Thursday, 31 December 2015

How trade with India helped Lollywood

by Asad Sayeed and Kabeer Dawani

The evolution of the Pakistani cinema
Movies released in 2004 [top], 2013 [bottom left] and 2015 [bottom right]
Photo credit: Wikipedia

In 2015, the cinema industry in Pakistan is doing better business than at any point in the last 30 years. This exciting revival of cinema in Pakistan serves as a case in point of the manner in which allowing the import of an Indian product that has cultural and linguistic affinity with most Pakistanis has led to a reversal in the fortunes of that sector.

Pakistani cinema industry was in steady decline for the last three decades. In the early 1980s, there were over 100 feature films being produced annually and were exhibited in over 1200 cinemas all over Pakistan.[1] By 2006, the number of cinemas had fallen into the double-digits and in 2003, not a single Urdu film was released in the country.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

The price of political Islam

by Ayesha Khan

RAWA's rally against Taliban in Peshawar, 1998
Photo credit: Wikipedia/RAWA

Why does it come as no surprise to us in Pakistan that Tashfeen Malik spent significant time in Saudi Arabia and was a student at al-Huda in Multan? Because we already know that violent extremism in the name of Islam has been fostered in our country through external funding and religious education emanating from these sources, much as they care to deny this on the international stage. So what are we, ordinary men and women whose lives have been changed by this phenomenon to varying degrees in Muslim countries over the last few decades, doing to stop it?

Friday, 4 December 2015

Politics and social change

by Haris Gazdar

Pakistan's youngest political prisoner: 4 year old MRD activist Fraz Wahlah, 1985
Photo credit: Wikipedia

Last Saturday, I spoke at a panel discussion - “Pakistan: fossilized or quietly transforming” at the 2015 Khayaal Festival. Dr. Ali Cheema who teaches economics at the LUMS and conducts research at the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives (IDEAS) and the Centre for Economic Research in Pakistan (CERP) moderated the discussion. I was privileged to share the panel with the distinguished demographer and social scientist Dr Zeba Sathar who heads the Pakistan country office of the Population Council in Pakistan and does pathbreaking work on fertility and demographic trends.

Has Pakistan changed, or is it caught in a rut? Ali Cheema introduced this question using the work of two commentators on Pakistan, William Easterly and Anatol Lieven. Easterly wonders why Pakistan lags behind in so many social indicators of education, health, and women’s empowerment despite having a relatively educated and sophisticated elite, and having produced many individuals who excel in the professions globally. Lieven characterizes Pakistan as being “governed by the traditions of overriding loyalty to family, clan and religion... a highly conservative, archaic... inert mass of different societies".

Monday, 16 November 2015

How old are you?

by Azmat Budhani and Hussain Bux Mallah

The first National Identity Card issued in Pakistan

Many of us field researchers have had frustrating and at times amusing experiences probing respondents’ ages. For most types of household surveys we need to fill out a family roster which includes an age column where we record the age of each household member. Recording this data is not an easy job because a respondent is often unaware of his or her own precise age, let alone the ages of other household members. This shows up as discrepancies in the data. An adult son, for instance, might have been noted as 25 years and his mother’s age will be recorded as 35, implying that the mother gave birth to her son when she was 10 years old. Clustering of ages around multiples of five years has been reported across surveys in Pakistan and other countries with similar conditions. Although researchers have many tricks to get to the year of birth within certain margins of error, accurate recording of the actual date of birth remains a challenge.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Quality Measures

by Sidra Mazhar

Photo Credit: Collective for Social Science Research 

Stunting and wasting, which measure respectively, height-for-age and weight-for-height shortfalls among children are well-established indicators of nutritional status of a population. These statistics, part of a branch of measurement known as anthropometrics (literally, the measurement of people), are widely used to reflect on progress and direct policies. We know, for example, that the rates of stunting and wasting in Pakistan are recognized as being above UNICEF’s emergency threshold levels. While there have been many debates about what these statistics signify and how they might improve, how we actually arrive at the numbers is often taken for granted.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Can social protection programmes lead to greater economic agency for women in agriculture?

