Tharparkar, located near the India-Pakistan border, is one of the most densely populated deserts in the world and hosts the largest population of Hindus in Pakistan. The people of Tharparkar have a strong connection with nature and the land, which has shaped their unique Thari identity based on mutual respect, brotherhood, and religious tolerance.

However, the discovery of massive deposits of coal in the desert, estimated to provide 175 billion tonnes of lignite coal, led to the development of the Thar Coal Block II power plant under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). This rapid growth had a significant impact on the desert and its Thari identity, including the destruction of local ecosystems, forced evictions of local communities, and increased policing and militarisation of the area.

As outsiders arrived in Tharparkar, the dominant religion started to appear more often in conversations, and the divisive discourse of “us vs them” seeped into the Thari way of life. The coal projects have also had a positive impact, such as generating electricity, but they have also emitted greenhouse gases and brought about a monumental change in the Thari way of life.

Despite the environmental and cultural costs, Pakistan’s economic struggles and energy crisis make it difficult for the country to say no to extracting and burning coal. The people of Tharparkar were sold the dream that “Thar will become Dubai,” but instead, they have lost their unique identity and the desert that sustained them for centuries.

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By hassani

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