About the Project

Conserving the Archives of Progressive Pakistan
Planning Grant

This project is part of an ongoing effort to conserve the material legacies of Pakistan's progressive movements through inventory and documentation of print, audio, and video items housed at the South Asia Resource and Research Center (SARRC) in Islamabad. The archive at the SARRC was established by Muhammad Salim Khawaja, who worked to conceal important documents pertaining to the progressive movement during periods of state repression.

The collection includes court cases against democratic activists, journals, pamphlets of collectives opposing military rule, oral history interviews of feminists and agrarian activists, and social justice documentaries on minority Christians. It also includes folk literature in vernaculars like Punjabi and Sindhi by artists challenging the dominance of the national Urdu language.

The ongoing censorship of progressive movements in Pakistan as well as their histories has endangered this collection and makes preservation of its materials all the more urgent. The SARRC is regarded as a crucial resource by scholars, organizations, and artists involved in progressive history and politics in Pakistan. Their unique archive, while historically important, contains vulnerable items regarding political dissent in Pakistan, including personal papers of historic figures labelled as traitors due to their peaceful opposition to military rule-- such materials are difficult to store in state archives.

Providing access to these materials will allow for more visibility to communities and ethnic nationalities that have been repeatedly repressed or unacknowledged in national rhetoric and history. The records in the SARRC archive provide insight into a wide variety of narratives, including those with contention towards the centralizing state and those of religious minorities in a disposition of socio-political exclusion.

Project Leads

  • Mahvish Ahmad, London School of Economics and Political Science (UK)
  • Muhammad Salim Khawaja, South Asia Resource and Research Center (Pakistan)

Host Institution

London School of Economics and Political Science (UK)

More Information

Explore the Collection

  • Explore the South Asian Research & Resource Center(opens in a new tab), an archive of documents and other materials preserving Pakistan’s progressive political history. The website includes a searchable database with item level data about every item in the collection, totalling 45,668 items. The full index (opens in a new tab)is also available for exploration and use as an excel file.
  • Consider SARRC's unique and most endangered sub collections (download). In close consultation with Founder and Custodian, Muhammad Salim Khawaja, the SARRC team has identified 2,345 items in its collection, which we believe constitute SARRC’s most unique and endangered materials. Most of the identified material consists of key magazines and journals published by various pre- and post Partition progressive intellectuals, editors, authors, writers, literary figures and movements in what constitutes Pakistan today. The remaining items consist of miscellaneous, loose documents that have been organized in boxes. These include rare documents which – because they are of social movements, progressive figures, and political opposition – are simply unavailable in public archives and – when government documents – extremely difficult to access in state ones. Noteable examples include:
    • Viewpoint Founded by Mazhar Ali Khan (1917.’93), socialist intellectual, veteran journalist, and former editor of the Pakistan Times (1947-’96). Also father of the UK-based left intellectual, Tariq Ali.
    • [pakistan forum] Founded by left-wing scholar Feroz Ahmed; included political scientist, anti-war activist Eqbal Ahmad and Marxist philosopher and literary theorist Aijaz Ahmad.
    • [zanjeer] Founded by Hassan Nisar (1951-present), a prominent TV anchor still active today. Magazine published articles in support of Pakistan People’s Party.
    • Pakistan Mazdoor Kisan Party The Maoist Workers and Peasants Party espoused indigenous, anti-caste, Maoist politics in southern Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. One box contains miscellaneous documents, including the MKP Circular, the party organ of the party.
    • Biography of Masud Khadar Posh (1916-1985) The unpublished biography of Masud Khadar Posh, a progressive member of the movement for Pakistan and later a civil servant who played a key role in agricultural reforms within Pakistan. He was known for always wearing khadar posh, cotton cloth, specifically a simple local cotton cloth.
    • Political Posters, miscellaneous This box includes various political posters, including of anti-war movements within Pakistan against the Vietnam War, and a series of powers protesting the banning of student unions in Pakistan by the second military regime of Zia ul Haq.

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