by Amna Akhtar

Photo credit: Magnus Wolfe-Murra/DFID/Flickr

Even though women in rural areas in Pakistan take part in a wide range of agricultural activities, the work they do, often arduous and labor-intensive, is not recognized as their individual contribution to the household economy. There exist strong gendered norms around the kinds of work that can be considered paid work for women in agriculture and except for some - such as cotton harvesting and livestock rearing-income from most kinds of work are attributed to the household as a whole. This, we found, while researching linkages between women's work in agriculture and the nutrition outcomes. This is important because we found a clear connection between the recognition or even acknowledgement of women’s economic contribution and their ability to make pro-nutrition consumption decisions. Interestingly, income from the national cash transfer programme (Benazir Income Support Programme or BISP) whose beneficiaries are women in poor households was seen across the board as the woman’s own. If the design of social protection programmes can enhance the visibility of women as autonomous economic agents they may even lead to greater recognition of women’s work in agriculture. This is one of the questions we hope to address in our research on mitigating the negative and leveraging the positive impacts of women’s agricultural work on nutrition.

This blog originally appeared on LANSA

Monday, 5 October 2015

Making value chains work for little children

by Samar Zuberi

Photo Credit: Wikipedia/Scanned from 1000 Fragen an die Natur, via The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1948.

In Pakistan, 44 per cent of children under the age of five are stunted while 15 per cent are wasted and 32 per cent are underweight (NNS, 2011). These statistics indicate that malnutrition is a serious problem in Pakistan - according to World Health Organisation classifications Pakistan falls in the ‘very high’ range for severity of malnutrition for all three figures. The occurrence of micronutrient deficiency is also alarmingly high with half of the population of children under 5 suffering from anaemia and vitamin A deficiency, while 39 per cent are deficient in zinc (NNS, 2011).

Despite the high proportion of the population that is involved in agriculture (45 per cent of the workforce) many rely on the market to purchase their food. Seventy-seven per cent of households are net buyers of wheat, the main food staple in the country. Good nutrition, however, is not just about having enough bread to fill your belly. It is about having a varied and nutritious diet with adequate levels of protein and micronutrients. And for nutritious foods the reliance on markets is even greater than it is for the main staples, in urban and rural areas alike. Understanding how markets can work better to deliver nutritious foods to the poor and undernourished, therefore, can help to improve diets and in turn nutrition.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Milk and money

by Hussain Bux Mallah and Haris Gazdar

Photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann/Flickr

The livestock sector plays an important role in the economy of Pakistan contributing 10.8 per cent of the GDP, with milk as the largest commodity, accounting for about 51 per cent of its total value. According to household surveys such as the Federal Bureau of Statistic’s Household Integrated Economic Survey or HIES, milk and milk products account for a quarter of total household consumption. Typically, surveys such as HIES ask respondents to recall the total amount of a commodity consumed by the household in a reference period. If that commodity has not been bought then its value is imputed by applying local market prices to the amount consumed, before reporting it as part of the household budget. So the economic value of milk is measured using the yardstick of a market transaction.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Women’s work and wages

by Haris Gazdar
Photo Credit: Collective for Social Science Research

While researching the linkages between women’s work in agriculture and nutrition outcomes in Pakistan, for Leveraging Agriculture for Nutrition in South Asia (LANSA), we came across an instructive puzzle. A big segment of the workforce is ruled out from participating in a particularly labour-intensive activity. The harvesting of cotton, an important cash crop, generates a great deal of seasonal employment in the rural economy but the work is almost entirely carried out by women who might remain employed on a non-stop basis for up to four months. Women and men, labourers and employers, all concur that it is women’s work, and a man stands to lose respect and status if he takes part in it.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

The chingchi's tryst with Karachi

By Kabeer Dawani

Qingqi by Carol Mitchell/Flickr

With at least 16 million people, Karachi is the largest city in Pakistan, and one of the largest in the world. Yet, it does not have a mass transit system to serve the transport needs of its residents (except motorbikes of course!). The most recent form of mass transit that was present was the Karachi Circular Railway, which was shut down in 1999. Since then, several new schemes to increase buses have failed, with the result that the total number of buses and minibuses has stayed roughly constant over the last 15 years. But with a growing population, the demand for public transport has only increased.

