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.

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...

Between A Rock And A Hard Place: Sinophobia And Religious Nationalist Sentiments In Vietnam

President Xi Jinping’s launch of the One Bell One Road Initiative (OBOR or BRI) was met with a negative reaction in the Vietnamese public sphere, although the speedy development of infrastructure connecting Vietnam and China would stimulate a number of trade sectors. The discussion focused on whether part of Vietnamese sovereignty should be given...

Modern China And The Question Of Muslim Sectarianism In The Context Of Inter-Asian Religious Circulations

Sinophone Islam, as found in the Xibei (Xinjiang, Gansu, Qinghai and Ningxia), is characterized by sectarian (jiaopai) divisions among four groupings: the Qadim, the Sufi orders (menhuan), the Ikhwan, and the Salafis. With the exception of the latter, all of these sects adhere to a common doctrinal and legalistic tradition, shared by their...

Parallels And Paradoxes: New Religious Formations In Response To The BRI In Sri Lanka

Since the end of the civil war in 2009, Sri Lanka has attracted significant volumes of foreign investment. The vast majority of this investment has come from Chinese companies, which have committed loans amounting to over US$ 7 billion so far. Much of this investment has been used to finance large-scale infrastructure projects, including the...

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...

Alternative Healing Methods And China’s Health Silk Road: Chinese Muslim Medical Enterprises And Practitioners In Dubai

China has gained more prominence in terms of its global health leadership during the coronavirus pandemic. The state dispatched medical teams and supplies to many Belt and Road countries in the last six months. Sinopharm, a large state-owned Chinese pharmaceutical company, established its first overseas COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial program in...

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...

BRI Mapbox: An Online Map Generating Database

The BRI Mapbox illustrates the spatial configuration between infrastructures and religious factors in the BRI region. This work maps out and correlates routes, borders, railroads, pipelines, ports and free trade zones with demographic, economic and geo-political data in both contemporary and retrospective timeframes. These spatial features form a...

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...

Building Inter-Asia New Age Networks: Balancing Heterodoxy And Patriotism In Chinese Spiritual Tourism To India

The recent military clashes between India and China in the Galwan Valley resulted in the Sino-Indian border heating up to levels unseen in recent years. Meanwhile, India continues to downplay China’s Belt and Road Initiative and refuses to sign a BRI Memorandum of Understanding. In June 2020, parallel to the reports on these tensions, Chinese...