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Pakistan Deaths
Pakistan Cases

December 2002. Vajpayee’s Lahore visit and the Kargil war had happened just three years ago. The Agra Summit was the year before, and India and Pakistan had ended a six-month long military standoff just that summer.

The South and Southeast Asia Meeting of the Econometrics Society was being held in Lahore at LUMS, and among the attendees were Professor Kaushik Basu – a celebrated Cornell Economist who would go on to become Chief Economist first of India and then the World Bank – and his Delhi University protégé, Professor Deb Kusum Das.

On the sidelines of the conference, the student organisers drove these two Indian Professors around Lahore’s tourist spots and the two returned to India reflecting on this hospitality and wanting to improve student linkages between the two countries.

Over the next year, Deb Kusum - DKD to his friends – worked with Professor Basu and a group of students at Delhi University’s Ramjas College to put together the inaugural South Asian Economics Students Meet (SAESM) for students from across the region.

It was thus that I found myself sitting on a chilly January morning in 2004 at the train platform in Attari, having crossed over on the Samjhauta Express with nine other Economics students. The train to Delhi was much delayed, so I sat there thinking about the event ahead.

I had spent the last few months writing a paper for the Meet with the quiet ambition of winning the Best Paper award. As I boarded the train to Delhi late that afternoon though, the real goal was clear: I had to beat Indians in a competition.

I don’t remember much of the journey, but I will never forget the moment our train slowed to a stop on a cold Delhi platform late that night.

The silence was suddenly pierced by the roar of a crowd, and I peered out nervously, half expecting a lynch mob. Instead, standing there to receive us with his trademark toothy smile was a beaming DKD, with what seemed like half of Ramjas College assembled to receive us. They embraced us like old friends, and whisked us away to start a trip that I remember not for the economics, but for the kindness and hospitality of DKD and his Indian students.

DKD was a simple and honest man who was uncomfortable in the limelight. Yet he was fiercely ambitious and protective of SAESM. Over the next decade, he worked with a group of committed faculty to host the conference in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan, never earning a dime for his efforts.

He dreamed of hosting the event in Kabul, and taking it beyond South Asia to Central Asia, the Middle East, and East Asia. Even as tensions between South Asian Countries – especially India and Pakistan – rose, he imagined a world where he could have breakfast in Kabul, lunch in Lahore, and dinner in New Delhi.

Every year, SAESM has struggled to get visas and travel clearances issued.

We have received visas one hour before our flights, had to transit through Turkey, Singapore and the Middle East to make what should have been a two hour hop between capitals, and been harassed by rival intelligence agencies. We have also been hosted by heads of state, and supported by Nobel laureates, foreign ministry personnel working for peace, multilateral agencies, businesses, and the media across South Asia.

In recent years, DKD was often worried. Worried in a big way about the rise of hyper-nationalists in the region whose idea of making their country stronger involved making their neighbors weaker, but also worried about prosaic matters: how would SAESM be institutionalised? How would it function after he retired? Were people as committed to his ideals as he was?

Professor Deb Kusum Das had a sudden heart attack and passed away last week.

South Asia continues to deny itself a conservatively estimated $44 billion per year in economic gain from trade within the region, sacrificed to border restrictions. And I can’t make what should be a six-hour drive to New Delhi to grieve with colleagues and console the young children of my friend at his funeral.

In the darkest hours – and the idea of South Asia has had many – DKD taught me to always look for the green shoots of recovery. In nearly twenty years of SAESM, we have always managed to put the conference together each year. We now have thousands of alumni – students who have experienced the magic of South Asian cooperation.

We have natural allies to regional cooperation in South Asian academics abroad, who are both more numerous and reaching greater heights in the World’s top universities than ever. And we will always have the memory of DKD, the man who taught so many of us to see humanity beyond borders, to give of yourself to your students without regard for caste or creed, and to always hope for peace in South Asia.

The article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Recorder or its owners

Dr Ali Hasanain

Dr Ali Hasanain is the Head of the Department of Economics at LUMS


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3 Comment(s)
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Dr. Farukh Dec 28, 2021 07:40pm
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Gurbachan Singh Dec 29, 2021 07:14am
So good to see this. Thank you
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Imran Mahmood Dec 31, 2021 02:21pm
We need more articles like this.Too much negativity in our relationship. Good work Dr Sb
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