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The focus of this book is on industrial infrastructures of production and circulation, from power distribution and roads to dry ports and airports. It looks at how these infrastructures underpin visions of progress and mediate relations between the state and capitalist firms in industrializing districts in Punjab, Pakistan.



Introduction: Pathways to Progress

In the summer of 2006, General Pervez Musharraf was the president, gross domestic product (GDP) growth was an impressive 7 percent and Pakistan was labeled as one of the fastest growing economies of the Asian region.1 Alongside these noteworthy developments, dark clouds loomed on the horizon, threatening to undermine the pristine picture of Pakistan’s economic progress. In newspapers and on television, there was increasing talk about a power crisis marked by electricity thefts, leaky transmission and distribution networks, power outages, rising debts and growing protests. When I traveled to Faisalabad, which is Pakistan’s textile manufacturing heartland often touted as the ‘Manchester of Pakistan’ and where I had conducted research intermittently from 2006 to 2009, talk of electricity blackouts, worker layoffs and plant closures was persistent. The more time I spent interviewing industrialists and labor across a variety of textile-garment firms, both large and small and new and old, the more I learnt that the electricity crisis was of a magnitude that they had never experienced before. Since 2006, Pakistan’s electricity problems have worsened with outages lasting 22 hours per day and affecting industrial and domestic consumers and costing almost 3 percent of the annual GDP. In March 2012, hundreds of textile workers poured into the streets of Faisalabad, burned tires and shouted slogans against the government, complaining of power outages, industry shutdowns and job losses.2

Nausheen H. Anwar

1. History, Ideas, Visions

Marxists have long understood and emphasized the relevance of material infrastructure as constituting the basis of economic and social formations. Marx himself provided the basis for debates in the Indian Marxist tradition by suggesting that railways would be the ‘forerunner of modern industry’ (Marx 1978). The inherently linear, modernization-driven narrative underlying infrastructure’s conceptual foundations is perhaps best illustrated in the influential development discourses that emerged in the 1950s. This mode of thought about infrastructure was intimately caught up with new ideas concerning the shape and trajectory of economic development and the advancement of industrialization in so-called developing countries. With the ‘underdevelopment’ of Asia, Africa and Latin America as the major unresolved economic problem looming on the mid-20th century horizon, a new field of development economics emerged. Its ideas and theories percolated into the realm of industrial and infrastructural policy making in Pakistan. While there is no linear relationship between ideas and policy outcomes, in this specific historical conjuncture of the Pakistani state the ideas did have important bearing on official policy and planning. In Pakistan, as elsewhere in the erstwhile third world, the ideas of development economics were palpable to local planners and military rulers by giving saliency to their visions. Development economics enabled independent states, such as Pakistan, to tie infrastructure policies with a mode of rule while promising rapid material progress.

Nausheen H. Anwar

2. Disrupted Mobilities

In the early decades that followed independence, the Pakistani state’s developmental visions crystallized through the guidance of economists, engineers and planners who designed and orchestrated the technical and institutional structures of infrastructure projects to support industrialization. In the specific historical conjuncture of the 1950s and 1960s, development as infrastructure became a potent policy paradigm that gave saliency to the visions of planners, foreign experts and a military leader. Moreover, the normative ideal of infrastructural modernization was emphasized through the ubiquity of infrastructure, in terms of its generally low-cost provision and connectivity with all citizens. This normative ideal undergirded the broader project of Pakistan’s post-independence modernity. Today, in a different conjuncture marked by fiscal crises, structural adjustment programs, and differentiated structures of governance, notably privatization and liberalization, there have been extensive breakdowns in infrastructure in Pakistan. The signs of technological collapse are evident: public electricity is intermittent and costly, roads break down, ports barely function and the state is perceived as absent or disconnected from local-industrial contexts.

Nausheen H. Anwar

3. Power Breakdowns

As part of my research, I attended numerous textile-garment trade shows and exhibitions in Pakistan. Those held in Karachi are routinely some of the largest in the country and perhaps even in Asia attracting hundreds of visitors. Typically, such industry-led and state-supported events showcase textile-garment commodities and related technologies of production as keys to Pakistan’s idealized future. They also suggest ways for visitors to relate to Pakistan through these commodities. The symbolic content of the trade shows shores up the new developmental ideology of Pakistan’s competitiveness, the reinforcement of the idea of free enterprise, deregulation, good governance and the availability of cheap resources and labor. These trade shows are huge infrastructural efforts that resonate with Anna Tsing’s concept of an ‘economy of appearances’ wherein a spectacle of investor profitability and potential is produced.’ On the website of the international 12th Textile Asia Exhibition that was held in March 2014 at the Karachi Expo Centre, the title ‘Come to Pakistan, the Land of Many Splendors & Boundless Opportunities’ is juxtaposed with an array of photographs that display businessmen, government officials and foreign dignitaries in various poses cutting ribbons, holding flowers, shaking hands or gazing attentively at machinery and fashionably attired mannequins.1

Nausheen H. Anwar

4. Whither Labor?

Unlike the previous chapters in this book, this chapter focuses on labor and so the subject matter is very different. In the previous chapters I have considered the subject of industrial-infrastructural development in Pakistan in terms of its historical and relational moorings and visions of material progress. By turning to the subject of labor, I underscore a key point that material progress is also intimately tied to the immobility and exclusion of others. In industrializing Pakistan, the powerful infrastructure networks and entrepreneurial efforts that have enabled connectivity and the flow of commodities and global trade have also relied on the relative immobility of labor. Labor remains the vital peg in the construction of economic value and one of the key foundations of industrialization. Since the dawn of industrialization, labor has been characterized as deeply connected with the state. In Western Europe and in America, scholars have illustrated how labor held governments accountable for policies that protected them against exploitation and outright abuse (Badie & Birnbaum 1983; Katznelson & Zolberg 1986; Rueschemeyer, Stephens & Stephens 1992). In nations like Germany labor representatives were incorporated into state bureaucracy through labor parties (Schmitter 1974). The mid-20th century saw newly emergent nation-states like Pakistan embracing industrialization as a vital pathway to modernization.

Nausheen H. Anwar

Conclusion: Infrastructure’s Promise

In our modern era, infrastructure unites far-flung industrial landscapes and people into new networks of production, circulation and globalization. In the new millennium, infrastructure has become even more necessary for sustaining and bringing to fruition the long-standing promise of modernity: progress. Industrial peripheries must remain connected or they will collapse; if the state backs off from providing infrastructure, then isolated regions will be left behind. Without the aid of infrastructure, marginalized regions and industries will become even more disconnected. In a digital age of connectivity, infrastructure becomes more salient as data must flow over cable wires and Wi-Fi signals. Whether the physical point is in the office of a CEO of a large textile firm or in the diminutive back office of a retailer, never has infrastructure been more necessary as a point of access for industrial growth and economic development.

Nausheen H. Anwar


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