On the eve of the 75th Anniversary of Pakistan’s creation, we are pleased to announce the winner of the Bloomsbury Pakistan Inaugural Book Prize 2022

Muhammad Mujtaba Piracha. Property Taxes and State Incapacity in Pakistan. Oxford University Press 2021

At a time when Pakistan’s rentier economy stands fully exposed and its state lies at the mercy of foreign donors, Piracha’s compelling account explaining Pakistan’s dependence on borrowed money demands our attention. Piracha’s approach combines an enormous body of robust quantitative data with an impressive narration of fine-grained qualitative observations.  What is particularly remarkable about Piracha’s study is the skill with which he crafts his ethnographic material to bring alive and render intelligible an otherwise complex issue even to those with a minimal grasp of the fundamentals of political economy. This important work signals that, within Pakistan Studies, ethnographic political economy scholarship is a priority and, moreover, that with respect to the state the issue is not ‘what’ it should do (or ‘how much’ it should do), but rather ‘how’ its work actually proceeds within its own socially embedded (informal) contours.

We extend our congratulations to Mujtaba Piracha and plan to celebrate this important text in an upcoming BP seminar (to be announced). We would also like to acknowledge the three runner-up entries (listed in alphabetical order) for their excellent contributions to the study of Pakistan.

Sana Ashraf. Finding the Enemy Within: Blasphemy Accusations and Subsequent Violence in Pakistan. Australian National University Press 2021
Through a close analysis of the apparent tension between a state-sanctioned legal system and non-state narratives of popular justice informed by religious discourses debating the legitimate punishment for blasphemy, Ashraf shows how otherwise incompatible systems of moral regulation and legality are mutually constitutive of each other.  Her argument is well supported with a methodology resting on a mass of carefully assembled ethnographic data and a corpus of scholarly literature from disciplines such as anthropology, history, and critical theory.

Akbar Zaidi. Making a Muslim: Reading Publics and Contesting Identities in Nineteenth-Century North India. Cambridge University Press 2021
This book is an important contribution to existing scholarship on print culture in the 19th century, connecting that work to intra-Muslim disagreements about the meaning of Islam and piety. Zaidi moves beyond a teleological account of Muslim cohesion framed by culture or elite interventions pressing for “Pakistan”. Instead, his interest lies in demonstrating the fragmentation of North Indian Muslims as they cracked under the strain of disparate and often mutually exclusionary discourses regarding questions of who rightfully qualifies as a Muslim. A well written and fluently argued monograph, the book is deeply researched and makes extensive use of Urdu primary sources, a useful corrective to an excessive reliance on colonial archives in shaping our impressions of Muslim identity and its boundaries.

Waleed Ziad. Hidden Caliphate: Sufi Saints beyond the Oxus and Indus. Harvard University Press 2021
Ziad’s meticulously researched  book offers a revisionist reading of a region that has been widely portrayed as convulsed by social and political breakdown, showing how it was, in fact, held together by an elaborate network of Sufi holy men – the engines of a Hidden Caliphate.  Their religious authority, mediatory powers and trade in ideas lent a degree of cultural coherence to the region which, Ziad argues, was deliberately written out by colonial administrators. This persuasive thesis deepens and broadens our understanding of the history of the Naqshbandi Sufi order (specifically the Mujaddadis) and allows us to explore a pre-history of Pakistan, in particular of its northwestern tribal areas with deep connections to Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and present-day Central Asia.

We extend our congratulations to the four authors for producing these original and thought-provoking texts that deepen as well as challenge our understanding of Pakistan.

The book prize is awarded to the most outstanding academic book published in English in the previous calendar year on a topic or theme connected to the history / politics / society / economy / culture either of Pakistan within its present borders or of the communities of South Asia where the work is broadly relevant to Pakistan. The successful book is expected to make an original contribution to scholarly understanding of the lives and experiences of the people of Pakistan or South Asia.

Covenor: Dr Maria Rashid

Selection committee:
Prof Kamran Asdar Ali, University of Texas
Dr Farzana Shaikh, Chatham House
Prof Matthew Nelson, SOAS University of London

We are grateful to the covenor and the selection committee for handling the book prize with due diligence.

Book Prize Guideline

Book Prize 2024 Call

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