I’m an economist at the International Growth Centre (IGC) based at the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford. I work mainly on cities, taxes, and state capacity — ideally at the intersection of the three. I’m not an academic; my work focuses on working with policymakers in developing countries on reforms on these areas.

Separately, I also write articles on public policy in Pakistan that have appeared in Dawn.comThe Guardian, and The Express Tribune, which you can find as you scroll below.

You can follow me on twitter here and email me at s.rukh(at)lse(dot)ac(dot)uk (I always respond to non-spam emails).

Webpages: Profile on IGC | Profile on Oxford | Dawn.com articles

My top six highlights

2,500 words: Why Pakistan’s new plan to fix the bureaucracy won’t work

Every Pakistani government has attempted to reform the bureaucracy. The current government is no different. Sameen Mohsin, who teaches political science at LUMS, and I dig deep to evaluate whether the new reforms will work or not. We conclude, they won’t.

Read on Dawn.com


1,000 words: Sugar and rent-seeking in Pakistan

We know that rent-seeking happens everywhere. But it seldom happens more clearly than in the case of Pakistan’s sugar industry. In May 2020, Adeel Malik, who teaches economics at Oxford, and I sat down and wrote an op-ed arguing why the sugar industry isn’t making a profit, but extracting rent.

Read in The Express Tribune


1,000 words: What prevents developing countries from taxing more?

One of the questions I love to think about is why some countries are able to tax more than others. In this short blog, I extract some research on this question. There is no ‘one’ answer, alas.

Read on IGC’s website.


1,000 words; Navigating the urban age

Think about Tahrir Square: would that have been the stage of revolutionary change if it wasn’t in a middle of a mega-city? In a big-picture essay, Oliver Harman and I write how being urban both amplifies the voices of the distressed and allows people to access new networks of common thinkers.

Read in the Oxford Government Review.


1 hr 15 min: Exploring identity, legitimacy and governance in Kabul

photo (c) John Cairns

What roles do cities play in developing a sense of identity and legitimacy in fragile contexts? Cool question, right? In 2019, I moderated a panel with two really interesting people from Kabul and we spent over an hour thinking about this question.

Watch on YouTube.


26 slides; Taxing land and property for urban service delivery

In March 2020, Pakistan’s national tax authority asked me to give an hour-long presentation on why the government needs to tax land and property. So I flew to Lahore and made the case that I hope would lead to more taxation of this form of wealth.

Go through the slides here.



Lectures, Panels and Conferences

  • “Institutional fragmentation in urban governance.” Presentation. Blavatnik School of Government and the Said Business School Joint Early Career Research Showcase. 3rdJuly 2019.
  • “Kabul: identity and legitimacy in a fragile context.” Panel chair and organizer. University of Oxford’s Challenges of Government Conference 2019. 31st October 2019 (video here).
  • “Financing Punjab’s cities: Land and property taxes workshop.” Speaker and workshop chair. International Growth Center and Government of Punjab. 1st September 2019. (more)
  • “Taxing Land and Property for urban service delivery in Pakistan.” Speaker. Federal Board of Revenue. Lahore, Pakistan. 3rd March 2020. (presentation here).

Policy Publications

  • “Designed to succeed: Building authorising environments for fast-growing cities” with Sir Paul Collier (Oxford), Edward Glaeser (Harvard), Tony Venables (Oxford), and Astrid Haas (IGC). International Growth Center. (being formatted, to be launched on World Cities Day 2020)
  • “Public-private partnerships in urban settings.” with with Sir Paul Collier (Oxford), Edward Glaeser (Harvard), Tony Venables (Oxford), and Priya Manwaring (IGC). International Growth Center. (Publication delayed due to COVID19.)
  • “Urban Property Taxes in Pakistan’s Punjab.” with Hina Shaikh (IGC) and Oliver Harman (IGC). International Growth Center.
  • “Taxes and COVID19.” with Anders Jensen (Harvard), Nick Wilkinson, Moussa Saab, Oliver Harman and Farria Naeem of IGC. International Growth Center. (Forthcoming, likely late-Sep)

