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1 May 2016 Framing Modernization Interventions: Reassessing the Role of Migration and Translocality in Sustainable Mountain Development in Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan
Andreas Benz
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The Gojal region in northern Pakistan has a comparatively high level of development, virtually unparalleled in Pakistan’s other mountain areas and rural periphery and representing a significant advance over the extreme poverty, recurrent famine, pervasive illiteracy, and feudal oppression that existed until the 1940s. This article analyzes the factors and conditions that made this possible. Various external modernization interventions by state and nonstate agencies, particularly by the Aga Khan Development Network, have been crucial in this respect. The significance of the framing of such interventions for their acceptance and successful implementation is analyzed for the Ismaili community of Gojal. Findings from this case study underline the central importance of local actors’ agency and their proactive and creative response to the changing conditions and new opportunities created during modernizing interventions. Local households’ mobility and migration strategies, in the context of sectoral and spatial livelihood diversification, have played a pivotal role in translating external modernization interventions into mountain development. Informed by recent debates on translocality, this article argues for a reassessment of the role of migration and translocality in development, a role that has often been underestimated or reduced to the effects of remittances. From this perspective, the transferability of Gojal’s successful development to other mountain areas is discussed.


Modernization interventions were launched in many parts of the Himalaya-Karakoram in colonial times, but they intensified in the postcolonial period, implemented by state institutions as well as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and international development aid agencies. Such interventions—for instance, in the fields of education, health services, physical infrastructure, business development, and capacity building—have shown different outcomes in different regions (Kreutzmann 1991, 2004, 2009; Joshi 2000; Hoermann and Kollmair 2009; Khan 2009; Sati 2014). Efforts that have facilitated development and significantly improved well-being in some areas have had little effect in others, and in some cases have worsened local conditions by triggering destructive outmigration and brain drain (Kaukab 2005; De Haas 2012; Nyberg Sørensen 2012).

These diverse outcomes raise questions about the factors that facilitate or constrain the translation of external modernization interventions into sustainable mountain development. Development in this article is understood as a multidimensional concept aiming at improving people’s living conditions, enhancing their capabilities, and strengthening their problem-solving capacities (Sen 1999; Nussbaum 2000; Rauch 2003; UNDP 2015). It can be characterized as sustainable when it is realized based on principles of social and ecological justice and without compromising the ecological, economic, social, and cultural basis of current and future generations’ development, human freedoms, and capabilities (Sen 2013). By contrast, modernization interventions undertaken by development agencies and the Pakistani government are often informed by the perspective of modernization theories and aim at a quite different vision of development, understood as technologization, commercialization, rationalization, institutionalization, industrialization, and economic growth.

Factors facilitating sustainable development vary from case to case, depending on local particularities and historical trajectories; outcomes are shaped by sociocultural, economic, political, and ecological conditions and by the changing position of the local structure in larger contexts, networks, and power relations. The notion that understanding of local developments requires a relational and translocal perspective has been emphasized in recent academic debates (Zoomers and van Westen 2011; Greiner and Sakdapolrak 2013). One of the core ideas of this approach is that local developments are caused by the interplay of local and extralocal factors. Thus, modernization interventions in mountain regions need to be seen from a translocal, relational perspective. In development processes, external modernization interventions and local responses to them are important aspects of the local–extralocal interplay. Potential factors for a successful translation of modernization into sustainable mountain development need to be traced on both sides of this interplay.

This article scrutinizes this interplay in the context of Gojal, which is widely recognized as a successfully and arguably sustainably developing mountain region in the upper Hunza valley in the Pakistani Karakoram, in an attempt to identify both local and extralocal success factors that may also be relevant to sustainable mountain development in general.

Methods and concepts

This analysis of the development process in the Gojal region, which is part of the Hunza-Nagar District of Gilgit-Baltistan, is based on results of 3 months of field research in 2011 and 2012. Following a multisited approach (Marcus 1995), interviews and field studies were conducted in 3 villages in Gojal (Hussaini, Passu, and Gulmit) and 2 in central Hunza (Aliabad, Karimabad), as well as in Gilgit-Baltistan’s regional center, Gilgit, and in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad (Figure 1).


