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Progressive politics in Pakistan: Q+A with Atiya Khan

Atiya Khan, SAI’s Aman Fellow for the 2014 fall semester, is a historian of Modern South Asia and through her research, aims to recover the untold story of progressive politics in Pakistan.

Khan will lead a seminar at Harvard on Friday, Nov. 7, titled ‘Dictatorship and Development: The Dilemma of the Left in Pakistan, 1950s-1960s.’

SAI recently talked to Khan about her research on Pakistan’s Leftist movement, how the Left has failed internationally, and why Pakistan seems to “always be in some kind of crisis.”

SAI: What compelled you to study Pakistani politics from a historical perspective?

Atiya Khan:  Growing up in Pakistan, it was frustrating that basic civil liberties were curtailed. As a young adult, I often wondered: Why was Pakistan always in some kind of crisis? How could one account for the difficulties of democracy in Pakistan? How might we ground our understanding of these difficulties through an investigation of the past?

These were the questions that compelled me to study Pakistan. While historians and political scientists have provided accounts for the crisis of democracy in Pakistan, they tend to emphasize the role of the military-bureaucracy nexus that was inherited by the British and how this inheritance impeded the growth of democratic institutions. I adopted a different approach by examining the failure of democracy in Pakistan from the standpoint of the failure of the Left.

It was the Left, after all, that took upon itself the task of vitalizing democracy in Pakistan. Various left-wing figures and organizations staked a claim to that political responsibility. In a certain sense, taking their claim seriously is the point of departure for my interpretation of Pakistan’s history.

In my work, I trace the failure of the democratic Left since the inception of Pakistan in 1947 through the collapse of leftist politics in the wake of the Bangladesh War of 1971. What this history uncovers is the way in which the Left student and labor movements in Pakistan balked at forming a democratic government when the opportunity presented itself. Instead, various leftist groups lent organizational support to their opponents and helped them attain political objectives that were opposed to their own.  The disorientation and unwitting self-betrayals of the Left during this period complicate the question of what “the Left” actually is, and what it stood for, in the first place.

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    Exploring a city’s narrative

    By Abhishek Rahman, MDiv Candidate, Harvard Divinity School

    Mehta speaks to the crowd at the Graduate School of Design

    Suketu Mehta, a journalist and fiction writer, visited Harvard University last week to deliver three lectures to sold-out audiences at the Graduate School of Design, all on the topic of ‘The Secret Life of Cities.’ Mehta’s lectures were part of SAI’s Urbanization Lecture Series that brings renowned academics whose work explores the contours of urban life in South Asia to Harvard. The lectures were cosponsored by the Graduate School of Design.

    Mehta is an Associate Professor at the Arthur Carter Journalism Institute at New York University and a 2005 Pulitzer Prize finalist for his book, Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found. Rahul Mehrotra, Professor of Urban Design and Planning and Chair of the Department of Urban Planning and Design, introduced Mehta to the crowd as someone who is known to live in the cities about which he writes, often weaving his personal narratives within the histories of the cities that serve as his subjects.

    In his first lecture on Oct. 21 titled ‘Migration: Storytelling the City,’ Mehta discussed the various reasons migrants gravitate to cities and how spatial dislocations in the cities compel a recollection of memories.

    “The story of my family’s journey from the village to the city began a little over a hundred years ago, first to Calcutta and then to Kenya,” Mehta said. “Recollection became the antidote to alienation amidst our various migrations. Therefore, I don’t have the luxury of that French existential angst. I have a large extended family and we bicker and fight.”

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      The Future of India’s Space Mission: Mars and Beyond

      By Jaganath Sankaran

      Jaganath Sankaran is a postdoctoral research associate at the National Security Education Center at Los Alamos National Laboratories. Sankaran wrote his doctoral dissertation at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy on the topic of space security. Part of this opinion piece has been adapted from the author’s article titled: “Space Cooperation: A Vital New Front for India-U.S. Relations” published in Space News. The opinions expressed in the article are solely the author’s do not represent the positions of any organization.

      Sankaran spoke at a SAI seminar last February: China-India Space Race: Rhetoric or Reality? 

      India’s Mars probe, Mangalyaan, was successfully placed on an orbit around the red planet on the 24th of September, 2014. The event has sparked an outpouring of nationalistic pride in India in response to the scientific achievement. The positive reaction is richly deserved by India’s Space Research Organization. Placing a research satellite around Mars is, indeed, a difficult task.

      A number of missions by other advanced scientific nations have failed in the past. In 1998, for example, Japan failed to place its Nozomi spacecraft on a Mars Orbit due to a malfunctioning valve that led to propellant leakage. More recently, in 2011, Russian Phobos-Grunt and Chinese Mars orbiter Yinghuo-1 failed due to problems with the launch vehicle. Since 1998, the U.S. has attempted ten missions to Mars of which three failed. Similarly, since 1998, the European Space Agency has managed to place only one of its Mars orbiters out of two attempts.

