Muslim Humanitarian Networks and Chinese Infrastructures in Northern Pakistan

Post Author(s)

This project investigates the intersection of Muslim humanitarian networks and Chinese-built infrastructures in Gilgit-Baltistan in northern Pakistan. The central aim of the project is to examine how at this meeting point of material and social entities that are often seen as disjointed new meanings emerge which alter the use and poetics of infrastructure. The short history of the Belt and Road Initiative notwithstanding the project also intends to explore these new meanings as embedded in older patterns of interaction.

In Gilgit-Baltistan entanglements of Muslim humanitarian institutions and Chinese development projects date back to at least the 1970s and the construction of the Karakoram Highway. Muslim humanitarian organizations have followed the materiality of Chinese pathways and they have sought ways to employ new technologies and infrastructures to expand their claims and take roots in local communities. Since the announcement of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and its incorporation into the Belt and Road Initiative in 2013 these encounters have intensified. The omnipresence of Chinese construction projects and state development in Pakistan have heavily impacted the country, including Gilgit-Baltistan. Mosques are built and reached via Chinese roads, pious entrepreneurs obtain university degrees from Chinese universities and the promise of connectivity between Kashgar and the Arabian Sea has triggered new Muslim spatial imaginaries. Against this backdrop, the project addresses the following research questions:

  • How far back can entanglements of Chinese-Muslim interaction in the borderlands of Pakistan and China be traced and how have they transformed over time?
  • What are the wider translocal connections that determine these interactions?
  • How have these interactions shaped local civilizational imaginaries and visions of humanity?
  • What are the different infrastructural “poetics” that have come with the concurrent constructions of roads, mosques, community halls, healthcare facilities, irrigation systems and container terminals?

The project builds on my extensive, decade-long anthropological research experience in the China-Central Asia borderlands. In the course of three years, the mentioned research questions will be explored via ethnographic fieldwork, including participant observation and qualitative interviews, as well as through archival research in Pakistan (post-colonial archives) and the UK (colonial archives). 

“Diasporas of Empire: Ismaili Networks and Pamiri Migration.” In: Jeanne Feaux de la Croix and Madeleine Reeves (eds.). The Central Asian World. London and New York: Routledge.

Spacializing the BRI in the History of Asian Imperial Imaginations

This subproject situates the contemporary mapping of the BRI within the history of the spacial imagination of Asia, using the notion of “empire” as a conceptual tool to interrogate how the connecting and separation of places through networks and infrastructures of trade and religion have been associated with different imaginations, juxtapositions...

Mapping Routes, Exchange, And Transformation Along The Borderlands Of Laos, China, And Vietnam: The Lanten Case

Political and, often, scholarly, boundaries divide Asia artificially into units, such as Southeast Asia and China. This modern division often contributes to masking ongoing processes of exchange and flow of persons, goods and ideas, and societies inhabiting the borderlands. Such is the case of the Lanten communities (Landian Yao or Yao Mun) who...

Global/Local Perspectives on Chinese Muslim Origin Narratives and Guangzhou’s Islamic Heritage Sites

Alongstanding tradition among Hui Muslims attributes the arrival of Islam in China to a mission led by Saʿd ibn abī Waqqāṣ (ca. 595-ca.574), a relative of the Prophet Muhammad (570-632). Although the historicity of this story has been questioned to the point of incredulity, Saʿd ibn abī Waqqāṣ is associated with two important sites in Guangzhou –...

Back To Jerusalem: The Missionary Movement Of The Chinese Protestant House Church

Chinese Protestant Christianity has grown exponentially in the last few decades. China has become a missionary-sending country at the same time as its political and economic importance in the world has grown. Many Chinese Christians believe that God has been calling on them to undertake the great mission of converting Muslims to Christianity. The...

State-Building In Religious Society: A Comparative Study Of Religious Control In Belt And Road Countries

This research aims to study state policies of the religious control in Belt and Road countries in Central Asia, including China (Xinjiang province), Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Tajikistan. Through a comparative study of the religious policies in these countries, this study seeks to reveal how the socialist or post-socialist...

Mapping the online discourse on the BRI in social media: general context and religious factors

This data mining project investigates the changing and contested narratives of the BRI in social media, focusing on sentimental and networking characteristics in online communication platforms. In an interim outcome, this work has firstly framed a systematic approach to analyse the discourse on the BRI in social networking platforms; with further...

Buddhism At The Borders Of Trade: Colonial And Post-Colonial Discourses On Trans-Himalayan Economic Networks And Connectivity

The expansion of international trade exerted and continues to exert considerable influence on the negotiation of nation-state borders and on the formation of cultural, social, and religious identities. While the relationship between religion and trade is undeniably complex and multifaceted, it has been suggested that commercial connectivity has...

Religious Circulation, Transportation Routes, And Urban Space: Christianity In Late Imperial And Modern China

This project studies the intricate and largely overlooked relationship between religious circulation, transportation routes and urban space in the historical context of state building and global connection in mid-eighteenth to mid-twentieth-century China. Focusing on the case of Christianity, it examines three cities and regions that have played...

Sacralizing The Works, Engaging Inter-Cultural Relations: Stories Of Indonesian Female Muslim Workers In Hong Kong

Alhamdulillah (thanks to God), I made my hijrah (literally migration, from sinful to righteously pious -better- Muslim). I had intended to do so for years, but finally made it since last year. It's been a year now," said a niqab-ed Indonesian female Muslim worker in her monthly religious gathering at victoria Park of Hong Kong, in October 28th,...

Paving Portions Of The ‘One Road’ Across The Indian Ocean: China’s Highway And Bridge Projects In The Republic Of The Maldives

Our work examines the work of constructing domestic overland roads and bridges within the Republic of the Maldives. This archipelago of atolls stretches across 90,000 square kilometres, but of that vast territory only less than 300 square kilometres is comprised of dry land. The country includes within its territorial waters two major deep-water...