Friday, 31 July 2015

Hospitality: the City vs. the Village

by Ayesha Tarek
Photo credit: Eric Lafforgue/Flickr

In January of this year I was in rural Punjab conducting fieldwork on a study called Women’s Work in Agriculture and Nutrition, prior to that I was interviewing adolescents and their families in lower income areas of Karachi for a study called Being an Adolescent in Karachi. As a surveyor I was introduced to interview respondents by a local resource person in both settings and although my position as a researcher was the same in both sites I noticed a stark difference in how people treated strangers between the two sites.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Faced with hunger: durable households or resilient networks of women?

 by Ayesha Mysorewala  

A mother feeds her children - field site in Dadu, rural Pakistan. Credit: Collective for Social Science Research
A collaborative study between the Collective for Social Science Research, IDS and Oxfam on food price volatility and its impact on the poorest, has highlighted the importance of social networks and the role of women in particular in tackling and managing hunger in times of crisis.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Mother Karachi and the Mother

by Hussain Bux Mallah

Rent Me by Benny Lin/Flickr

Karachi is often called the mother of the poor and the indigent – she will feed and nurture those that reach her. Upon entering the city you are welcomed by billboards announcing ‘To Let’ almost inviting you to come and stay. Though it is quite another matter that you can’t find any public toilets in case of need!

I met Jumman first in 2012 when our team interviewed him as part of a longitudinal study on food security. He reminisced fondly about the time when mother Karachi had been kind to him. He had arrived a few years before, got a job through a relative, got married and regularly sent money home to his wife and his natural mother in their village in Shaheed Benazirabad. But then his fortune turned,

Monday, 15 June 2015

The Government’s Obligation to Uphold the Right to Maternal Health

by Sara Malkani

Photo credit: Patient with nurse at Koohi Goth Women's Hospital/ Dr. Sarwan

WHO estimates the rate of maternal mortality in Pakistan at 170 per 100,000 lives births. In developed countries the figure is around 11 per 100,000.

The high rates of maternal mortality and morbidity in Pakistan are not simply a reflection of inadequate resources or poverty, or lack of priorities on the part of the government. They also constitute violations of the fundamental right to health guaranteed under the Constitution of Pakistan. The right to health does not mean that everyone has a right to be healthy. Nor does it mean that the state is responsible for every death or injury. Instead, the right to health means that governments must generate conditions in which everyone can be as healthy as possible.[1]

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

The Developmental Role of the Central Bank

by Asad Sayeed

Photo credit: insignificantnobody/flickr

‘States vs. Markets’ was the buzzword for many of us studying economics or politics in the 1980s and 1990s. As the wall collapsed in Berlin – signaling the end of the cold war – the (false) triumphalism of markets was trumpeted. In time, the academic debate also shifted from this simple binary to give way to more heterodox ways of framing issues relevant to policy and social change.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Engaging Disciplines

by Haris Gazdar

This blog is an excerpt from a talk given at the meeting of the American Institute of Pakistan Studies on 4 April 2015 at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

I wish to speak about two aspects of conducting applied social science research on the city by reflecting on some work on Karachi that I have been involved with in the last few years, hopefully as a way of thinking about the broader question of engagement in the production of knowledge.  Of the two things I want to speak about the first is methodological.  I will show, through illustration, the value of working across disciplines on urban themes. The second is political, about how actions and actors would like to make use of knowledge and knowledge producers, and how this is both energizing and frustrating. 

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Bringing real change for women

by Ayesha Khan

February 12, 1983, protesters being attacked by the police at the famous WAF demonstration in Lahore. Photo credit: Rahat Ali Dar

These thoughts were recently part of a talk I gave at IBA to a class of undergraduate Social Science students on issues in women and development.

