Post-Pakistan Fieldwork Reflection and Moving Forward …

Two weeks have passed now, since I bid farewell to Karachi/Sindh, and to Pakistan in general, finally returning to the US, after five months of an incredible, inspiring, and humbling fieldwork experience around the country…

As indicative and expected, it became a little challenging to post on a regular-basis, regarding my fieldwork adventures, through this medium, which was unfortunate, as I had some amazing experiences in the second half of my time in Pakistan. Since I began my experience in Karachi, and traveled to interior Sindh, my final two months of fieldwork, I could not find the time nor the energy to keep up with blog posts. However, I am grateful I was able to blog my earlier experiences when I first started in Islamabad, last October, which is a little less fresh in the mind, than my more recent time in Sindh the past few months.

The adjustment since my return to the US has been challenging to say the least. But, as time permits, I hope to begin sharing details on a few of the experiences in Sindh, as well as the ones I missed from Peshawar and Islamabad, or simply just the main highlights, observations or themes that emerged, overall.

My time in Pakistan for my dissertation fieldwork, in a nutshell, was simply incredible, more than what I expected and hoped for my doctorate studies. But throughout the trip, moments of clarity weren’t always easy to achieve, to be able to reflect sincerely with a clear mind on the many aspects of the fieldwork, research methods, variables of interest, and experience in general. There were a lot of moving pieces and organization necessary throughout, which made it difficult to document everything. This will make the post-fieldwork analysis and clean-up more challenging, but I hope it will allow for time to reflect on what I was able to accomplish and conclude, alongside the challenges and limitations that emerged. I may need to access my memory bank for many items, and I hope the 35000+ pictures and many notebooks full of field notes will support the process. I am anxious and excited about this next phase …

I share just a few of the photos here in this post, and I plan to dive into more detail in some major experiences I didn’t cover in forthcoming posts….

I had the opportunity to travel to all four major cities in Pakistan (Peshawar, Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi) again for this second fieldwork assessment, (as done the previous year), and this time, I was able to explore each of them in a more in-depth way, alongside other nearby districts, areas, and cities.

For one, I only spent a few days in Lahore, but through the Aga Khan Foundation and Aga Khan Trust and Culture organizations, I received a tour of their projects to restore monuments in the Walled City and Lahore Fort, which was truly a memorable experience. I believe understanding the arts and culture of Pakistan are an important part of the immersion, and I am honored to have experienced it on many levels throughout my fieldwork. I was pleased that so many of my Pakistani informants/research respondents who worked in the development sector in one way or another, were also artists and writers. In Lahore, I learned how such projects, like that initiated by those in the Aga Khan network, create opportunities to improve the tourism industry, and Pakistan’s economy in general. I blogged roughly about my time in Lahore in this post here, but I hope to share more observations in the future.

 In the streets of Purana Lahore in the Walled City.

 Standing on the top of a Tower of Wazir Khan Mosque in the Walled City, “Purana” (Old) Lahore.

With my travels around interior Sindh, it may be important to note that I finally had the opportunity to engage with rural communities in a more official and substantive capacity. I will expand on this later, but I make this note because it was something that I was unfortunately not able to accomplish during my travels in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province (KP), despite my many attempts, and decisions to extend my time in the North. I believe this may have been an unfortunate loss to this research’s comparative value and analysis between KP and Sindh. The reasons for why this was a loss are not all obvious, so I plan to explain this in more detail in my dissertation. I tried to make it up in other ways through cultural immersion in Peshawar as demonstrated  in this post, particularly by visiting certain areas around Peshawar, and making it out to the FATA Secretariat and the KP Civil Secretariat helped create some balance as well.

  Sitting on a Charpai eating Chapli Kabaabs in Taru Jabba, just outside of Peshawar.

 At the KP Civil Secretariat     At the FATA Secretariat


As noted, what was so amazing and memorable about my time in interior Sindh was meeting with rural communities, many of which have established community-based organizations, incorporating the social/community mobilization approach in development programs, and some of which demonstrated an astonishingly breathtaking rural women empowerment at a level I had not seen before! These are the type of models/programs I examine in my research, that have made a significant impact in Pakistan, in terms of working towards sustainability and greater local influence and ownership. It was also and interesting contrast/comparison to be able to visit rural communities in Northern Sindh as well as in the Southern district of Sindh, Tharparkar, which I will expand in future writings.