      All of this data points to the significance of the India’s achievement. A number of things could have gone wrong in a Martian mission. India’s Space Research Organization—to its credit—managed to anticipate and avoid such pitfalls in its first Mars mission.

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        HarvardX course closes in on global view

        This article originally appeared in the Harvard Gazette

        By Jennifer Doody, Harvard Correspondent

        Photo courtesy of the Harvard Gazette / Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer

        For Tarun Khanna, the Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor at Harvard Business School and director of the South Asia Institute, aspiring entrepreneurs could learn a lot from the Kumbh Mela.

        Held every 12 years, the Hindu pilgrimage attracts 120 million people over a 45-day period, the equivalent of about one-third of the U.S. population. Even more astonishing, Khanna said, the “tiny city” that hosts the event “doesn’t even exist until the river recedes,” revealing the land that will welcome and host millions of Hindus and visitors. It is considered the world’s largest “pop-up city.”

        Speaking before a crowd of 75 people at the Harvard Allston Education Portal(Ed Portal), Khanna’s lecture explored the benefits of interdisciplinary problem-solving of complex health problems on an international scale, based on his HarvardX course “Entrepreneurship and Healthcare in Emerging Economies,” launching on Oct. 30.

        That enormous scale points out “what being an entrepreneur is all about,” he said. “When you begin to think about solving problems, you need an entirely different approach. You need to think on a much larger scale.”

        A global world view, Khanna said, opens up whole new ways to approach problems — if the entrepreneur has the vision to recognize them. He suggested that maintaining the broad view, while focusing on specific actions, was essential to approaching the problem. In developing countries, often, whole systems need to be created to achieve the broad vision.

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          Nov. 5 Nurturing Young Innovators to Lead Change in Nepal

          The Committee on South Asian Relations presents:

          Nurturing Young Innovators to Lead Change in Nepal


          Pukar MallaSenior Research Fellow, Harvard Kennedy School

          Youth have demographic majority in Nepal.  Innovation and collaboration are innate to youth DNA. Nepal’s history points to the need for a mindset change in its citizenry, from passive acceptance to active participation, from dependency to collaboration, and from desperation to innovation.  A new breed of young leaders can come together and turn challenges into opportunities to create innovative solutions that enable such positive change.

          Dr. Pukar Malla (MPA 2011), Founder and Executive Director of Nepal Ko Yuwa (NKY, translated as ‘Youth of Nepal’) and Senior Research Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, will focus his talk on the possibilities of building a new Nepal by leveraging the collective talent, passion and energy of local and global Nepali youth.  He will draw on the current governance and enterprise initiatives of NKY and his leadership research at Harvard with Professor Marshall Ganz and Professor Ronald Heifetz.

          Wednesday, Nov. 5, 6pm-7pm
          Harvard Kennedy School, Littauer-332

            Events with Photojournalist Pablo Bartholomew, Nov. 4-5

            Join SAI for 2 events on Nov. 4 and 5, and photo exhibition, with Indian photojournalist Pablo Bartholomew, who will be at Harvard as part of SAI’s Arts Initiative, which connects with artists who use art as a medium to communicate intractable social issues that impact South Asia.

            In early 1983, Pablo Bartholomew, then in his late twenties, went on assignment for Time to cover the terrible Nellie massacre in Assam, which was one of the worst ethnic clashes between the tribal people and alleged settlers from Bangladesh. Since then he has returned frequently to this region. From 1989 he traveled through the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, and Manipur that border upper Burma (Myanmar).

            His journeys through the deepest recesses of the region’s terrain were not spurred by wanderlust or sheer curiosity. They were, simply, and yet, profoundly, part of his quest to understand the diversity of the people who inhabit the hills and valleys whose histories were so vastly differently from the Indian mainland, and a gesture of appreciation, particularly to the Naga hill tribes whose generosity his father, Richard Bartholomew, had experienced first-hand when, as a young boy, he had to trek with his family of Burmese refugees into India. Bartholomew’s intimate engagement with the Northeast continued for ten years, despite his frenetic career as a photojournalist.

            Coded Elegance constitutes a mere fragment of Bartholomew’s extensive visual anthropological documentation of the various tribes and people residing in the low Himalayan hills and valleys of Northeast India — a people whose lives are marked by tradition and transition. The series, an off shoot of Marked with Beauty, his 2000 exhibition of rich, color photographs of the many Naga tribes, is influenced by his own collection of portraits of the Darjeeling hill tribes by Johnston and Hoffman, and Irving Penn’s body of work in Papua New Guinea.

            It explores his journey and interaction with tribes in Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, and Nagaland — diverse communities with myriad different languages and dialects — as well as the people inhabiting the valleys in that region. The preservation of their traditional cultures articulated through their dress, rituals, and rites of passage, forms the overarching subject of Coded Elegance.

            “This spectacular coded sense of dress, which incorporates self-woven fabric, headdresses adorned with animal parts, jewelry made from beads, brass, and silver ornaments, markings on the body and face tattoos, is a function of their traditions and it often makes contemporary fashion seem banal, flippant, and pedestrian,” says Bartholomew.

