Book Project

Book Project Title:

Being Seen By the State: Social Policy and Changing Citizenship Boundaries in Pakistan

Under what conditions do states with fragmented democratic institutions and high levels of corruption implement programmatic social policies to address poverty and inequality in the Global South? What consequences do the design and implementation of these social policies have for previously excluded citizens, who face high barriers in participating in politics and accessing the state. My book manuscript addresses these questions by analyzing the political origins and citizenship consequences of Pakistan’s largest social safety net: The Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP), one of the largest unconditional cash transfer (UCT) programs targeted at exclusively at women in the Global South.

BISP was established in 2008, during Pakistan’s most recent and tenuous democratic transition. Over the span of a decade (2008-18), BISP has rapidly expanded social welfare coverage to over 5.5 million women and their households nationwide, with a goal to cover 20% of the population. The first part of the monograph examines the political origins of programmatic social policy expansion in Pakistan. The second part analyzes the effect of the BISP cash transfer on beneficiaries’ political participation and engagement with formal and informal local governance institutions.

I use a mixed methods research design, combining a variety of data sources collected during sixteen months of field research in four districts in Pakistan. This research includes a unique quasi-experimental household survey with 2254 respondents, 70 semi-structured qualitative interviews, four focus groups and historical process tracing of social policy expansion over time. Using a variety of research methods has allowed me to collect diverse sources data and triangulate evidence to answer these questions and challenge alternative explanations.

My research points to several important institutional changes within Pakistan’s hybrid political system after the transition to democracy in 2008, which created favorable conditions for elected governments to institutionalize programmatic social welfare policies. These institutional changes include: 1. inter-party cooperation over policy adoption 2. high levels of political competition and 3. technocratic inputs from local experts, bureaucrats and donor organizations. I argue that this troika of cooperation between elected governments, the bureaucracy and local and international technocratic experts enabled the building of a highly centralized technocratic welfare program that become embedded as the main developmental arm of the Pakistani bureaucratic state.

The second part of the monograph uses quasi-experimental household survey data to examine the consequences of programmatic social welfare expansion for BISP program recipients political participation and engagement with the state. I find that receipt of a BISP cash transfer mobilized female social welfare recipients to become empowered voters and reduced their reliance on traditional rural patronage institutions, such as landlords (zamindars) and informal village governance (panchayats). However, BISP’s top-down centralized implementation has created limited local forums for citizen-state linkages, indicating the limitations of programmatic cash transfers, in settings where local state presence is highly uneven.

I conclude the monograph by placing the Pakistani case of social policy expansion in comparative perspective with three other notable welfare programs in new democracies in the Global South: India, Brazil and Mexico. My analysis of the politics of social welfare expansion in Pakistan, seeks to make an original contribution to the study of the political origins and consequences of social policy expansion, state capacity and state-citizen linkages in new democracies in the Global South.