The 1995 World Conference on Women held in Beijing, recognized that women’s empowerment was a social justice issue, valuable in its own right and not primarily a tool to further the goals of development. Feminists from around the world had been lobbying for years within the UN, their own governments and with other international organizations, to have their language of social transformation, the goal of feminism, adopted by the Conference.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Roma left us!

by Hussain Bux Mallah

Many ethnographers believe that a critical analysis of one’s own position in society and with respect to one’s research subjects is a good place to start work. My work at the Collective on social exclusion and marginalization spurred me to examine my own family’s narrative about its past and its position in the hierarchy of occupational and kinship groups in its surroundings.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Hamza Alavi can lead you out of crisis

by Hassan Zaib Abbasi

Hamza Alavi (1921 - 2003) Photo Credit:

Commentators in electronic and print media churn out analysis after analysis: dissecting events, building their theses, and offering speculative explanations of political happenings. One need only catch a glimpse of a television channel and it becomes clear that Pakistan is in crisis. Not because the state faces imminent danger of collapse but because of the frequency of seemingly unexplainable events whose true meaning always remains just slightly out of grasp despite, or perhaps because of, the efforts of numerous “analysts”.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Enumerating success: designing the Benazir Income Support Programme

by Azmat Budhani

Benazir Bhutto, clipboard and pen

Copyright: Dawn archive; Source:

The appointment of the energetic Marvi Memon as Chairperson has signalled a welcome revival of interest in the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) at the highest levels of government.  BISP was partly an upshot of the slogan “Benazir aaygee rozgar laaygee” (Benazir is coming, she will bring employment) in the election manifesto of Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP).  The cash transfer programme was introduced in 2008 when the PPP and Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) were in coalition, to help families cope with a sharp hike in food prices.  It later became a flagship social protection programme and was enacted into law with unanimous cross-party support in both houses of parliament.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Research (uptake) – so what?

by Samar Zuberi

'Come and have a BCG vaccine' poster

So what exactly is research uptake? 
Individuals and organisations conducting research in the social sciences are increasingly being called upon to ensure that there is uptake of their work. I recently spent a week with 150 professionals from across the globe discussing the concept of research uptake. I came away with the realisation that there is no accepted definition of the term and in fact disagreement over whether it should be used at all, however there is consensus amongst many that the idea behind research uptake is the right one - researchers should leave their ivory towers and demonstrate how their work positively affects society.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Rights beyond property: The Boohars of Rohi

by Natasha Ansari

Natasha Ansari/Collective for Social Science Research

While issues concerning the ownership of land have been the subject of political debate and policy dialogue, much less attention has been paid to the rights of land use which may not necessarily be connected to ownership. For many of the most marginalized communities the right to use land which they may not own is a critical element of their economic and social well-being which is under threat.  I saw this at close quarters in the Rohi region of southern Punjab which I visited as part of the Collective team conducting fieldwork for a study under the research programme Leveraging Agriculture for Nutrition in South Asia (LANSA) on women’s work in agriculture.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

DNA and the Pursuit of Justice

by Ayesha Khan

The press recently reported that the Senate Standing Committee on Law and Justice has approved amendments in the country’s anti-rape laws. If they are passed, DNA profiling will be admitted as crucial evidence during investigation into rape cases. Also it was proposed that medical examination in cases of rape take place only in government-run hospitals and character assassination of victims during the trial be barred.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

The Taliban in FATA: Resistance Fighters or Political Entrepreneurs?

by Yasser Kureshi

Tari Sar observation post before mortar attack on Shigal Tarna garrison, Kunar, 1987 by

Pakistani society finds itself in a moment of deep self-reflection today, as it confronts the horrors of the attack on the children at the Army Public School in Peshawar. State and society are both trying   to grapple with the reality that the people responsible for this attack emerged from within Pakistani society. The infrastructure for recruiting, training and mobilizing the militants behind this attack lies within Pakistan’s borders. The public gaze has thus fallen upon Pakistan’s tribal belt on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan where Jihadi militant organizations, such as the Taliban, have deeply entrenched themselves, driving out many of the traditional tribal leaders, and establishing autonomous principalities. Understanding how Pakistan’s tribal belt has become such a hotbed of sustained militant activity has now become a subject of national and international concern.