

Those collectives not simply being human ones, but collectives that are particular relationships between people and materials, and senses and ways of sensing, that are only really identifiable in a very local way.

If you’ve sort of been immersed in several of them, then how do you think about what kinds of connections are there? And sometimes those connections can only be poetic ones. You have to find the kind of language that is not the language of social structure in order to make those articulations. It’s that you have this juxtaposition, the simultaneous unfolding of very different and singular situations on the ground. And the impetus is to compare them, to look for their commonalities, and of course we do that all the time. We all compare. That’s what we’re trained to do since we’re kids. But I’m interested in how they simultaneously exist within their singularities within the larger world. I’m trying to find ways to speak about them together at the same time, without necessarily finding the common variable. It’s a nebulous space, and it’s tricky but you’re trying to invent a way to speak about the two so it’s not a self-other relationship.


So this makes me think about what you said about how different people occupy and experience space differently based on who they are, in terms of gender or age for example. I would imagine that your own distance from someone’s position doesn’t just affect your ability to articulate their experience, but your access to them. How much has that been a problem, and how do you work around it?

Yeah I mean I’m a white, old man (laughs). And of course spending most of my life working in contexts where I’m something of a rarity, you’re always aware of occupying that particular kind of position. But there are ways in which you can play with it. Which is always a kind of risk because playing with identity is also playing with certain political privilege, because whiteness can play in ways that other identities can’t play. So it’s always this kind of game, you know, anticipating what they anticipate of you, and your anticipations of their anticipations and it goes back and forth. So how can you turn it into something that isn’t the kind of paranoid structure where everyone’s defending themselves against each other?

You sometimes need to demonstrate a willingness to act outside of the ordinary assumptions, which is something I’ve always tried to do. I’ve tried to go to places I’m not supposed to go, I’ve always tried to delicately say things where I’m not expected to say them. It’s kind of a disarming thing. Of course in this world now, it’s become kind of difficult—there are places where you could go easily and talk freely twenty years ago, that I would never be able to do now. Because the world is much more paranoid, you know. Not in a clinical sense, but in the general sort of ‘How do I immunize myself in this world where I no longer know clearly what’s taking place?’. And I guess that’s why I like to work collaboratively with people, and I have a partner who has an incredible way of talking, and sensing, and working with her has been a great learning experience.

This article was first published in the MGSHSS newsletter, 'Guftugu'.

Conferences at MGSHSS Spring 2017

International Punjabi Conference

Tabinda M. Khan

On February 16 and 17, 2018, the Gurmani Center for Languages and Literature and the Mushtaq Ahmad Gurmani School of Humanities and Social Sciences hosted an international Punjabi conference on the theme “Punjab’s Cultural Identity: Past and Present.”This was the first time that a Punjabi conference was held at LUMS and the hosts, Moeen Nizami, the Director of the Gurmani Centre, and Kamran Asdar Ali, the Dean of the MGSHSS, expressed their hope that it would become an annual event and would stimulate scholarship on Punjabi language, literature, and politics. Picture7The conference was conducted almost entirely in Punjabi, rather than English, which was a path breaking development for LUMS. In his concluding remarks, Syed Babar Ali, the guest of honor, exclaimed that never before had this much Punjabi been spoken inside a LUMS auditorium!

The conference began with a keynote speech by Mushtaq Soofi, an eminent writer and President of the Punjabi Adab Board, followed by five panels, one on Friday and the remaining four on Saturday.

The first panel was on “Socio-economic and cultural transformations of the Punjab [“Punjab vich samaji, maali tay rehtali kayapalti”] with Tahir Kamran (GCU, Lahore), Manzur Ejaz (USA), and Mahmood Awan (Ireland), and was moderated by Sarwat Mohiuddin (Islamabad). Picture2.5Tahir Kamran analyzedthe changes in the Punjabi oral tradition produced by the adoption of print technology and the use of Urdu as a symbol of Muslim nationalism. Mahmood Awan recalled that the British army recruited primarily from the Punjab, making it a foremost beneficiary of military spending on salaries; he used Punjabi folk literature to demonstrate that the army was perceived as a benefactor and army jobs as a path for social mobility. Manzur Ejaz explained that urbanization and the adoption of modern technology had transformed villages in Pakistani Punjab and had displaced many of the activities traditionally associated with village life. On Friday night, the conference concluded with a Punjabi Qawwali performance, which drew on the poetry of Waris Shah, Bulleh Shah, Baba Farid and Amir Khusro.

