Dissertation Acknowledgements and Publication

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Dear all,

Previously I shared that I defended my PhD this Summer and graduated on August 21, 2021.

A few months ago I received my digital diploma, shown in the featured photo. And I will be participating in the graduation ceremony this week!

In October, my Dissertation, “The Network Architecture of Rural Development Interventions: Exploring the Relational Dynamics of Aid-impact in the Fragile and Conflict-Affected States of Pakistan and Afghanistan,” was published on ProQuest. You may find it on the ProQuest Database if you have access through your institution. An excerpt may be available via Google Scholar in a few months if not already.

On this post, I would like to share my Dissertation Acknowledgments and a few key insights from my research.

My dissertation analyzes exogenous and endogenous rural development assistance through the relational lens across multiple cases from Pakistan’s Sindh Province, the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas, and Afghanistan. Integrating social capital theory, network analysis, and qualitative narrative comparisons, the dissertation argues that structural properties of power, cohesion, heterogeneity, trust, and fragility, translated from global development policy networks, are critical conditions toward sustainable, locally-owned processes and outcomes. From lessons of contextual interlinkages in “fragile” and “crisis-affected spaces,” the research reveals the converging and diverging narratives of aid intervention, the complexity in networked governance, and reconceptualizes nuances in impact assessments.

My research proposed an alternative framework to analyzing sustainable aid-impact, comparing multiple international rural development programs in Pakistan and Afghanistan. I examined approximately nine cases from bilateral and multilateral development institutions, which included active/recently closed USAID and World Bank programs (three in Pakistan, and one in Afghanistan), alongside the Pakistan Rural Support Program Network, and a case for community development in District Tharparker, Southern Sindh.  I completed a content analysis of the development program literature, social network analysis, in-depth fieldwork, and qualitative narrative comparisons.

Awarded the Smith Richardson Foundation World Politics and Statecraft Fellowship, the qualitative fieldwork took place between 2017-2019 and resulted in approximately 178 interviews among diverse stakeholders on rural development policy across various urban and rural areas of Pakistan, in Washington, DC, and remotely for Afghanistan. The Figure shown above is a general network mapping of the fieldwork, with node size attributed to number of interviews, and links demonstrating the “snowball sampling method” connecting the different field sites/cities/places. The research informants ranged from experts, scholars, government officials, Ministers, aid workers, development program stakeholders, community/village leaders, community members, NGO workers, businessmen, journalists, consultants, organization leaders, and others.

The qualitative data were transcribed and coded using transcription software and NVivo. Below is a general qualitative concept mapping completed in NVivo, with both ‘a priori’ and ’emergent’ codes (total approximately 460) which was further coded/merged into 35 categories (shown in diagram below), reflecting the initial variables and conditions for program efficacy as well as other intervening factors.

Here is a summary of a few general findings/conclusions/observations from the research:

  • Qualitative narrative findings and insights concluded that relationships among stakeholders remain highly significant in the development process, and multiple interrelated factors (centralization, cohesion, trust, heterogeneity, and fragility) are critical conditions that determine positive or negative outcomes for the intended objectives of local ownership and sustainability.
  • Comparative insights (sub-nationally and cross-nationally) provide multiple layers of analysis that demonstrated interconnectivity among interview informants, organizational actors of program cases, and the critical conditions that help or hinder program success.
  • Results from the social network analysis and qualitative comparisons across the diverse cases, most especially the different World Bank programs with or without Community Driven-Development (CDD) mechanisms, demonstrate how organizations generate social capital, self-help initiatives, and social mobilization efforts.
  • Community-driven development in Afghanistan and Pakistan show positive initial impacts, but not without challenges to sustainability. The sustainability of development programs was determined, through qualitative findings, as the expansion and replication of programs, models, and approaches. While duplication of programs in specific sectors, along with organizations often ‘working in silos,’ has been a major hindrance for the relevant donors and implementers.
  • Programs that have demonstrated the most lasting or sustainable effects are those that integrate community-driven mechanisms, bottom-up social mobilization efforts. For example, the RSPs in Pakistan have demonstrated success in advancing human capital through ‘social mobilization’ initiatives. Community institutions have been sustained beyond project-based models, developing replicable approaches for successfully mobilizing communities.
  • Although bilateral and multilateral organizations, alongside global policy networks, have made great progress in effectively coordinating and implementing sustainable programs in Pakistan and Afghanistan, properties of external development policy networks that intersect with local (contextual) conditions, create probable constraints to sustainability and ownership.
  • As programs improve efforts on incorporating mechanisms for “self-reliance,” “self-help,” and “self-sufficiency,” we see greater awareness about the structural conditions, that may help or hinder local ownership and sustainability, among international organizations/stakeholders that have previously applied conventional development approaches in fragile, heterogeneous contexts (which historically demonstrated limited success).
  • Centralization of program activities and among core stakeholders can impact policy outcomes. Centralized structures can be a critical component of a program’s success but may also limit the program design from inception, and throughout the implementation process. The social network analysis of World Bank programs revealed hierarchical network structures, high centralization and low social cohesion. This coincided with qualitative findings of the programs, which indicated that local government relational dynamics and protocols, alongside bureaucracy, has been one major impediment to program efficacy and the reliance on government structures can challenge implementation.
  • Trust-building is a layered phenomenon among all stakeholders manifested between and among communities, government bodies, international and local implementers. International implementers should work through organizations that have built trust with local communities and beneficiaries.  These are the critical “bridging links,” interlocutors, and gatekeepers in the development program networks. A critical part of the necessary “network intervention” and network modification would be to determine these gatekeepers and engage through them.
  • Security challenges remain in remote and vulnerable contexts. Qualitative findings indicated the ongoing challenges of corruption and fragility and discussed in detail the challenge of access for implementers due to remoteness and specific government security protocols. Access challenges in my own fieldwork was mirrored with the challenges shared by development stakeholders/research informants. This was a critical observation in the comparisons of the fieldwork and qualitative findings between Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
  • The interdependent socio-economic and political future of Pakistan and Afghanistan continues to mandate a comprehensive development strategy across the border. This is particularly important from the geopolitical perspective, with the border dynamic which remains vital in the current climate. From the development actor purview, it is critical to further explore the ramifications of similar actors and programs engaging both countries and the importance of improving the interconnected multilateral efforts for development programs. Exploring the socio-economic interlinkages through a network lens can reveal valuable insights to support all relevant stakeholders.
  • This research ultimately highlights the significance of incorporating “network evaluation” in development program impact assessments at the project inception, throughout the duration of the project, and at close-out. “Network interventions” can incorporate both a “cumulative snapshot” of the networks, or “consecutive networks” that include a temporal component (See Davies, 2006).

The above mentioned are a few key concluding observations from the research, some confirming the hypotheses and findings, some specific to the nine cases examined.  I hope to update/revise this in the near future, or include more relevant and specific findings in future research and writings. I also hope to explore and expand on the cases and the relevant variables.

Forthcoming pieces (potential scholarly or journalistic publications) from the dissertation research may include writings on qualitative methods and observations from fieldwork in Pakistan; the shared socio-economic future between Pakistan and Afghanistan from the network lens; development challenges specific to Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; the Rural Support Program (RSPs) success in social mobilization in Pakistan; challenges and successes in community development in District Tharparkar and the prospects of the Thar Coal project for revitalizing Pakistan’s energy sector; the water, energy, and food crisis (WEF) in Pakistan; and writings on the specific development program cases, with relevance to today’s political climate in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

There is more to explore from the vast qualitative and quantitative data collected through this dissertation research, particularly more on the connection between the independent variables and outcome variables through more systematic comparisons, which I propose through Social Network Analysis (SNA) and Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) mixed methods approaches to advance this research. I am also working on some book manuscript proposal submissions for the beginning of the new year, based on the stories and findings from the qualitative fieldwork, with a goal for publication within the next two to three years.


I would also like to share my dissertation acknowledgments page here.

I will add it as a separate page on this site, where I plan to build my dissertation research going forward.

There were so many people and institutions who supported this research, alongside my Committee. If you don’t get the chance to read the dissertation or my recent publication, which is now scheduled to be issued in the a forthcoming 2022 Special issue on Poverty Alleviation: Comparative Perspectives in Asia, within the Journal of Public Policy(as shared in the previous post here), please do take a second to read these acknowledgments.

As I briefly noted in this dissertation section, I must ask your forgiveness if I left anyone out who offered their time and contributions. There was unfortunately a very short deadline between dissertation defense and final submission. I hope I can make it up to you.

Finally, I must state that any positive coming from this research is attributed to the people who shared their time with me and trusted me to listen and engage them and offered me facilitation, contacts, guidance, and direction, to whom I’ll remain in debt. If there is anything negative, I take full responsibility for my errors and aim to rectify them in future work.

I believe in this research and as I continue to review the data collected, and share those stories, I look forward to opportunities to collect more. I hope that the value, relevance, and importance of this research can be transparent from what I had written here in the Dissertation Acknowledgements.

Thank you for taking the to read this post!


My Dissertation Acknowledgements

Awaaz Diya Hai…” They gave us a voice…We have to do it ourselves. But we will follow the path they showed us, and “Inshallah” (God-willing) we will achieve success.”