Map of Pakistan and Gilgit-Baltistan. (Map by Andreas Benz)


A standardized survey was completed by a representative from every household in Hussaini and Passu (full coverage), with the help of local field assistants who spoke the local Wakhi language, and results were documented in English. The survey asked, among other things, about the migration biographies of all household members and their close relatives. In total, 1750 individual migration biographies, some reaching back to the 1920s, were documented, revealing the periods, destinations, and purposes of each act of migration. The migration narratives (ie the stories that people from different villages in Gojal told about their own and others’ migration experiences) were collected through biographical interviews, oral history interviews, and focus group discussions conducted with former and current migrants, village elders, teachers, and representatives of village organizations and social-sector NGOs. Guided narrative and biographical interviews were undertaken with 45 former and 33 current migrants, either in English or in Wakhi with the help of a local interpreter. Interviews were recorded and transcribed.

The historical trajectory of mobility, livelihood change, and socioeconomic development in Gojal was reconstructed from these sources and considered in the context of general economic, sociocultural, and political changes in the region. Because the field research focused on the villages of Hussaini and Passu, the conclusions of this article relate significantly to these and surrounding villages in lower Gojal, and they may not be fully transferrable to villages in more remote locations of upper Gojal, in which mobility and translocality have not yet reached the high levels observed in lower Gojal (Cook and Butz 2011, 2013).

This analysis is informed by concepts of translocality, translocal development, and translocal livelihoods. The concept of translocality (Freitag and von Oppen 2010; Brickell and Datta 2011; Smith 2011; Verne 2012; Greiner and Sakdapolrak 2013) suggests a thoroughly relational perspective on space and spatial processes, in which conditions and events in one place are, to a large extent, defined and shaped by conditions and events in other, connected places. The dynamics of material, political, economic, social, and ideational connections between different places are central to understanding changes in a particular locale. Representations of spatial dichotomies, such as rural versus urban, are blurred by this idea, since multiple connections cut across these categories (Greiner and Schnegg 2009; Steinbrink 2009). From this viewpoint, no socially relevant phenomenon is purely local, since it only exists in relation to other, nonlocal phenomena (Ingold 2006).

In development studies, the idea of translocality has been taken up in the concepts of translocal development (Leung 2011; Zoomers and van Westen 2011) and translocal livelihoods (Bebbington and Batterbury 2001; De Haan and Zoomers 2003; Lohnert and Steinbrink 2005; Steinbrink 2007, 2012; De Haan 2008; Long 2008; Thieme 2008; Greiner 2010, 2012; Elmhirst 2012). Development studies increasingly recognize that in the context of economic globalization, growing interdependencies, and new insecurities, the quest to build more resilient livelihoods has resulted not only in sectoral but also in spatial diversification (Ellis 1998, 2003). Engaging in a range of livelihood activities at different and often distant places makes it possible for households to tap additional resources and new income opportunities, reduce risks, and cope better with shocks and adverse trends, making their livelihoods more sustainable.

Spatial livelihood diversification includes mobility and migration, through which household members can access new, nonlocal opportunities and resources. Spatial livelihood diversification is a driver for the translocalization of social entities, and it creates translocal households, family networks, and communities. Throughout the 1980s and much of the 1990s, migration was considered an obstacle to “local” development that needed to be curbed. Since about the turn of the millennium, in light of growing numbers of international labor migrants and an unprecedented global remittance boom, it has been increasingly seen as an important potential driver of development (De Haas 2010, 2012). However, related debates still rely heavily on spatial dichotomies (such as sending region versus destination region) and focus rather narrowly on labor migrants and their remittances (Hoermann and Kollmair 2009; Raghuram 2009; Hoermann et al 2010; Cohen 2011; Schild and Sharma 2011). From a relational, translocal standpoint, a further reassessment of the role of migration for development is required, replacing this bilocal perspective with a focus on larger support networks and enhanced translocal opportunity structures. This article applies this translocal perspective to modernization interventions, migration, and sustainable mountain development.

