In geography lies promise

January 15, 2017

The book offers a terrific opportunity to policy makers, academia to learn and apply from the lessons of history and current status of the KKH

In geography lies promise

In the past few decades, there have been works that have raised the salience of geography and geo-political factors in modernisation and development of states in the developing countries. These include works of Robert Kaplan, Revenge of Geography, David E. Bloom and Jeffrey Sachs, Geography, Demography and Economic Growth in Africa and more recently Jeffrey Sachs critical review of Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, Povertyby Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson in Foreign Affairs  titled Government, Geography and Growth: The True Drivers of Economic Development. Geographical factors have been identified and explained as key contributors towards economic development, security and formation of nation-state.

Geographical location offers risks and opportunities, why and how some nation-states are able to convert these into sustainable development and others suffer from uncertainties. Pakistan’s geographical position remains pivotal and, in that spirit, infrastructure development could play a critical role in promoting internal harmony and shaping its external relations.

Yet precious few scholars have focused on the centrality of ‘roads’ as identity markers, drivers of competition, rivalry and connectivity among nations. It is in this broader geo-political context that American anthropologist, Chad Haines’ book Nation, Territory and Globalization in Pakistan Traversing the Margins (Routledge 2012, Manohar 2016) provides some refreshing insights and interpretations on the importance of geographical location, its role in nation-state formation and its interface with forces of globalisation.

A distinguishing feature of this research is its extraordinary focus on Karakoram Highway (KKH) as a centrepiece of identity, booster of China-Pakistan friendship and promisor of economic growth and development in the case of Pakistan.

Was the KKH indeed conceived as potential ‘game changer’? In Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s imagination it was, as Haines perceptively reminds us, ‘The KKH is two roads’ -- Sinkiang-Gilgit road connecting Pakistan with Central Asia and national highway integrating Pakistan (p.66). It has certainly increased mobility, connectivity and transport of goods and people, hence transforming locale and communities. Haines’s work becomes all the more relevant and timely as Pakistan deliberates contests and evolves consensus on building another ‘road’ -- the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

A distinguishing feature of this research is its extraordinary focus on Karakoram Highway (KKH) as a centrepiece of identity, booster of China-Pakistan friendship and promisor of economic growth and development in the case of Pakistan.

Haines draws attention towards two critical aspects: firstly, he explains how the colonial rulers policy or inaction on creating ‘undefined borders’ and its thrust on infrastructure development created ‘British India’, and secondly, he explains how in the post-independence period ‘undefined borders’ and KKH continue to resonate as identity markers, as source of territorial integrity, providing marginalised communities an opportunity to relate with the nation, opening space and locality and enhancing state security(as it passes through ‘disputed territory’).

KKH links the unequal and remote parts of the country making them interdependent. Haines persuasively argues that KKH is a ‘unique story’, not simply as an iconic engineering landmark manifesting China-Pakistan strategic partnership but, ‘in the production of its symbolic meanings as the Silk Route’.

It recognises the sacrifices of Chinese and Pakistani engineers, workers, defense personnel who have laid down their lives for building this highway -- a monument of national importance. The central thesis of the book is that the KKH has traversed the ‘margins’ in multiple ways, integrating it with the larger nation-state, yet it has also polluted the ecology of the region and the socio-cultural life and values of the Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and communities on location along the road. Centre staging KKH, Haines unbundles the paradox that forces of modernisation and globalisation unleash by transforming the socio-cultural values and politics of these marginalised communities and the region.


The book is reader friendly, well-structured and organised into five chapters with a concise introduction and summary conclusion. It provides food for thought to a wide-ranging audience. For those interested in history of GB Agency and its links with Kashmir and colonial instruments of state formation chapters one and two are instructive, insightful and informative.

According to Haines, ‘undefined borders’ and infrastructure development were twin pillars of colonial policy that had created ‘British India’ (pp11-12). Pakistan inherited ‘undefined borders’ and network of railroad and irrigation infrastructure from the colonial rulers.

Weaving relationships between marginalised territories and nation-state formation, Haines highlights the pivotal role that roads and routes play in accelerating mobility and intensifying connectivity. Analysing the twin issues of ‘problem of security’ and ‘problem of development’ from colonial to modern times, Haines raises the salience of marginalised territories like marginalised individuals in the society. "Margins," he argues, "do not pre-exist state formation."

His analysis of marginalised GB leads him to aver, "The modern state is dependent on the production of the margins that give legitimacy to the centralising powers" (p.109). The margins play an integral role in bringing together the territorial components of nation state in an age of globalisation. Roads and routes demolish physical barriers and connect margins with the core -- the centre. Thus, nation-state is formed through the construction of both external and internal borders.

For the tourist and those interested in tourism policy formulation chapter four, "Emplacing the Karakoram Highway: from tourist spots to truck stops" provides a fascinating description of domestic and international tourists; their observations, needs, interests and even places that domestic tourists prefer and international tourists probe and visit.

Along KKH, Haines perceptively remarks, people are simply like passerby that one "encounters along the way" but the real attractions are physical in nature, the ‘highway, the deep river gorges, the glaciers and the mountain peaks" (pp.78-80). Haines is an astute observer as he draws attention towards how within a ‘marginalised’ geographical entity sectarian divide reflects levels of wealth and poverty.

He reveals Hunza attracts more tourists, given its location and the dynamism and support of Ismaili community; and it is more touristy and rich, while Nagar depicts and signifies depressed Shiites who appear ‘marginalised’, relatively poor and less attractive to tourists. Haines incisively remarks, "History, folk culture, nature," these are three qualities tourists come to "consume in Gilgit Baltistan" (p. 78).

For the environmentalists, it raises an alarm on how to preserve the beauty of nature and values and traditional lifestyles of people. In the 1960s and 1970s when KKH was being built, environmental assessment impact, transparency and issues of human rights were not in vogue; today these issues are under media gaze and public scrutiny.

As we plan, imagine and surround ourselves with ecstasy on CPEC as the ‘game changer’, the book offers a terrific opportunity to policy makers, academia, and those who care about the future generation of Pakistan to learn and apply from the lessons of history and current status of the KKH. Re-imagining geography holds the promise of 21st century for Pakistan.

Nation, Territory and
Globalization in Pakistan Traversing the Margins
Writer: Chad Haines
Publishers: Routledge 2012, Manohar 2016

In geography lies promise