The words of Sheharbano Burki, the General Secretary of “Roshni,” a Local Support Organization (LSO) in Village Gogi Magnejo, Khairpur, Northern Sindh, Pakistan, struck a chord for me. I was brought forward unexpectedly, in front of village women seated in a U-shape, presented the Ajrak, a customary tradition of memaan nawazi (hospitality and welcoming). The intent was to be a “fly on the wall,” but that was not always my experience in this country.

The pursuit of my doctorate has been a personal, intellectual, and professional journey, an undertaking that was supported and facilitated by multiple, interconnected “villages.” This section cannot possibly cover the overwhelming support I received throughout this journey to develop my scholarly voice. There are many that deserve mention, and I must ask forgiveness for any exclusion of names, and I hope to have an opportunity to make up for it in the future. The execution of this challenging project was enriched entirely because of the many who gave me a chance to engage and listen, beginning with those at my university.

I am grateful to the George Mason University, Schar School of Policy and Government, for the opportunity to fulfill my aspired journey in qualitative research and for providing the resources and support during the process. I express much gratitude to the Smith Richardson Foundation, World Politics and Statecraft Fellowship that funded most of my fieldwork in Pakistan. I appreciate the Daniel Druckman Fellowship in International Conflict Resolution in helping me complete my research, analysis, and writing in my final year. And I thank the Schar School for the extended support from several doctoral research grants. Many thanks to Dean Mark Rozell for being very supportive throughout the process, and always encouraging us throughout the program. I also appreciate all the vital logistical support from Beth Eck and Shannon Williams over the years.

This project could not have been possible without the inspiration, guidance, direction, and mentorship from my dissertation committee. I greatly appreciate Desmond Arias for challenging me and believing in my potential. My sincere appreciation to Peter Mandaville for seeing value in this research, helping me think outside the box, and encouraging me through difficult stages of the fieldwork and data analysis. Thank you to Jennifer Victor for the incredible support, encouragement, and empowerment throughout the research process, and for introducing me to the Political Networks community. It was a privilege to work alongside you at the APSA Political Networks Conference and Workshops in Summer 2018 at our School. I am truly grateful to you for helping me become a better writer and scholar.

As indicative in this research on aid-policy, time, commitment, and consistency is necessary to build lasting relationships and outcomes. Thank you, Ken Reinert, for a relationship of consistent mutual respect and trust since the beginning of this program. I appreciate you taking a chance on me and this research endeavor, which became a “high maintenance project,” and thank you for helping me understand the importance of patience, humility, and kindness in scholarship, along with persistence.

Among other faculty at Schar, I must give special thanks to Pris Regan for an enriching graduate research assistantship experience and your mentorship and support at the School. Sincere appreciation to Jack Goldstone, John Earle, Jerry Mayer, Edmund Zolnik, Jessica Srikantia, Roger Stowe, Bob Deitz, Bonnie Stabile, JP Singh, Janine Wedel, and Ahsan Butt. I greatly appreciate your advice and conversations over the years. I’d like to also thank my professors and colleagues Muge Finkle, August Nimtz, Barbara Frey, Siddharth Chandra, Dan Whitman, Donald (Goldy) Goldstein (late), and Maxine E. Bruhns (late), from my previous educational endeavors that brought me here, to whom I remain grateful.

Additionally, I extend many thanks to my colleagues and friends at Schar for the camaraderie and community necessary to push forward in the program: Camilo Pardo, Maurice Champagne, Addilyn Chams-Eddine, Raja Ali Saleem, Karelle Samuda, Yi-Ting Chiu, Hong Zhang, Sebastian Stolorz, Mehdi Nayebpour, Neslihan Kaptano, Andrew Paterson, Ben Fernandes, Lokesh Dani, Keith Waters, Hiromi Akiyama, Aminata Ndiaye Tall, Mufeeza Iqbal, Sasi Gopalan, Mary Boardman, and a very special thanks to Nazia Hussain and Dana Dolan for your mentorship, especially in qualitative methods at pivotal points in the program. Special thanks to those I engaged with outside of my program as well: Patricia Andrade, Christos Mavrodimitrakis, Farhod Yuldas, Joseph Shaheen, Sarah Shugars, Bi Zhao, Bruce Desmarias, Matthew Pietryka, Irene Molino, Olivia Nantermoz, Bilal Shakir, Mircea Lazar, Vanessa Buckland, Mary Langan, Salman Rafi, and Tauhid Bin Kashem. I want to also extend appreciation to my friends and colleagues in my offline and online networks. I appreciate the encouragement from you during different milestones in this journey. Thank you very much to Muneer Karcher Ramos, Noreen McMahon, Jamie Harris, Tara Maguire, Iman Byrnes, Susan Samaha, Farooq Yusuf, Sarmed Rashid, Larisa Romanenko, Brandon Sternquist, Adam MacGregor, Jeff Dexter among many others whom I regret not mentioning.