The second panel, “Punjab: Language and Identity” [“Boli tay Shanakht”], featured Tariq Rahman (BNU, Lahore), Amarjit Chandan (England) and Gurmeet Kaur (USA), and was moderated by Ali Usman Qasmi (LUMS). Picture1Tariq Rahman compared the Punjabi language movement with movements in other countries, and noted that it was a deviant case because it entailed a dominant ethnic group conceding the right to have its language serve as the basis for government and education, in the interest of nationalism. Amarjit Chandan asked conference participants why no one spoke of the Punjabi nation; he tried to uncover the reasons why Punjabis had been unsuccessful at organizing a movement for their linguistic rights. Gurmeet Kaur spoke about the need toacquaint children, in the Punjab and the diaspora, with Punjabi folk tales because they were based on a spirituality grounded in oneness with nature, which not only united people across religions and national borders but also countered the materialism of modern consumerist societies.

The third panel, “Classical Literature: Gender Question” [“Classical adab tay nar naari da sawaal”], analyzed the representation of women in Punjabi folk literature and in plays by (and about) the Punjabi diaspora in Canada. Anne Murphy, who heads the Punjabi Studies Program at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, narrated the story of Komagata Maru. In 1914, a group of 376 passengers from the Punjab attempted to emigrate to Canada on board the Japanese steamship Komagata Maru; all but 24 were denied entry because of an immigration law that allowed exclusion on the basis of race. Murphy argued that “the past is still present” and that thoughCanadians have come to recognize the Komagata Maru incident as a dark period in their history, discrimination persists in other forms, against immigrants but also against women. She analyzed three plays on the Komagata Maru incident and compared two which showed the perspective of the sole woman aboard the ship (her perspective was excluded from earlier productions). The other two panelists, Saeed Bhutta (GCU, Lahore) and Jamil Pal, analyzed the representation of women in Punjabi folk stories, and described how characters such as Heer in Heer Ranjha celebrated women as strong, feisty, courageous and bold. Zubair AhmaPicture3d moderated the panel and there was a lively discussion after the presentations. Audience members debated whether the “daadi” woman of Punjabi folk tales was a creature of the past and suggested that in future panels on the gender question, Punjabi women activists and artists should be invited to share their perspective.

The fourth panel, “Partition: The killers and the killed” [“Wandd: kaun qatil, kaun maqtul”] with Pervaiz Vandal (UCA, Lahore), Mazhar Tirmizi (UK) and Nadhra Naeem Khan (LUMS), was moderated by Kamran Asdar Ali (LUMS), and the fifth panel, “History owned fully or selectively” [“Tarikh de wirasat, puri ya adhuri?”] with Mushtaq Soofi, Qazi Javaid and Iqbal Qaiser, was moderated by Nadhra Naeem Khan (LUMS). Both panels discussed how colonial, communal and nationalist biases were present in historiography and considered whether it was possible to have an “objective” representation of historical events or if it was inevitable that history would be distorted to serve the needs of ideological movements.

Picture2The discussion was impassioned, and sometimes combative, but it demonstrated that the conference had successfully inspired participants to reflect deeply on difficult and controversial issues related to Punjabi historiography, linguistic rights and communal divisions (particularly the division between Muslim and Sikh Punjabis over the choice of Shahmukhi or Gurmakhi as the script for Punjabi scholarship).

