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Making Azad Kashmir Safe for Tourists: Disaster, Humanitarianism, and the Emergence of a Tourist Industry in Northern Pakistan

Cabeiri Robinson

University of Washington & Secretary, American Institute of Pakistan Studies



An earthquake quite literally changed the landscape of northeast Pakistan in October 2005.  It had its epicenter near Muzaffarabad, the capital of Azad Kashmir (AK), a region of Jammu and Kashmir administered by Pakistan and claimed by India.  Since 1989, AK has been the center of organizing, recruitment, and training for both secular and Islamic militant organizations fighting in Indian Kashmir.  After the earthquake, militants declared a temporary stop to their armed activities on the Indian side of the border in order to engage in the labor of relief work.  They joined what became a vast humanitarian relief project that brought numerous state institutions, international agencies, and national and transnational voluntary organizations together.  As the focus shifted from relief to long term reconstruction and rehabilitation, it became clear that the earthquake had transformed the social and political landscapes as well as the physical one. This paper explains how a "natural" disaster transformed an area that had long been a site of global humanitarian refusal into an acceptable terrain of humanitarian work.  The paper shows that establishing secure residence and labor conditions for foreign aid workers and Pakistani volunteers and producing pleasurable leisure activities for them became a central part of the relief work and of post-disaster reconstruction. The paper examines how the new nominal condition of post-conflict enjoyment has made it possible for both Kashmiris and Pakistanis to make making new claims on the cultural, social, and political relationships between Pakistan and Kashmir.