There were many people during my research in Washington, DC and in Pakistan and Afghanistan that provided the necessary support, advice, and encouragement for this difficult research endeavor. I would like to emphasize that the acknowledged here and elsewhere in this section do not necessarily reflect my conclusions and analyses. And again, please extend my sincere apologies for excluding any names in the exhaustive list.

Among my colleagues in the DC community, I want to express my sincere thanks to Taha Gaya, Salik Farooqi, Nadia Naviwala, Blaire Glencorse, Ambassador Robin Raphel, Andrew Wilder, Moeed Yusuf, Michael Kugelman, Clare Lockhart, Sahar Khan, Jumaina Siddiqui, Neha Ansari, Shamila Chaudhary, Marvin Weinbaum, Shuja Nawaz, Ambassador Hussain Haqqani, Kiran Pervez, Samad Sadri, and Adam N. Weinstein.

Tapping into my personal and professional networks in Pakistan introduced me to many colleagues and friends who helped facilitate the fieldwork and who guided me in developing a stronger understanding of this region. I thank Senator Khushbakht Shujat Ali Baig, our family friend, for your support and facilitation in Islamabad, along with the stay at the Parliament Lodges during my time there, which was vital in the access I achieved. Much gratitude to one of my mentors Dr. Rajab Ali Memon who passed away two days after my defense. I cherish your memory and appreciate all your support during the fieldwork in Sindh. Many sincere thanks to: Dr. Sahar Gul, Jami Chandio, Dr. Kazi Memon, Mumtaz Memon, Zulfiqar Halepoto, Mohammad Ameen Memon, Dr. Sohail H. Naqvi, Nadeem ul Haque, Saeed Ul Hassan, Yasir Bangish, Dr. Mubashir Ahmed Bhatti, Dr. Abid Qaiyum Suleri, Dr. Vaqar Ahmed, Dr. Sarfraz Khan, Toru Kinoshi, Qaisar Raza, Hyder Yahya, Syed Tanwir Husain Bukhari, Sartaj Aziz, S. Ejaz Wasti, Dr. Fakhrul Islam, Agha Ali Javad, Salma Khalid, Junaid Ahmed, Nadeem Akbar, Dr. Ayesha Khan, Engr Zuhr Khan, Shehryar Toru, Wasif Naqvi, Samia Batool, Imran Khalid, Haider Zaman, Adnan Khan, Zahid Wazir, Dr. Muhammad Ismail Kumbhar, Dr. Zia ul Shah Hassan, Aftab Solangi, Farzana Sayed Abassi, Engr. Shadab Ahmed Bughio, Dr. Nisar Ahmed Memon, Dr. Fateh Muhammad Marri, Marium Minhas Bandeali, Ghulam Akbar Malik, Abdul Majeed Pirzada, Gaffar Pirzada, Dr. M. Aslam Chaudry, Dr. Iqrar Ahmed, Anwar Rashid, Imtiaz Alvi, Karim Khan Qamar, Pervaiz Ahmed, Ayesha Khan, Mujibur Rahman, Munazza Khan, Dr. Parveen Azam Khan, Azaz Ud Din, Samina Afridi, Shireen Gheba, Shujat Ali Baig, and Abdul Rauf Butt.

From those in District Tharparkar, Sindh, much gratitude to Ali Hafeez Azmat, Harish Soni and Vishal Kumar along with the Rotary Club of Mithi for the facilitation in District Tharparkar. Thanks Dr. Sono Khangharani and Zaheer Udin Babar Junejo from Thardeep. Sincere appreciation to Dr. Mahesh Kumar Malani, Sushil Malani, and Pawan Mahesh Malani, as well as the entire Malani family and the Soni family in Mithi, Tharparkar for their hospitality, welcoming and support. Many thanks to Mohsin Babbar, Mohammad Hingorjo, Khunesh Harani, and several others I engaged from the Thar Coal project.

