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Pakistan Conference 2016 | Participant Information and Paper Abstracts

Nausheen Anwar | Rethinking Infrastructure & Development in the 21st Century in Industrializing Pakistan

This talk is based on Nausheen’s book Infrastructure Redux: Crisis, Progress in Industrial Pakistan & Beyond (2015, Palgrave Macmillan).  In the book, Nausheen explores, through detailed cases of Sialkot and Faisalabad in industrializing Punjab, the double-edged narratives of development that frame infrastructure in post-independence Pakistan. The book looks at how infrastructures such as roads, ports and electricity underpin visions of progress and mediate relations between the state and capitalist firms in export-oriented industrial and industrializing districts in Punjab. Like most postcolonial nation-states, the Pakistani state planned, provided and owned infrastructure, which in the aftermath of independence in 1947 was tied to a mode of rule while promising rapid material progress. But today the state is perceived as having failed to provide infrastructure and is disconnected from local-industrial contexts or superseded by the whims of powerful politicians. For industrialists, infrastructure’s disruptions are perceived and experienced in two ways: first as literal technological collapse that carries high costs, breakdowns and immobility; and second as the loss of a moral order due to political interference.  This talk will tackle the issue of the relationship between infrastructure and industrial development in the 21st century, through the prism of Pakistan’s post-independence history, industrialization, and the present discourse of an ‘infrastructure crisis’ in the context of a globalizing Pakistan. It endeavors to situate the infrastructure crisis within a bigger story of the ways in which infrastructure itself has been historically transformed; as a developmental concept, a policy tool and as a technology of rule, and above all to capture the state-infrastructure nexus in relational terms. So in a sense the messy terrain of building state-firm relations and the accompanying symbolic aspects of infrastructures also force us to pose important questions about the marginalizing and liberating powers of such technologies.

Nausheen H. Anwar is Associate Professor of Urban Studies in the Department of Social Sciences & Liberal Arts (SSLA), Institute of Business Administration (IBA), Karachi, Pakistan. She received her PhD from the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation (GSAPP), Columbia University. She is the author of Infrastructure Redux: Crisis, Progress in Industrial Pakistan & Beyond (2015, Palgrave Macmillan), which explores, through detailed cases of Sialkot and Faisalabad in industrializing Punjab, the double-edged narratives of development that frame infrastructure in post-independence Pakistan. Nausheen is the recipient of several grants that center on themes such as gender and violence, migration, and infrastructure development.  She is currently involved in two projects: The first examines the intersections between infrastructure, vulnerability and violence and related reconfigurations in the politics of urban life in Pakistan; the second looks at the socio-spatial politics of regional and urban futures/aspirations as imagined through mega/global infrastructure projects such as the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Aspects of Nausheen’s work also appear in the journals AntipodeEnvironment and Planning A, and South Asian History and Culture.

Majed Akhter | The Indus as Infrastructural Fix: A Critical Regionalist Perspective on the New Silk Road

During a visit to Pakistan in mid-2013, Chinese state officials announced plans to sink tens of billions of dollars into the Pakistani landscape in the form of energy, transportation, industrial, and communication infrastructure. These projects are collectively labeled the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and are part of a larger Chinese vision of infrastructural integration of the Eurasian continent, collectively called the New Silk Road. The CPEC, and Chinese infrastructural plans for Asia more generally, will not be implemented on a blank slate. On the contrary, new infrastructural visions must always be mediated through existing infrastructural geographies of uneven development, political marginalization, and memory. How can the case of infrastructural politics in Pakistan generate theoretical, methodological, and political insights for the analysis of Asian regions, and Asia as a region, in the 21st century? This paper draws on debates in political geography, Marxist political economy, world systems theory, and Asian studies to argue that a critical regionalist approach offers powerful tools to analyze and evaluate the implications of Chinese infrastructural visions for Asia. It develops this argument through a longue duree and world systems analysis of the Indus infrastructural region. My objective is to situate the controversy around the CPEC in Pakistan in in the longer history of contradictory infrastructural intervention in the Indus region – and to thus generate a more critical and nuanced approach to understanding inter-Asian infrastructural connection in light of the growing geopolitical and geoeconomic presence of the Chinese capitalist state. 