Modernization interventions and development in Gojal since the 1940s

Different agencies have implemented a broad range of modernization interventions in Gojal. Probably the earliest was the introduction of the first schools in 1946 on the initiative of the Aga Khan III, the spiritual leader of the Nizari Ismaili community, to which the vast majority of Gojalis belong. He launched a large-scale school program in northern Pakistan in the late 1940s, establishing Gojal’s first formal educational institutions, 7 private primary schools (AKESP 2005; Nazar 2009; Benz 2014a: 127–128), leaving a deep and lasting imprint on educational development in the area (Felmy 2006). The schools marked the starting point of Gojal’s rapid educational expansion, which was extended to include girls in the 1970s (as indicated for Passu in Figure 2). Beginning in the 1950s, the Pakistani state also established schools in different villages in Gojal, but private schools still form the backbone of formal education. Gojali households attribute high importance to education and are willing to invest heavily in the school and university education of their children. Today, all children, boys and girls alike, are enrolled in school, and almost all children complete high school. Consequently, education levels in Gojal are exceptionally high, and gender disparities are exceptionally low compared to other rural and remote areas of Pakistan (as indicated for Passu and Hussaini in Table 1).


Education level by age cohort among Passu residents born before 1989. (Data source: survey by the author, 2012)



Selected education indicators for Hussaini and Passu (2012) and for Pakistan as a whole (2011).a


Modernization interventions in the field of physical infrastructure, especially the expansion of the road network, have had decisive impacts on the development of the region. In particular, the completion of the Karakoram Highway in 1978 provided many villages with direct, fast, and comfortable access to the regional center Gilgit, Pakistani lowland cities, and Xinjiang in western China. Travelling time from lower Gojal to Gilgit was reduced from a 4 day walk to a 4 hour drive, and the transportation of goods eased significantly. The new road turned most of Gojal from a remote and difficult-to-access area into a well-connected place adjoining an international transit corridor. The Karakoram Highway and its link roads, which today connect almost all settlements, enabled a rapidly rising influx of food and other consumer goods, farm inputs, construction materials, and machinery from the Pakistani lowlands; international tourists and development aid projects; exports of agricultural products to Pakistani lowland markets; and cross-border trade with China. Local economic opportunities multiplied, ranging from cash-crop production to retail and wholesale businesses, construction enterprises, hotels, restaurants, employment as guides and drivers, and employment in new schools, health facilities, and externally funded development projects (Kreutzmann 1991, 1993, 2000; Haines 2012).

Besides education and physical infrastructure development, modernization efforts in Gojal have focused on rural development. Interventions by the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP), which started its activities in Gojal in 1982, had a particularly lasting impact. AKRSP encouraged villagers to set up their own organizations to implement physical infrastructure projects. One of AKRSP’s main initial objectives was to reorient traditional local subsistence agriculture toward cash-crop production for external markets and base it on modern agricultural techniques, in order to increase local income and curb growing outmigration (Hussain 1987: 334; Clemens 2000: 4). In this context, several agricultural innovations were introduced, such as higher-yielding crop varieties, new cash crops, improved livestock breeds, chemical fertilizers, and farm machinery (Khan 2012: 188; Settle 2012: 392). The sale and marketing of products, as well as the development of small-scale rural enterprises, were facilitated (Afzal 2006; Hussein and Plateau 2006; Ruthven 2011).

Developmental outcomes in Gojal surpassed most expectations. Living conditions and well-being have improved continuously over the last few decades (Kreutzmann 1989, 1993, 1995, 1996; Sabir 2006; Wood and Malik 2006). This trend is expected to last despite recent drawbacks caused by the blockage of the Karakoram Highway after a huge rockslide in January 2010 and subsequent lake formation (Butz and Cook 2011; Kreutzmann 2012; Cook and Butz 2013; Mohyuddin and Begum 2014). Real per-capita income has risen steadily since the 1990s in AKRSP’s Gilgit program area (to which Gojal belongs), with household nominal off-farm income growing by 16% annually on average between 1991 and 2005 (AKRSP 2007: 12–15). Thanks to new medical facilities and a rising trend of seeking health treatment outside the region, the health situation in Gojal has also improved noticeably (AKRSP 2007: 38; Uddin et al 2010; Mohyuddin and Begum 2014). The level of formal education is almost unparalleled in other rural peripheral regions in Pakistan (Benz 2012, 2013a, 2014a) and is well above the national average (Table 1).