Non-Pakistan Commentary

  1. NEWWhat is stopping developing countries from taxing more?. International Growth Centre, 12th Aug 2020.
  2. Making policy decisions under uncertainty. International Growth Centre, 23 Jun 2020.. with Paul Collier (Oxford) and Vicky Delbridge (IGC).
  3. In defence of density. International Growth Centre. 3rd July 2020. with Solly Angel (NYU), Patrick Lamson-Hall (NYU), and Oliver Harman (IGC).
  4. Urbanisation in Fragile Societies: Thinking about Kabul. Urbanet. December 4th 2019.with Oliver Harman (IGC), Freshta Karim, and Shoaib Rahim (Kabul Municipality).
  5. Navigating the Urban Age. Oxford Government Review 4. 6th November 2019. with Oliver Harman (IGC).
  6. Getting the right institutions in place to run Africa’s cities efficiently, The Conversation Africa.(with Astrid Haas, Policy Director IGC) May 15, 2019
  7. What Does the Rise of Populism Mean for International Development?, London School of Economics Blog. March 23rd, 2018
  8. Using Markets for Development? The Potential of Advanced Market Commitments, London School of Economics Blog. January 30th, 2018

Pakistan Commentary

  1. NEW: Why Pakistan’s new plan to fix the bureaucracy won’t work, Dawn, September 9th, 2020. with Sameen Mohsin (LUMS).
  2. Sugar and the making of a rentier economy, Express Tribune, May 8, 2020. with Adeel Malik (Oxford)
  3. Pakistan’s urban transition, DAWN, November 23, 2019
  4. So, what comes after the IMF?, DAWN, June 10, 2019
  5. Why Pakistan will go to the IMF again, and again and again, DAWN, October 16, 2018
  6. Imran Khan envisions a Pakistani welfare state. Is it possible?, DAWN, August 28, 2018
  7. Has Punjab just taken a step towards unlocking the potential of its cities?, DAWN, May 10, 2019
  8. How do you pay for a programme like PTI’s Ehsas?, DAWN, April 24, 2019
  9. Are insecure property rights holding back Pakistan’s economy?, DAWN, Jan 17, 2019
  10. Reforming Pakistan’s tax system: Evidence-based suggestions, International Growth Centre, 3rd Dec 2018.
  11. The Case of Culture of Learning for Pakistan, Alif Ailaan, May 28th, 2018.
  12. For too long, Pakistani schools have been a means to provide jobs, rather than education, The Guardian Tue 27 Jun 2017

In Media

  1. (Video, Urdu) Interview Dawn News’s primetime news program Newswise on Pakistan’s COVID19 response in June 2020.
  2. (Text, English) Interviewed by Arab News of Pakistan’s social spending push. 26 January 2020.
  3. (Text, Urdu) Interviewed by BBC’s Urdu service on Pakistan’s stock market stabilisation fund in June 2019.
  4. (Text, Urdu) Interviewed by BBC’s Urdu service on Imran Khan’s first year in office in August 2019.
  5. (Video, Urdu) On Dawn News’s primetime news program Newswise to talk about a new decentralisation law in Punjab. 10th of May, 2019 (video here)
  6. (Video, English) On Indus Special with Ejaz Haider to talk about urban governance in Pakistan. 16th May 2019. (video here)
  7. (Video, Urdu) On Dawn News’s current affairs talkshow, Zara Hut Kay, to talk about Pakistan’s agreement with the IMF. 13th of May, 2019. (video)
  8. (Text, English) Comments for Dawn on changes to the federal budget by the Pakistani government in Sep 2018.

Podcasts (Audio/Video)

  1. (Video, English) Interviewed by World Bank – LUMS’s collaboration Pakistan at 100 on cities in Pakistan. (video here)
  2. (Audio, English) I had a conversation with Professor Jean-Paul Faguet of the London School of Economics on institutional change. (Soundcloud)
  3. (Audio, English) I and, my friend, Jovan talked to Professor Naila Kabeer of the London School of Economics. (Soundcloud)
  4. (Audio, English) I was interviewed as part of LSE South Asia Centre’s podcast on Cities in South Asia. (Soundcloud).

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