A recurring question throughout the conference was how Punjabis could preserve and celebrate their shared language, history: and culture, while the territory of the Punjab was divided between two nation-states, and while the community structures of Punjabi diasporas often reproduced these national and communal divisions. It was perhaps fitting that the conference concluded with the launch of Gurmeet Kaur’s book for children, Fascinating Folktales of Punjab, at the Gurmani Foundation in Gulberg. In this beautifully illustrated book, Kaur presents Punjabi folk tales, in side-by-side Shahmukhi and Gurmakhi scripts with an English translation, and also provides a conversion table that can help children learn both scripts. By introducing children to the sights, sounds and tales of pre-partition Punjab in this linguistically pluralistic way, she demonstrated that it was possible for Punjabis to celebrate their shared cultural heritage without losing their distinctive identities.

Tabinda M. Khan is post-doctoral fellow at the Gurmani Centre for Languages and Literature, LUMS.

Courts and Politics in Pakistan

On March 14 and 15, Prof. Mohammad Waseem, Director of the Political Science program in the HSS department, Prof. Martin Lau, Dean SAHSOL and Dr. Asma Faiz, Assistant Professor of Political Science, organized the LUMS annual conference on “Courts and Politics in Pakistan”. This conference was a joint collaboration between SAHSOL and MGSHSS. The two-day event focused on the crucial and controversial relationship between courts and politics in the country in the past and at present.Picture4

The keynote speaker, Senator Raza Rabbani, delineated the major stumbling blocks on the way to harmonious relations between the two institutions. Pro Chancellor, Syed Babar Ali, chaired the inaugural session of the conference. This was followed by seven working sessions that directly addressed the leading issues and interactions between the courts and the parliament, the constitution, Islamization of laws and the evolving complex relations between the Bar and the Bench, the specific case of KPK in the matter of judicialization of politics, as well as the courts’ attitude towards the mass mandate in general.

Picture5Leading scholars in the field participated in the conference from within Pakistan and abroad and shared their scholarly and professional experience in law and social sciences. This conference drew upon the intellectual input of academics, lawyers, justices, media personalities, and the civil society members as speakers, chairpersons and participants. The faculty and students of LUMS as well as other universities turned up in numbers to listen to what turned out to be a high-quality discourse.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and Culture, Economy, and Society in Pakistan

Conference jointly organised by LUMS and the University of Nottingham.

The conference attendees came from Canada, UK, China, Singapore, Denmark, Malaysia, and all over Pakistan. The conference brought together a mosaic of complementary expertise and for three days there was intensive discussion which was theoretically informed and empirically rich examining CPEC at multiple levels— macro, mezzo, and micro, as well as comparatively. It moved the discussion from hyperbole, conjecture, and sensationalism to a more nuanced and critical understanding of this complex project and the multiple ramifications that are implicitly or explicitly connected with it. Also, how similar developments are being played out in other countries, thus giving a yardstick to compare developments in Pakistan.Picture6

The presentations were followed by a half day discussion on how to carry forward this cutting edge research agenda. This multilateral collaboration reflected on developing a large scale comparative project on the BRI, introducing new partners that can make this feasible as well as considering a publication strategy for the various presentations. The next year will see the development of a large scale comparative project and the selection of presentations for publication.

Event report – MGSHSS Invites You to Meet Our Alumni

By Bismah Azhar & Uzair Khawar

“What will I do after I graduate?”
“Which majors get the most employment opportunities?”

“How important is it to have a good GPA?”


These are some of the questions that every undergraduate student asks themselves at some point during their time at LUMS. The best way to get answers would be to reach out to the extensive and invaluable network of LUMS Alumni, who are excellent role models for current students and well placed to offer practical guidance regarding life at LUMS and after graduation.

To facilitate student-alumni engagement, the Mushtaq Ahmed Gurmani School of Humanities and Social Sciences (MGSHSS) organized an Alumni Meet to give current students an opportunity to hear from and interact with a diverse group of alumni, about their experiences at graduate school and in the professional world.