Commonly recognized success factors

Most analysts agree on a number of factors that have contributed to the successful translation of modernization interventions into development in Gojal. These include the geostrategic importance attributed to the region since colonial times (Haines 2012; Kreutzmann 2013). In the context of its rivalry with Russia over Central Asia and India, Britain developed a strong imperial interest in Hunza as a frontier state in the late 19th century (Chohan 1983; Kreutzmann 2003, 2008). The British left a lasting imprint on the region, not least by establishing the first formal schools and providing the first opportunities to earn cash income through service in the local regiment. At the same time, they strengthened the local feudal system by installing a loyal ruler in Hunza, thus contributing to the continuation of political suppression, economic exploitation, and severe poverty.

With the end of colonial rule and the partitioning of British India in 1947, Gojal became part of the newly established state of Pakistan. As a part of the disputed Kashmir territory, Gojal retained high geopolitical importance. This motivated an expansion of the road network for military–strategic reasons and the presence of a substantial security force, which offered new employment opportunities. The abolition of feudal rule in Hunza in 1974 removed restrictions on mobility and access to education and endowed all households with their own plots of agricultural land in relatively equal shares (Kreutzmann 1993: 25). Thus, landlordism, peasant landlessness, and related structures of power and inequality that are crippling many parts of Pakistan are not found here (Settle 2012: 393). These factors have created a context particularly conducive to development.

A community-based and participatory approach has also often contributed to the success of development interventions, especially by nonstate organizations. AKRSP, for example, aims to mobilize, organize, and build capacity in the community in order to create sustainable self-help structures (AKRSP 1984: 4). In Gojal, community-based approaches have met with a particularly positive response, because they correspond well with local social structures, which are characterized by strong ties within extended families and communities, high solidarity, and collective self-help mechanisms (Khan 2012: 191; Walter 2014: 44).

Affiliation with Ismailism is another source of social cohesion that has played a central role in development in Gojal. The integration of the Ismaili communities of the Karakoram into global Ismaili institutional networks during the 20th century (Kreutzmann 1996; Daftary 1998, 2007) has not only created a strong translocal Ismaili identity and the awareness of membership in a global community (Hussain 2009), but it has also opened up access to various assets and benefits derived from Ismaili solidarity networks. Regular tithe payments are collected from the global Ismaili community and redistributed through diverse Ismaili institutions, including the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) (Steinberg 2011; Hussain 2015). Gojal has benefited particularly from these translocal Ismaili networks, for instance, in the form of AKESP schools and scholarships, AKRSP’s rural development initiatives, medical facilities provided by Aga Khan Health Services, and, not least, through professional employment opportunities in AKDN institutions. Since the AKDN was established and is chaired by the Aga Khan, many Gojalis consider it a religious imperative to participate and contribute actively to AKDN’s development efforts (Ruthven 2011: 191; Hussain 2015: 126). “An important engine behind AKRSP [and other AKDN institutions’] success [is] the religious commitment of the Ismaili people to their spiritual leader” (Settle 2012: 393).

While the abovementioned factors are frequently referenced by analysts of development in Gojal, less attention has been given to 2 other important factors: migration and translocality.

Migration and translocality as success factors

Translocality is a pervasive feature of villages and households in Gojal. It has intensified significantly over about the last 6 decades in the context of migration, and it has had far-reaching impacts on the development process of the region. At least 3 kinds of social translocality can be discerned in the case of Gojal, which may be described as intraregional, extraregional, and diachronic. While the first and second characterize connections to other places, the third refers to the sequence of places visited or lived in during a life course, from which locality-specific experiences, knowledge, and personal contacts are derived and maintained.

