The Social Sciences and Liberal Arts Department at the Institute of Business Administration, Karachi hosted a talk by scholar and researcher Dr Ayesha Siddiqi on her recent book ‘In the Wake of Disaster: Islamists, the State and a Social Contract in Pakistan’.
Dr Siddiqi who is visiting from Royal Holloway, University of London is trained in the discipline of human geography but described her work as being very inter-disciplinary in nature. Her talk presented key findings from the book.
The book is based on Dr Siddiqi’s doctoral dissertation research conducted in the aftermath of the massive floods that devastated parts of Pakistan in 2010 and 2011. She spent seven-month in lower Sindh doing ethnographic fieldwork in three districts, Thatta, Badin, and Tharparkar, hoping to understand how natural disasters leave a political impact. Most communities devastated by the flooding continued to have high expectations from the state and expressed their belief that only the state is responsible for helping them, rather than local power-brokers and traditional sources of authority. The speaker argued that the common assumptions about broken state-society relations in Pakistan are unfounded and that her informants’ views show a robust social contract being present.
She also showed how the government’s cash disbursement to flood-affected communities created a sense of entitlement and further strengthened citizens’ claims on the state. The language of citizenship forged by Enlightenment-era European thinkers like Rousseau and Voltaire does not apply to these communities. Instead, they use words like ‘huqooq’ to express their sense of civic belonging.
The talk also touched upon the role of Islamist parties in flood relief activities and challenged the idea that the absence of the state created a vacuum which was filled by Islamist parties that have an alternative development discourse. Her research found Jamat-ud-Dawa to be active in the aftermath of the floods in Badin, where the state infrastructure, including the military, enlisted and enabled their participation rather than being in opposition to each other. In other areas, such as Thatta, there was little presence of the JuD because the local political elites were not in favor of it. The speaker urged a more complicated and nuanced understanding of state-society relations in Pakistan, where people’s everyday encounters with the state are rich and leave open the possibility of many different meanings attached to the state.