The Indus Delta Between Past and Future: Precarious Livelihoods and Neoliberal Imaginaries in a Parched Coastal Belt

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Hasan H. Karrar


The Indus delta, at the terminus of the Indus river system, is presently home to 300,000 residents. Over the last century, upriver hydrology has reduced the flow of water through the river. The result is salination and seawater incursion that has led to the loss of arable land and with it, agriculture as a sustainable livelihood. This has created precarious livelihoods, as people are forced either into the informal fishing sector, or to migrate; this is a departure from earlier times when agriculture was the primary vocation, and forests covered large swathes of the region. I also discuss future plans for port development in the delta that is constitutive of a neoliberal developmentalist imaginary. This vision, in which a future Pakistan will be connected to markets in Asia through its ports, has been propagated for decades, and most recently as a consequence of China’s ongoing investment regime in Pakistan. In the conclusion, I reflect on the paradox of fixation on fantastical futures while the population is caught up in an uncertain present.

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