Intraregional translocality involves dense networks of connections between people within Gojal. A tight web of kinship relations weaves the Wakhi, the prevailing ethnolinguistic group, together in a common space through which they navigate with profound knowledge and awareness of even remote relations. Kinship interconnections are constantly renewed by established patrilocal intermarriage patterns between local villages (Figure 3) and a strong tendency to marry within the Wakhi community. Among the married couples in Hussaini and Passu, about two thirds of the wives originate from outside their respective villages, but more than 96% originate from inside Gojal. Based on deeply entrenched norms of mutual support within extended family networks and the broader community, these intraregional translocal social structures provide a strong medium for acts of mutual assistance, solidarity, and support.


Marriage networks linking Hussaini and Passu with other Gojali villages and beyond. (Data source: survey by the author, 2012, of all households in Passu [101, with 141 married couples, including 85 wives from outside the village] and Hussaini [84, with 125 married couples, including 83 wives from outside the village])


With the rise of migration to places outside Gojal since the 1950s, these networks have expanded to include places elsewhere in Pakistan and abroad, and they have thus reached a level of extraregional (including international) translocality. In this context, every individual migration has expanded the translocal family and community support networks for many people. When a new migrant destination is added to a translocal network, all network members can potentially expect support at that location for their own migration and migration-based livelihood strategies. For example, Ghulam Muhammad—one of the earliest educational migrants from Passu to Karachi, the first in his family to get a higher education, and the first engineer in Gojal—helped many members to pursue higher education in Karachi:

My whole income was not only for me. It was for all of the kids who were getting an education down in Karachi. I did not spend my salary on myself. I spent my income for all of them, because they needed my help at that time…. It is now a chain reaction. It is by virtue of such examples [that] now people are getting an education; they help each other. (Interview in Gilgit, 11 September 2011)

One generation of migrants helped the next by offering them free food and housing, financial support, and valuable contacts and information, which allowed subsequent migrants to find employment or to enroll in a higher-level educational institution.

Biographical accounts of former and current migrants from Hussaini, Passu, and Gulmit reveal that the recent history of outmigration from Gojal has developed in 5 stages (Benz 2013b):

  1. Gojali men were recruited into the British colonial military forces in Gilgit in the late 1930s. Migration for military service continued after the foundation of Pakistan in 1947.

  2. In the early 1950s, many of the early military migrants started to financially support close male relatives to leave the region as unskilled labor migrants. The overwhelming majority of these migrants went to Karachi, the city in Pakistan that is furthest from Gojal (Figure 1), a focus that has persisted to the present (Figure 4). This can be explained by the presence of the khoja Ismaili community in the city (Benz 2014b). As an outcome of the Aga Khan’s policy to unite and consolidate the formerly dispersed and unconnected Ismaili communities, affluent khoja traders and entrepreneurs began to consider Ismailis from the Karakoram as their impoverished fellows and offered them protection, employment, and support.

  3. Some labor migrants from Gojal began to study part-time in Karachi, alongside their day jobs, and they soon encouraged their close relatives to join them in Karachi for their education and offered them in-situ support. The Passu engineer quoted above was supported in exactly this way by his uncle, Qazi Muhammad, who had migrated from Passu to Karachi in 1954 to work and was supported financially by his brother in military service: “I asked my brother to send his son, Ghulam Muhammad, with me to Karachi and promised him to support his son and to provide him with an education, to go to [secondary] school there” (interview in Passu, 27 October 2012). In the late 1950s, more and more Gojali men migrated to Karachi to continue their basic education.

  4. Many educational migrants found professional employment in Karachi and other Pakistani cities after graduation. This highly qualified labor migration led to the diversification of migration destinations and thus further expanded translocal social networks. Income from professional jobs was redistributed within translocal family networks and used to support other family members’ migration and education. Students could be fully funded by their relatives and no longer depended on part-time jobs—which allowed female students, for whom part-time work was not viable, to attend higher-level education institutions beginning in the 1990s.

