Symposium – “The Spatial Politics of Infrastructure-Led Development in Pakistan”

Organised by Majed Akhter (King’s College London), Aasim Sajjad Akhtar (Quaid-i-Azam University) and Hasan H. Karrar (Lahore University of Management Sciences)

Forthcoming in Antipode 54(5) in September 2022, and available online now (either open access or, until September, free to download), “The Spatial Politics of Infrastructure‐Led Development: Notes from an Asian Postcolony” consists of seven essays, whose origins can be traced to a meeting in 2020 at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) with the founding of a new group – the Infrastructural Pakistan Research Network. The research network provides a platform for collaboration and dialogue between scholars and activists interested in the politics and political economy of infrastructures in Pakistan.

Critical scholars of infrastructure are intervening in debates around globalisation, uneven development, socio-environmental justice, state formation, and political ecology. The past decade has seen invigorated interest in the politics of infrastructures. In Asia these have been catalysed by the inauguration of China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative in 2013. Critical social scientists, humanities scholars, and area studies scholars have advanced how the politics of physical and social infrastructures are conceptualised – including how infrastructures make and unmake political, economic, ecological, and cultural life. At the same time, planners, politicians, and engineers across the world – and especially in Asia – have been busy building ports, power plants, railroads, highway systems, and even brand-new cities. The articles in this symposium aim to describe, explain, and critique the discourse and practice of infrastructure-led development – with a regional base in one of the global fault lines of uneven development: Pakistan.

The people and polity of Pakistan face many problems – but the region itself cannot be reduced to a mere problem or threat to be fixed. Pakistan figures in this symposium as a place of concern and as a political project in the making. It also serves as rich ground for theoretical and methodological innovation. Even as the papers treat Pakistani history, state formation, political geography, ecology and cultures with nuance and sensitivity, they also theorise concerns that resonate around the world: core/periphery dynamics at multiple scales, securitisation, ecological struggle, technocratic urbanisation, hegemony and legitimacy, controlled mobility, and the political and cultural forms taken by resistance under conditions of uneven spatial development.

The introductory essay situates the symposium in relation to Frantz Fanon as a critical thinker of national economic and political development under the uneven and exploitative conditions of world capitalism. The introductory essay also presents a concise history of Pakistan’s political and developmental history and synthesises the insights of the seven papers along three crucial axes of critical geographic thought: periphery, city, and nature. The symposium aims to contribute to renewed rounds of scholarship and praxis in Pakistan – and beyond – that critique and dismantle infrastructures of oppression, and envision and construct infrastructures of inclusivity, equality, and liberation.


The Spatial Politics of Infrastructure-Led Development: Notes from an Asian Postcolony by Majed Akhter, Aasim Sajjad Akhtar and Hasan H. Karrar


The Checkpost State in Pakistan’s War of Terror: Centres, Peripheries, and the Politics of the Universal by Aasim Sajjad Akhtar

The Geopolitics of Infrastructure and Securitisation in a Postcolony Frontier Space by Hasan H. Karrar

Infrastructure, Development, and Displacement in Pakistan’s “Southern Punjab” by Ali Nobil Ahmad

Dams, Development, and Racialised Internal Peripheries: Hydraulic Imaginaries as Hegemonic Strategy in Pakistan by Majed Akhter

Epidemic Infrastructures and the Politics of Responsibility in Lahore by Nida Rehman

“Safe Cities” in Pakistan: Knowledge Infrastructures, Urban Planning, and the Security State by Caylee Hong

Democracy, Legitimacy, and Mega-Project Politics: The Evolution of Lahore’s First BRT Corridor by Fizzah Sajjad and Umair Javed