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.

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