Amid an unprecedented inflationary cycle and economic downturn, Pakistan grapples with waning US interest in its post-Global War on Terror (GWOT) foreign policy. In response, the nation is turning to neighboring Asian states for trade and investment opportunities. The resource-rich Gulf states, with their Sovereign Wealth Fund-backed initiatives, and China, with its intensified focus on the Belt and Road infrastructure, emerge as the primary lifelines for Pakistan’s struggling economy. Key factions within the Pakistani state believe that securing these large formal investments necessitates curtailing smaller informal trade. But for centuries, dhow and caravan routes weaving through the Arabian Sea, Persia, Central Asia, and India have been the lifeblood of markets and communities within the territories of present-day Pakistan. These networks have not only enabled the flow of goods but also facilitated the exchange of ideas, beliefs, and ties of kinship that have historically bound the region. Their future, however, remains uncertain given the Pakistani state’s eagerness to bulldoze over older informal networks to pave the way for new formal investments.
Challenging the notion that informal trade channels and formal investments are inherently at odds, this HSS conference seeks nuanced insights into where they intersect and diverge. With panels focusing on borderland communities and transnational networks, we'll delve into how trade practices maneuver between and beneath states, sometimes evading legal barriers and at other times through state patronage. Looking beyond a narrow economic lens, we will invite scholars versed in folklore, travelogues, and religious literature to unpack the enduring social and cultural imprints of these exchanges. We will also invite scholars working across political science, (political) sociology and (political) anthropology to elaborate the ways in which the state interacts with, or reacts to, these networks, both informally and via formal/legal structures. The recent crackdown on Afghan “refugees” in Pakistan is a case in point.
Nurturing interdisciplinary discussions, we probe whether resilient networks could illuminate possible solutions for contemporary challenges faced by formal investments, such as fostering trust, minimizing risks, and ensuring sustainability. We further explore how an increasingly interconnected Asia may derive meaning from older political imaginaries, such as global Islam, as well as from emerging possibilities. Given the breakneck speed of population outflow from Pakistan, we further hope to foster discussion on push factors engendered by the state, consciously or otherwise. As the diaspora expands both in size and clout, we explore the various ways they will continue to shape politics within Pakistan despite not having overseas voting rights. Juxtaposing large infrastructural investments, such as the multimillion-dollar China-funded Gwadar port struggling to attract container trade, with dispersive small-scale networks, like those involved in the Iran border trade on oil-canister-laden motorbikes, we compare their environment and social impacts on local communities.
* LUMS will provide boarding and lodging for all accepted participants.
Limited funding is available for local and international travel for scholars without their own funding source.