The event was organized at LUMS on May 16, 2018. In attendance were the Dean of MGSHSS, Dr Kamran Asdar Ali, and several faculty members, including Dr Ali Khan, Dr Sadaf Ahmed, and Dr Waqar Zaidi. Dr Sameen Ali served as the moderator for the event. The auditorium was packed with excited and curious students, and the event generated fruitful discussion that students continued to talk about over the rest of semester.

The floor was opened by Mr Adnan Asdar Ali, CEO Multinet, with a discussion on the significance of multi-disciplinary approaches to education. Mr Ali encouraged students to step outside of their comfort zones and take courses from disciplines they were unfamiliar with.

“It’s important that you take the time to know what’s happening next door,” he said, referring to the Syed Babar Ali School of Science and Engineering (SBASSE).

Dr Sameen Ali then requested each of the guests to share insights from their careers, and talk about how their experiences at LUMS facilitated them in the professional world. Ms Sajjad, Batch of 2009, who works as a research consultant in the Cities & Infrastructure Programme at the University of Edinburgh, stressed the importance of critical reading and writing skills. She also shared her experience of choosing Urban Planning as the area of interest for her Senior Year Project and how it eventually led her to pursuing a Masters in the field. Students were encouraged to take up projects in their respective areas of interest for the host of opportunities they could potentially open up.

Ms Saadia Qayyum, Batch of 2010, serves as the Chief Energy Economist in the Government of Punjab, and while talking about her experience of working in various governmental offices, she debunked certain myths surrounding social science majors and employment opportunities. “There’s this widely held notion that MBA holders get paid more than someone with a masters in social sciences, but this is not true, it really depends on your skills and what you bring to the table,” Ms Qayyum clarified.

Students have always dreaded choosing between a career path that offers financial stability and “doing what they love.” “If I’m really passionate about what I do, but I’m afraid it’s not going to make me a lot of money, should I still do it?”

Mr Imran Ahmed Khan, Batch of 2014, who is the head of Player Acquisition & Management at Pakistan Super League, and Mr Hissan ur Rehman, Batch of 2007, who works for the Pakistan Cricket Board, addressed these concerns. Picture2Mr Khan pointed out that the “sweet spot” between your passion and a career that will pay the bills is not as elusive as students might think. “Trust me, you want to be doing something you love, in order to do your best work. That desire will make you more creative and more resourceful and therefore more valuable to your employer.” Mr Hissan ur Rehman added “At the end of the day, it’s all about waking up excited to go to work – if you have that, you know you’re in the right place.” A collective sigh of relief from the students followed.

Mr. Hashim Zaidi, Batch of 2008, who works for Oxfam GB, further enunciated that doing what you love pays off in the long run. He recounted his own experience of quitting his corporate job to work for an NGO. Crediting the range of social sciences courses offered at LUMS for his success, he went on to explain how the skills he acquired in the program allowed him to excel in the development sector. Rather than worrying about the rat-race of the job market, students’ time is better spent honing the skills that MGSHSS equips them with.

When it comes to stories about applying to graduate school, Ms Zahra Zaheer Mirza’s is one of resilience. While working with Adam Smith International and McKinsey & Company, Ms Mirza, Batch of 2013, applied abroad for graduate studies for three successive years and is now on her way to Harvard University on a Fulbright Scholarship. Reflecting on her own experience as a field officer at Adam Smith, where she surveyed 2,500 schools across Punjab, Ms Mirza urged students to invest in studying and engaging in qualitative and quantitative research.

All of the speakers agreed that the academic rigour of LUMS and wide range of extracurricular activities that the university offers played a pivotal role in their personal development, and helped them stand out to employers as well as graduate school admission boards. They recommended that students make the most of what LUMS has to offer by visiting the Academic Writing Lab, being active in student societies, and of course, studying what they love.

Towards the end of the Meet, the floor was opened to questions from students. They raised a wide variety of queries ranging from finding a balance between academic and personal life at LUMS, choosing a major, and applying to grad school.