I’d like to also extend my sincere gratitude to the large network of those associated with the Rural Support Programmes, most especially Shandana Khan, Shoaib Sultan Khan, Akhtar Iqbal, Masood ul Mulk, Khaleel Ahmed Tetlay, Zulfiqar Dittal Kalhoro, and Dr. Roomi Hayat for the facilitation efforts and guidance. Additionally, I thank Shar Khadim, Sanober Shaikh, Jamal Mustafa Shoro, Muzaffar Hussain, Asad Ali Jatoi, Babar Jagirani, Abdul Mannan Chachar, Ahsan Shaikh, and countless others from the SRSO for giving me time in Sukkur and the surrounding areas. I appreciate others in the AKDN and AKTC, including Wajahat Ali and Sumera Murtaza, for the invaluable and memorable tour of the Lahore Fort and Walled City.

While fieldwork travels could not occur in Afghanistan, I am grateful to Dr. Rohillah Amin at the American Institute of Afghanistan Studies for his guidance and to Shaharzad Akbar for her insights and generosity, as well as many informants from DC and Pakistan. I also appreciate the resources and support received from several institutions, including the American Institute of Pakistan Studies, the American Institute of Afghan Studies, the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, the American Pakistan Foundation Leadership Council, and the Rural Support Programmes Network.

I must express my gratitude to those who helped transport me to different places in Pakistan. Among them is Majid (bhai) Khan, with whom I had a lot of memorable adventures. I also thank Hassan Uncle, our family driver in Karachi for over 40 years, and Fazal Jaan for a memorable time in interior Sindh and District Tharparkar.

I’d like to acknowledge the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the UNRWA Gaza 5K community events/fundraisers for additional support through this difficult journey, especially within the past seven years.

Most importantly, I am in great debt to my family. Many sincere thanks to my five brothers and sisters, Sidra, Sana, Sabih, Sami, and Shariq, with whom I first explored Pakistan, part of my many cherished memories from our childhood. I appreciate you accepting the sacrifices I made, the difficulties I had experienced, having faith in my capabilities, and being there at critical junctures of this journey. My sisters, Sidra, and Sana, especially, I am forever grateful for you believing in me and being there at some of the most challenging moments. I also thank my brother-in-law Shah Nawaz Dodwad, Farah Tabassum Auntie, Moiz Syed (Masroor) Uncle, Salman Aziz uncle, and Khalid Khan uncle for their support over the years. Finally, I must thank all my extended family in Karachi, Pakistan, a list of names which is too exhaustive for this section, to whom were supportive of my research endeavors, guiding me along the way.

The hardest part of an endeavor like this is having to accept that the sacrifice, struggle, and challenges impact those closest to you, especially in times of crises. It is why my most sincere gratitude and dedication of this dissertation, and all efforts that follow it, indefinitely, is to my father, Dr. Akhtar ul Islam Khwaja and my mother, Mrs. Talat Khwaja. Through my recent expeditions in Pakistan, I learned more about your country than I have before and I owe much gratitude to my parents for taking me and my siblings to this part of the world since our younger years, and instilling a strong appreciation for the country, and for travel and exploration.

To my dear mother, my Ammi, Talat, which means “divine light,” I know your great sacrifice that transcended my own. Thank you sincerely for your immense patience, understanding, love, and endearment, and the many care packages containing your delicious chicken bhiryani you would send me. The bhiryani (also known as “the pot of gold”) was more than enough to tell me you were rooting for me. Beyond that, always telling me to be strong and have courage was fundamental for my survival through this program.

And lastly, to my dear father, Dr. Akhtar Khwaja, my Abu, my partner in some of my earlier travels across Pakistan, from the Khyber Pass gate of Peshawar towards Torkham, to a grand tour at your college in the Sindh Agriculture University (SAU) in Tandojam, thank you for being my biggest supporter of this dream in pursuing this PhD, for the countless hours of intellectual conversations, and for the everlasting encouragement, friendship, and trust. Thank you for helping me understand your philosophy behind service, and how we “live for others, not only for ourselves.” You and Ammi gave me the reasons for why I should attempt to fly, and through your duas (prayers), I will aim to stay in flight.

I hope that we continue to remain resilient, invest and enhance our social capital, and find empowerment, individually and collectively, through our connection.

“All your scholarship would be in vain, if at the same time you do not build your character and attain mastery over your thoughts and your actions.” – Mahatma Gandhi

My Dedication Page:

Note: You may reference the dissertation or article as needed:

Khwaja ET. The Network Architecture of Rural Development Interventions: Exploring the Relational Dynamics of Aid-impact in the Fragile and Conflict-Affected States of Pakistan and Afghanistan. George Mason University; 2021.

Elsa Talat Khwaja (2020). “Localization” in Fragile Spaces: A Comparative Networks Evaluation of Community-Based Programmes in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Special Issue: Poverty Alleviation in Asia: A Comparative Perspective. Journal of Asian Public Policy. DOI: 10.1080/17516234.2020.1829355

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