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              SAI Research Affiliates, 2014-2015

              The SAI Research Affiliates Program supports researchers and faculty each year at Harvard whose area of interest is South Asia.  Research Affiliates contribute to the academic study of South Asia on campus by bringing their expertise on a wide range of issues to the University.

              Research Affiliates, 2014-2015:


              Fauzia E. Ahmed, Assistant Professor, Sociology and Women’s Studies,Miami University of Ohio

              Fauzia E. Ahmed has worked with development programs and policies for low-income families in a variety of countries, including the United States. Early community-based experiences with the African American population, in health and education, enhanced her subsequent work with Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in India, Indonesia, Thailand, and her native Bangladesh. Her research interests include masculinity and microcredit, gender, globalization, and Islam, and informal justice systems.
              Her current research focuses on the garment industry in Bangladesh. After the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in 2013, which killed over 1,100 workers in April 2013, Dr. Ahmed returned to Bangladesh to conduct a pilot study. As a SAI Research Affiliate, she will investigate how intersections of gender and globalization impact governance and workers’ well-being in the garment industry in various countries in South Asia.


              Gabrielle Kruks-Wisner, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Boston College

              Gabrielle Kruks-Wisner joined Boston College’s Political Science Department in 2013. Prior to joining BC, Gabrielle was an Academy Scholar at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies at Harvard University. She earned her doctorate in Political Science and a Masters in International Development Planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a B.A. in Sociology and Anthropology from Swarthmore College.

              Gabrielle’s interests lie in comparative politics and the political economy of development. Her research focuses on issues of political participation, local governance, and social welfare in developing countries, with an emphasis on South Asian and Indian politics. Her current book manuscript, Claiming the State: Citizens’ Mobility & Demand for Public Services in Rural India, asks whether and how marginalized citizens of the world’s largest democracy make claims on the state for essential public services. In so doing, the book explores variation in local citizen-state relations and patterns of participation and representation. Other, related research examines the evolution of grassroots politics in rural India, exploring the shifting nature of democratic and citizenship practices in the face of political, institutional, and economic change. Gabrielle’s research has been supported by the Fulbright Program, the National Science Foundation, and the Boren Fellowship.Gabrielle teaches courses on Indian politics; comparative politics of development; state-society relations; and grassroots politics.


              Hasna MoududVisiting Fellow, Ash Center, Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University, 2012-2014

              Moudud is currently a Visiting Fellow at the Ash Center at Harvard Kennedy School, and was previously a fellow at the Harvard Asia Center. Moudud served as an Elected Member of Parliament in Bangladesh from 1987 to 1989. An advocate of environmental issues, Moudud created a committee of non-partisan parliamentarians representing coastal constituencies working to highlight the tough problems of coastal ecosystems in Bangladesh. As Chairman of a special parliamentary committee on coastal area and environment, she submitted guidelines for a Master Action Plan for saving the fragile coastal ecosystems and marine environment leading to an improvement of the quality of life of the people of coastal areas. She has been campaigning for the regional acceptance and implementation of environmental standards modelled on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. She spearheaded efforts both within the parliament and among the public to promote environmental awareness and the involvement of women in environmental issues. She was Vice President of the Global 500 Forum in 1992, a UN environmental program that recognizes and honors environmental and humanitarian achievement.


                Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai win Nobel Peace Prize

                The Harvard South Asia Institute is thrilled to hear the news that Kailash Satyarthi of India and Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2014 for their incredible efforts in improving the lives of children worldwide.

                Kailash Satyarthi has followed in Gandhi’s footsteps in promoting peaceful and nonviolent means to ending the grave exploitation of children and promoting children’s rights. Malala Yousafzai became an international spokesperson for the right of girls to education after being shot by the Taliban.

                “We should, in our own small way as the South Asia Institute, capitalize on the attention towards these important social issues that these Peace Prize awards will generate,” said Tarun Khanna, Director of SAI and Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor, Harvard Business School. ”SAI does a lot of work on gender-related issues, and increasingly on education of children, and it behooves us to redouble those efforts.”


                Jacqueline Bhabha

                SAI spoke with Jacqueline Bhabha, FXB Director of Research, Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights at the Harvard School of Public Health, the Jeremiah Smith Jr. Lecturer in Law at Harvard Law School, and an Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, whose own research focuses on human rights, trafficking, and gender in South Asia, on the significance of the awards.

                SAI: What do you think stands out about the work that these two figures have done, that got the attention of the Nobel Peace Prize committee?

                Jacqueline Bhabha: I think what’s really interesting is that on the one hand you have somebody [Satyarthi] who is a mature, seasoned human rights activist, who is well known to people working on child labor, and child exploitation for decades, and has really been in the trenches and has taken enormous personal risk and sacrifices to carry on the work he has done with a range of different strategies: working with trade unions, mentoring children, and using the courts. He has been a tremendously creative and inventive human rights advocate.

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