Below are photos from both the districts surrounding Sukkar (from my time facilitated by the Sindh Rural Support Organization), and from Thar (facilitated largely by the Rotary Club of Mithi). Both experiences were memorable and empowering, and I will share why in more detail later…




Visiting Village Nanesar in District Tharparkar in Southern Sindh. (More on this experience in future posts)



The visit to different Hindu communities in both new and old Sari Das villages within the parameters of the Thar Coal Project Block II, in Islamkot of District Tharparkar. (More on this experience in future posts)


Some moments from my time in Northern Sindh….

 …. With the SRSO SUCCESS program Brick pavement Inauguration and Activist Workshop in Village Ahmedabad near District Qambar-Shadatkot in Northern Sindh. (More on this experience in future posts)


…At the Vocational Training Center in village Pir Hoti Noti near District Khairpur in Northern Sindh. (More on this in future posts)


…With the women of Local Support Organization (LSO) Roshni in Village Gogi Magnejo in District KhairPur. (More in future posts)









In my final week, I visited Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s Quaid-e-Azam’s Mausoleum in Karachi, Pakistan. I always seemed to miss it in previous trips to Pakistan. Over the course of my trip, I had the opportunity to visit the historically and spiritually significant shrines of Bari Imam in Islamabad, Data Darbar in Lahore, Mohammad Allama Iqbal in Lahore, Bhutto family Mausoleum in Larkana, and possibly some others I can’t recall. Because of these experiences, visiting the shrine of Quaid-e-Azam was no question a great closure to my trip in Pakistan. It was a beautiful mausoleum to honor Pakistan’s Founder, and I cherished the experience as one of my final adventures in Pakistan.


At the Quaid-e-Azam Mausoleum in Karachi, Pakistan.



In sum, it was a very productive, enjoyable, refreshing, and insightful five months in Pakistan. And after five months, from sitting in the Senate chambers of the Parliament House in Islamabad, listening to Pakistani policymakers passionately screaming at each other 🙂 , to sitting on a “charpai” (cot) eating chapli Kabaabs in Taru Jabba outside of Peshawar, to standing on a tower of the Wazir Khan Mosque of Purana Lahore during the Azaan (call to prayer), to sitting inside a “Chaura” (hut) in Thar, listening to the stories of our loving rural people, from one corner of Pakistan to another — the Khyber Pass Gate near Torkhem border to the NagarParker Hills in District Tharparkar — my journey for my PhD fieldwork in Pakistan finished strongly, leaving me with so many memories and experiences, so many informative and interesting insights, and so much responsibility to share. And even after extending my ticket twice for Pakistan, it didn’t feel enough, meaning that so many new contacts emerged, alongside so many more questions. But it was time to stop and reflect and work with what I was able to extract and achieve, a manageable and feasible product to contribute a potentially valuable analysis on an important age-old question or problem…

At the Parliament House during the final Senate Sessions in November 2018, in Islamabad. 

This was a moment caught on TV, me sitting in the back of the final senate Sessions in November 2018. 

 At the Pakistan National Monument in Islamabad.

My dissertation fieldwork generated a grand total of 150+ interviews conducted with a wide variety of stakeholders in international rural development policy in Pakistan and Afghanistan (rural communities, beneficiaries of aid programs, NGO leaders and aid workers, consultants, government officials, experts, academics, scholars, practitioners), during these past five months, including those in DC and the two months of exploratory fieldwork last year. It was a challenging process, requiring a lot of hard work, and there will be great difficulty to face in the road ahead, in this next phase of data analysis. But after this fieldwork experience, I have sufficient motivation to maintain the necessary stamina to finish this doctorate and tell a story. There is also a great sense of responsibility towards the many people I was privileged and honored to meet from the bottom to the top of the networks. I have heard their stories, now it is time to share my take, and the critical collective narrative.