Majed Akhter is Assistant Professor of Geography at Indiana University - Bloomington. His research interests include the politics of water development, drone war and imperialism, infrastructures and regionalism, Marxist geographical theory, and the political and historical geography of Pakistan and South Asia. His research has appeared in outlets such as Antipode, Critical Asian Studies, Economic and Political Weekly, GeoforumPolitical Geography, and Tanqeed. His next research project will examine how Chinese infrastructural investment in the transcontinental New Silk Road shapes the political geography and geopolitics of Pakistani state and territory.

Hafeez Jamali | Questionable Deeds and Unenviable Records: Plot, Parchi, and the Politics of Place in Gwadar, Pakistan

This paper explores the struggles over land and practices of place emerging from ethnic Baloch fishermen’s entanglements with the Pakistani government’s plans and practices for developing a large commercial seaport in the coastal town of Gwadar. Nevertheless the Pakistani state’s ambitious plans to turn Gwadar into a Dubai-like megacity rub against the fishermen and ordinary residents’ claims of rights in land, questionable practices of real estate builders, and quotidian bureaucratic practices of local land revenue officials. This paper seeks to understand the ways in which the particular histories of documentation of land, encounters of individual landowners and real estate agents with the local officialdom, and collective claims of the fishermen to produce the physical and social landscape of Gwadar Town. These include, for instance, arcane land settlement and acquisition rules inherited from the colonial era, collusion between local people and petty revenue clerks to exploit loopholes in land records, and real estate agents’ inside knowledge of the town development plans. While these practices do not stop the process of conversion of communally held lands into real estate or state land, they interrupt, stall, and divert the implementation of official development plans in ways that significantly alter the balance of social and political power in this emerging port city. I submit that these bureaucratic practices and encounters subvert the drawing of a clear line between state and society sought by Pakistani planners and policymakers and compromise their quest for displays of spatial control through the construction of megaprojects.

Shahana Rajani and Zahra Malkani | Title: Detritus and Development: Seeing Infrastructure in Ruined Landscapes

Our paper examines two sites of infrastructural development at the margins of the city. Using artistic and interdisciplinary research methods, we explore the relationship of infrastructure to the landscape and ecology we inhabit. We reframe the carefully controlled and constructed image of infrastructure as modern and technological progress, to make visible the ruinations of landscapes and degraded ecologies. Our first site is the Ravi river in Lahore and the state system of dysfunctional water sanitation plants – locally referred to as gandi (dirty) engines – that collect and pump the city's toxic sewage into the river. The second site is the mega-development project of Bahria Town at the peripheries of Karachi, a rapidly transforming landscape, where a vast network of private infrastructure is being laid down violently displacing indigenous communities to develop land for a world-class city. In both sites, we tap into the memories and archives within the subsoil, excavating and re-framing stories of multiple wreckages and ruinations from colonial histories to the neo-colonial present. We grapple with questions of representation, visuality and documentation in/with transforming landscapes, degraded ecologies and discarded things.

Zahra Malkani is an artist based in Karachi. She works across multiple media and draws on feminist, decolonial, anticapitalist, ethnonationalist traditions. Zahra is a co-founder of the Karachi Art Anti-University and a member of the Tentative Collective. She teaches at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture.

Shahana Rajani is an artist and curator based in Karachi. Her practice is invested in creating counter-geographies and alternate discourses on cities in the global south. Her projects include research on urban violence and the politics of grief, development and displacement in the modern city, and histories of migration. She also conducts radical tours of Karachi, using performance and storytelling to stake a claim in spatial politics and urban narratives. Shahana is a co-founder of the Karachi Art Anti-University and a member of the Tentative Collective. She teaches at Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture and Karachi University.

David Gilmartin

David Gilmartin is Professor of History at North Carolina State University. His research interests focus on the intersections between the history of British imperialism in South Asia and the development of modern politics and forms of rule.  His first book, Empire and Islam:  Punjab and the Making of Pakistan, focused on the relationship between British imperial rule and the creation of Pakistan at the time of India's independence from Britain in 1947.  His recent book, Blood and Water: The Indus River Basin in Modern History, focuses on the connections between irrigation-based environmental transformations (in the Indus basin) and modern politics. He has also written extensively on the legal history of India's electoral institutions as they have evolved from its colonial past, and on South Asian historiography.