  5. Today, the choice of study location depends less on the availability of in-situ support from relatives and more on the quality of education offered. In addition to Karachi, cities like Gilgit, Islamabad/Rawalpindi, Lahore, and Peshawar have gained importance for educational migrants from Gojal (Table 2).


Spatial distribution of the village populations of Hussaini and Passu. Of a total of 687 household members in Passu and 601 in Hussaini, 237 from Passu and 157 from Hussaini had migrated to other places. (Data source: survey by the author, 2012)



Destinations of educational migrants from Hussaini and Passu, October 2012.a)


The opening up of the Gojal region to foreigners in the early 1980s led to rising numbers of international visitors and provided the basis for a growing local tourism sector, with many Gojalis working as porters and guides and in hotels, restaurants, and transport services. Interactions with foreign tourists, development workers, and researchers have led to long-lasting relations, friendships, and even a number of marriages, which further broadened the scope of Gojalis’ translocal networks and opened up new avenues for support and migration. Men from Passu, a tourism hotspot, have married women from Australia, Canada, Chile, Germany, Japan, Spain, and the United States and have moved to these respective countries (Benz 2014c).

Decades of intensifying migration (Figure 5) have thoroughly translocalized the social structures of Gojal. In Passu, for instance, 79% of the households have at least 1 household member who has migrated, and more than 1 in 3 household members live outside Gojal. All households in Passu have current migrants within their extended family networks. Every second household extends between 3 or more different places. Members of such translocal households frequently shift between different spatial moorings. The dynamic translocal household configurations, in which new moorings are continuously added and others abandoned, can be illustrated in retrospect by the migration trajectories of Passu household members, revealing structures of diachronic translocality (Figure 5). In Passu, 84% of all men and 38% of all women have spent a part of their lives outside Gojal; for residents 20–30 years old, the share rises to 93% for men and 75% for women.


Individual migration trajectories of all Passu household members age 20 years or older. Each column represents one person, indicating his or her year of birth and all migration periods during their life course. (Data source: survey by the author, 2012)


The translocal configurations of households, extended family networks, and communities outlined here have formed the backbone of development in Gojal in many respects. They have provided the structure through which mutual support and assistance are provided and have broadened the range of members’ livelihood opportunities. Support flows include not only conventional remittances sent by migrants to Gojal, but also what can be described as “network remittances” flowing between two or more places outside Gojal (for a detailed example from Hussaini, see Benz 2014c).

Rapid educational expansion, higher levels of education, and the exceptional rise in female education, which have turned Gojal into a leading region in rural Pakistan in this respect, only became possible through educational migration, which was enabled by translocal networks. Since local institutions until recently only offered education up to the high school level, Gojalis had to migrate to obtain a higher education. In Passu, 76% of all men and 41% of all women have studied outside the area. Gojal’s exceptional educational expansion has therefore taken place outside Gojal.

A similar situation exists with respect to improved incomes and off-farm employment. Since the 1980s, the overwhelming majority of the male workforce has been engaged in off-farm income-generating activities, the majority of them outside Gojal (Kreutzmann 1993: 30; AKRSP 2007: 8). In Hussaini and Passu, 79% of the male workforce is engaged in off-farm income-generating activities, 52% of them as migrants. At least since the 1990s, off-farm income has been the most important household cash income, and its share is steadily increasing (AKRSP 2007: 16). In 2009, it accounted for 80% of households’ cash income in Hussaini and Passu. Therefore, the successful diversification of income sources through professional employment, as well as the rapid growth in household income, has been realized mainly outside Gojal.

These trends in education, employment, and income make clear that a large proportion of the development progress in the Gojal region has to be attributed to translocal livelihood activities.


