The Roads Project

Coal roads in Pakistan and the contradictions of modernity

Coal roads in Pakistan and the contradictions of modernity

Mustafa Khan, PhD Candidate, SOAS

In Tharparkar, south-east Pakistan, over 200 kilometres of roads are being constructed to facilitate access to a coalfield intended to provide power to an electricity-starved country. The new roads are often sold as harbingers of great change and signs of modernity. Industry and the much sought-after prize of foreign direct investment are just around the corner. I was often told that the Thar would become a “Dubai”, which represented an ultimate symbol of modernity. Scholars have argued that neo-liberalism’s achievements are double: narrowing the window of political debate, while promising prospects without limit. In Tharparkar, the immediate effect has been increased land speculation, with little tangible improvements with regards to local employment for example. I argue that the ‘transition rhetoric’ being used by the state and the local political elite has no relation to the actual economic and political processes, except to veil interests of the elite groups. The material from Tharparker demonstrates that roads as symbols of ‘modernity’ can be used to deconstruct some of the contradictions at the heart of many modernization myths.

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