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Institute for Educational Development, Karachi


A while ago, when I was studying in Grade 8 at an English-medium school in Lahore, our class was divided up in four groups for a Geography project on Pakistan. The group of which I was a part had to make a sculptural map of Pakistan, demonstrating the diverse physical and social qualities of its landscape. And so we had set about carving our country with materials like styro-foam, cotton, cloth, and cardboard. In the final map that we made, the region of Gilgit-Baltistan - then the “Northern Areas” – had remained unlabeled and unpeopled, marked only with mountains made of clay. Even today, nature remains the primary modality through which Gilgit-Baltistan is understood within the Pakistani national imagination. Its magnificent peaks and breathtaking valleys invoke within Pakistanis a simultaneous sense of emotional attachment and proud ownership, permitting them to claim Pakistan as “beautiful”. In this article, I elaborate how the aesthetics of nature constitute a key terrain for state power in Pakistan. Gilgit-Baltistan is integral to the way in which the spatial structure, geographical essence, and physical-ecological constitution of the Pakistani nation/state is imagined, and as such, the region helps to consolidate a sense of the national self through the definition of the natural self. If maps produce the geo-body of the nation (Winichakul 1997), then representational practices surrounding the ecology of particular regions serve to constitute what I call the eco-body of the nation, converting natural splendor into territorial essence and epitome. I have retained the region’s previous name of “Northern Areas” in this article, as the analysis was undertaken prior to the name change in 2009.


This work was published before the author joined Aga Khan University.

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Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International License.