Humanitarianism Across Mountain Valleys: “Shia Aid” and Development Encounters in Northern Pakistan and Eastern Tajikistan

Part of the Advances in Asian Human-Environmental Research book series (AAHER)


This chapter focuses on development encounters involving organisations with particular Shia genealogies in Pakistan’s Hunza-Nagar district and Tajikistan’s region of Gorno-Badakhshan. Based on anthropological fieldwork conducted between 2008 and 2013, I argue for an ethnographically grounded exploration of the two regions as contact zones which these organisations have entered. I furthermore maintain that as a result of dynamics within these contact zones, the analysed organisations, while promoting a humanitarian approach to development, also become part of specific sectarian imaginaries. Thus this chapter attempts to show that these organisations have not only left their imprints on physical landscapes and improved people’s lives. In the course of their involvement, development interventions also become part of how society imagines society, and they engage with local constructions of sectarian difference.


Development Shia Ismaili Pakistan Tajikistan Social imaginaries 



For comments and criticism, I am deeply indebted to the editors and to Brook Bolander and Philip Fountain. I would furthermore like to express my gratitude to the University of Bern Research Foundation and the Burgergemeinde Bern for funding parts of my field research for this chapter.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Central Asian StudiesUniversity of BernBernSwitzerland

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