SOAS Research Online

A Free Database of the Latest Research by SOAS Academics and PhD Students

[skip to content]

Khan, Mustafa Ahmed (2020) Making Them Look the Other Way! The (Ir)rationality of Road Building in the Sindh Borderlands of Pakistan. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

Text - Submitted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0).

Download (1MB) | Preview


The thesis explores the politics and poetics of road making in Pakistan. The material addresses two questions: why do states build roads? What happens to the people and places that roads pass through when roads finally appear? I conducted eleven months of ethnographic fieldwork on and along 360 kilometres of road built through southern Sindh, from the port of Karachi to a newly discovered coalfield in the borderland district of Tharparkar. The material challenges and complicates a body of scholarship connecting road building to state-making and territoriality. I explore how the ‘cartographic anxieties’ of India and Pakistan have created ‘zones of exception’ in their borderlands. Research on borderlands has focused on illicit flows and weak states, but in Sindh the border is a fiercely contested space and highly securitised while also being home to marginal populations, including Hindus and Dalits. This thesis de-constructs the tendency to explain road building as a form of economic improvement because the material from Sindh suggests that road building is a political process influenced more by discourses of national security than by the promotion of economic well-being. Foucauldian perspectives on the study of the state have produced important and necessary insights, but, at times, have also reified the power of the state as a particular universal instantiation of power, and more recently, neo-liberalism. By moving the focus on to the relationship between the citizen and state, this thesis will make an argument that postcolonial states such as Pakistan now face a ‘crisis of legitimacy’ when they undertake large infrastructural projects, with resistance from communities undergoing displacement, as earlier notions of social, political and legal orders are rearranged. Overall, this material allows me to develop an argument about borders in the region. The Partition of 1947 did not simply create new territories and countries. Instead, this has been a long and contested process of adjustment, rupture and accommodation - the 'afterlives of Partition'. In many ways, the border is still being made, and roads are just one part of this process. In Pakistan, Tharparkar, like other ‘remote places’ in Asia, is increasingly reimagined as a resource-rich, unexploited ‘wasteland’ targeted for large-scale development schemes aimed at national integration and territorial control. New roads have been constructed for the exploitation of a new ‘resource frontier’. With roads come new connections with urban Sindh, in particular Karachi, and new spatial realties for older populations. This research makes an original contribution to the study of state making, citizenship and development in Pakistan. This is the first ethnographic research to be carried out along the borderlands of Sindh and Gujarat-Rajasthan with a focus on the afterlives of the Partition.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Edward Simpson, David Mosse and Ruba Salih
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 11 Aug 2023 11:06
Funders: European Union

Altmetric Data


Download activity - last 12 monthsShow export options
Downloads since deposit
6 month trend
6 month trend
Accesses by country - last 12 monthsShow export options
Accesses by referrer - last 12 monthsShow export options

Repository staff only

Edit Item Edit Item