The Gojali example has shed light on the important roles of migration and mobility in improving livelihoods and achieving progress in development. The translocal social networks that have emerged during decades of migration have provided Gojalis with crucial opportunity structures to access higher education, professional employment, and off-farm income. The successful translation of external modernization interventions into mountain development could only be achieved by combining the new opportunities provided through these interventions with additional opportunities obtained through mobility and migration. This is clear, for instance, with respect to educational expansion, where development interventions provided the necessary facilities for local basic education, upon which translocal strategies of migration for higher education could be built in cities across Pakistan. Evidently, the combination of locally adapted modernization interventions with bottom-up translocal strategies has provided a pathway to successful development for the people of Gojal.

The questions surrounding the sustainability of this development are more complex and arguably remain unresolved. The successful developments outlined herein have had a number of negative aspects. For instance, unequal participation in new opportunities in and outside the region, whether due to lack of access or personal preference, has created growing socioeconomic disparities in Gojali society in terms of mobility, education, income, and livelihood opportunities. Household data from Hussaini and Passu reveal that most better-off households belong to the families that were among the first to opt for education and translocal strategies, while those who missed their chance in the 1960s and 1970s still lag behind. Rapid educational expansion has led to a trend of credential inflation, which undermines the utility of educational degrees, results in growing numbers of educated unemployed, and thus calls into question the long-term sustainability of education-based livelihood strategies (Benz 2014a). This makes it even harder for hitherto disadvantaged sections of society to catch up and strengthens tendencies to reproduce socioeconomic status.

The translocalization of households and extended family networks also poses a threat in the form of social disintegration, a widening generation gap, and the erosion of social cohesion (Butz and Cook 2011; Cook and Butz 2011). Translocal development requires external opportunities and dynamics and thus necessarily increases the degree of external dependency. However, at least until now, the region has benefited from intensified translocal interconnections and has largely managed to limit negative side effects.

Gojal’s development path may offer valuable insights for other mountain regions, but in light of the many local particularities that have shaped this path, prospects for transferability to other regions are limited. Some important factors can hardly be replicated in other cases, such as the strong community cohesion among the Wakhi Gojal, expressed in a pronounced group identity, endogamous marriage patterns, and a strong feeling of belonging. This not only forms the basis for mutual solidarity and support in and between places in translocal networks, but also firmly ties distant migrants to their place and community of origin and prevents them from losing touch with it. Another unique factor can be found in the advantages and opportunities gained from incorporation into global Ismaili networks and institutions, such as benefiting from AKDN development programs and the link to the khoja Ismailis in Karachi.

What can be transferred from the Gojali case is the insight that development processes have to be understood as thoroughly translocal. A purely local perspective is insufficient to grasp development dynamics, since they are co-implicated in a translocal configuration of local-to-local connections. The Gojali case shows that translocal strategies have tremendous potential to overcome local resource constraints, especially in mountain regions, by tapping external resources and employing them for development through translocal social networks and network remittances. Development interventions need to take into account the potential of translocal opportunity structures and the lived translocal reality of the people. Basic social entities, such as households, extended families, and village communities, need to be recognized as translocal social configurations. From such a perspective, migration and mobility should neither be ignored nor be considered a development drawback that needs to be curbed; rather, they should be seen as a central means for sectorally and spatially diversifying mountain livelihoods and building translocal opportunity structures. Migration and mobility are the driving forces for translocalization, which has great potential to reduce risks and vulnerability, enhance the resilience of mountain communities, and facilitate sustainable mountain development based on local and extralocal resources. These potentials could be developed further by reframing modernization efforts from a translocal perspective.

Open access article: please credit the authors and the full source.


The research for this study was kindly sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) in the context of the competence network “Crossroads Asia: Conflict, Migration, Development” (reference number: 01UC1103E), conducted in the subproject “Networks of Knowledge” at the Centre for Development Studies (ZELF), Freie Universität Berlin, Germany. I also wish to thank 2 anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments.



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© 2016. Benz.
Andreas Benz "Framing Modernization Interventions: Reassessing the Role of Migration and Translocality in Sustainable Mountain Development in Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan," Mountain Research and Development 36(2), 141-152, (1 May 2016).
Received: 1 November 2015; Accepted: 1 April 2016; Published: 1 May 2016
translocal development
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