Many students expressed a desire to have easier access to all the valuable insights and experiences that LUMS Alumni have to offer. While the speakers encouraged students to be more proactive and use forums such as LinkedIn to connect with their seniors, it was also agreed that more Alumni Meets should be organized in the future, perhaps individually for each major. Picture3

This particular event materialized as a result of a discussion on student-alumni relations in Dr Sameen Ali’s Comparative Politics class, a testament to the need for better communication between the student body and the School so that student voices can be heard.

Once the event had concluded, students also had the opportunity to network and chat informally with the guests. About the event, an attendee, Naseer Ahmed, Batch of 2019, said, “I think I learned a lot of new things about life after graduation today. I was very anxious about what I would do with my Politics and Economics degree, and it helps to know that there is a huge network of seniors that we can reach out to for advice.”


Bismah Azhar and Uzair Khawar are students of the batch of 2019. Bismah is a Political Science major and is currently pursuing an independent study project on public attitudes towards violence in Lahore. Uzair is a Politics & Economics major.


Guest Speakers

Adnan Asdar Ali, CEO Multinet

Hissan ur Rehman, Pakistan Cricket Board, BSc (Hons) Social Sciences 2007

Fizzah Sajjad, Research consultant, Cities & Infrastructure Programme, University of Edinburgh, BSc (Hons) Social Sciences 2009

Zahra Zaheer Mirza, Former consultant, McKinsey & Company, BSc (Hons) Economics & Politics 2013

Imran Ahmad Khan, Head of Player Acquisition & Management, PSL, BSc (Hons) Economics & Politics 2014

Saadia Qayyum, Chief Energy Economist, Government of Punjab, BSc (Hons) Economics 2010

Hashim Zaidi, Global Urban Work Lead, Oxfam GB, BSc (Hons) Economics 2008

Remembering Saba Mahmood

Recording of an event held at LUMS to remember the life & work of

Professor Saba Mahmood.

Professor Saba Mahmood (1962-2018) was one of the foremost anthropologists of her generation.

Born in Quetta and raised mostly in Karachi, Mahmood studied at NCA, Lahore before moving to the United States in 1981 to study architecture and urban planning at the University of Washington in Seattle. She subsequently received an MA in architecture and urban planning from the University of Michigan and after practicing as an architect for some years, she went on to get an MA in Political Science from the University of Washington.

In the early 1990s, she joined Stanford University’s Anthropology program as a graduate student. She received her PhD from Stanford University in 1998 and taught at the University of Chicago before joining the University of California at Berkeley as a faculty member in 2004, where she offered her last seminar in fall 2017.  At Berkeley, in addition to the Anthropology Department, Professor Mahmood was affiliated with the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, the Program in Critical Theory and the Institute for South Asia Studies (where she was instrumental in creating the Berkeley Pakistan Studies Initiative, the first of its kind in the United States).

Mahmood held visiting appointments at the American Academy in BerlinCenter for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and Leiden University. She taught at the School of Criticism and Theory at Cornell University, the Venice School of Human Rights, and Institute of Global Law and Policy. She was a co-convener of the Summer Seminar in Experimental Critical Theory at the University of California Humanities Research Institute, Irvine. Mahmood served on the editorial boards of Representations,[5] Anthropology TodayL’HommeComparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, and Journal of the American Academy of Religion.[6]

Her book Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject received the 2005 Victoria Schuck Award from the American Political Science Association and was an honorable mention for the 2005 Albert Hourani Book Award from the Middle East Studies Association. Her second single authored book, Religious Difference in a Secular Age: A Minority Report received the 2016 Clifford Geertz Prize in the Anthropology of Religion from the Society for the Anthropology of Religion. Her work has been translated into Arabic, French, Persian, Portuguese, Spanish, Turkish, and Polish.

Saba Mahmood was a visiting scholar at LUMS in March 2016, while here she gave a two-day seminar to faculty and students. She had planned to return to Pakistan later that year to start her new research project in her native land. She passed away on March 10, 2018 after bravely struggling against a malignancy for the past two years.

A full obituary can be read here.

Kamran Asdar Ali