I left Pakistan, not only with many incredible stories and research interviews and a great fieldwork experience, that went beyond my own expectations, but also with so many new friendships and bridges and those special moments will always be with me. I only hope I can be in the position to be that bridge and offer my services in any way possible to these new and important friendships.

One of my informants from USAID, within the final meetings in my last week in Karachi, noted a very important observation that I believe many people working in the development sector may also share: that every time they leave a post, it is like a part of their soul is left in that country. But they are reminded of their rich experiences that help them learn and grow to be a better, more informed person, to pass along to their communities and networks. This is exactly how I felt leaving Pakistan this time and this is partly why I wanted fieldwork to be a core part of my higher education. I had definitely left my soul there, but I feel I took many with me as well.

I remain humbled and grateful to have had a ‘journey’ I dreamed of having for my doctorate studies. It was certainly one that many people, along my path of higher education, were telling me I couldn’t do. Throughout my time in Pakistan, visiting diverse places I have never seen or experienced before, I felt quite empowered as a woman, engaging with other women, from women CEOs in prominent organizations, to women leaders in community-based organizations in rural Sindh. I met some amazing, inspiring, incredible men and women of both Pakistan and Afghanistan during my field research in this country; those that are doing wonderful things in contribution to its welfare. Although I wish I could have done more, at moments, it definitely went beyond my expectations.

Going forward, I hope to share more of my observations and experiences over the next few months. Most especially in the near future, I plan to share my experiences in Northern Sindh and in Thar in more detail, as well as some lessons-learned from conducting fieldwork in a ‘developing country’ like Pakistan. As I am now in the fieldwork analysis stage, I am revisiting the fieldwork rigorously, by transcribing interviews and analyzing and coding for critical patterns and themes that could proxy for the specific conditions relevant to the network impacts of development programs in vulnerable and rural areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan; with special focus on how the level of heterogeneity, fragility, trust, cohesion, and centralization influence sustainability and local ownership. I am hoping among the 150+ interviews and development program content analysis, there could be something interesting to contribute to the conversation, if not completely answering all or any of the questions.

The importance of qualitative research & fieldwork should not be underestimated, for many different subject areas, but especially for social network theory and methods. Although research has grown in this area, there is room for contributions to demonstrate its greater value. I hope I can contribute to this, in a small humble way, through this particular research on international rural development policy networks in Pakistan & Afghanistan.  I look forward to sharing my findings and insights. There are many policy recommendations and lessons to learn from the aid conundrum and paradigm in these two fascinating countries, a lot of which can be understood through the “network lens” and through the stories of some of the most “influential” “players.” I am with gratitude and humbled to have spoken to many of those particular influential actors in government and civil society, primarily within Pakistan, in this amazing fieldwork experience during my doctoral journey.

More insights and observations to come…

A sign displayed at the Mausoleum of Quaid-e-Azam, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the Founder of Pakistan, located in Karachi.



Preliminary Acknowledgements on My Fieldwork in Pakistan:

I say this often, but its true: it takes a village to complete a PhD, especially one that involves qualitative fieldwork. There are too many people to thank for these five months in Pakistan, and I have already started to make the list! I wish I could provide all the names here, at this moment, of everyone who supported and facilitated me in the last five months, but there will be a time for acknowledgements in the near future and those who have helped me in this journey, know that my gratitude to them is sincere. I will also provide more official acknowledgements in my dissertation and any future research products and deliverables. But, for the moment, I do want to initially give thanks to the Schar School of Policy and Government (my home institution) and the Smith Richardson Foundation (World Politics and State Craft Fellowship) for supporting and funding my fieldwork. I must give very special thanks to Senator KhushBakht Shujat Ali Baig for all her support in hosting and facilitating my research in Islamabad, and to my parents, Dr. Akhtar Khwaja and Mrs. Talat Khwaja for their support in Karachi alongside all my extended family in Karachi for being part of the inspiration for my passion for research in Pakistan, perhaps before I knew or even began my pursuit of higher education.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *