The ‘Future of Pakistan’ event held on Saturday 4th November has caused a stir among disgruntled students for last minute ticket cancellations, and alleged preferential ticket allocation both for the event, and the keynote speech by the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.
The event was hosted by the Pakistani Development Society and the Pakistan Society in collaboration with LSE Events, and the LSE South Asia Centre, and was the forum for the announcement of the new Jinnah Chair in the LSE South Asia Centre, to be funded by the Pakistani government. It was “the first time that a sitting Prime Minister from Pakistan has given a speech at the London School of Economics” according to the Pakistan Development Society’s Facebook page.
However, the event received criticism from students for the last-minute cancellation of tickets. The Pakistani Development Society announced on Thursday 2nd November, two days before the event, that they had overbooked the event and were cancelling tickets based on a “first-come-first-served” for original ticket bookings.
According to Omer Bhatti, President of the Pakistani Development Society, and lead event organiser, the overbooking was due to a last-minute venue cancellation by LSE Security. “The venue that we had was the Sheikh Zayed Theatre, which got cancelled on Friday evening [27th October] due to security concerns,” explained Omer. LSE Security reportedly informed them that they would not be able to provide security both to the Future of Pakistan conference day events, as well as the Prime Minister’s visit.
“The tickets were already uploaded on Eventbrite” he continued, “[and] we did not want to cancel or postpone the event”. On Wednesday evening, they were granted use of the Shaw Library — a significantly smaller venue — and were forced to downsize the event, although he reinforced the Facebook statement that these were done on a “first-come-first served” basis.
However, some students questioned the truthfulness of this ticket allocation on the event Facebook page, claiming to have bought tickets within the first half an hour of sale, yet still been denied entry. In response to these allegations, Omer said that “we tried our best to make it first come first served, but obviously, the society has guests… people who were coming along with the speakers, strategic members of the Pakistan high commission and as a society it’s our prerogative at the end of the day who we allow into our events”.
There were also allegations of a lack of transparency in the selection process that decided which students would be allowed to attend the actual briefing with the Prime Minister, as opposed to a live stream. “There hadn’t been an application process to attend the face-to-face meeting,” complained one student, who attended the event but was denied the chance to meet the Prime Minister.
Omer confirmed that tickets to the briefing were decided through a lottery conducted by LSE Events in collaboration with the South Asia Centre. The lottery reportedly only included members of either the Pakistani Development Society, or the Pakistan Society. Successful students were contacted directly by LSE events, and the Pakistani Development Society had no part in communicating this process to the attendees. “It’s not really my job” Omer commented, suggesting that it was beyond the rep of the society to get involved in communication about security-related decisions.
When asked to respond to a particular allegation made on Twitter that there were “secularist” leanings to the decisions, he confirmed that LSE security had removed some students from the event list, but added that it was their prerogative to do so. However, he was unable to elaborate on the specifics of this security criteria, advising The Beaver to contact the South Asia centre, and LSE Security directly. Regarding the general feelings of disorganisation in the lead-up to the event, Omer said he understood some students would be frustrated, but stated that it was out of his control and that with such high-profile visitors ultimately “LSE security who call the shots”.