AAS Annual Meeting

South Asia Session 493

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Session 493: Policies and Practices of Intervention in South Asia – The Cases of Afghanistan and Pakistan

Organizer and Chair: Andrea Fleschenberg, Independent Scholar, Germany

Discussant: Kristina Roepstorff, University of Erfurt, Germany

Old wine in new bottles? one could ask when looking into policies and practices of intervention in South Asia across different historical periods and intervening actors – from the British Empire to current actors – be it individual countries (e.g. USA, India), or be it an collective alliance (e.g. under the auspices of NATO, UN). In recent decades, policies and practices of intervention, in particular by Western countries, have generated substantive academic and public debates. This public limelight is further directed on questions of the necessity and morality of civil and military engagements of Western nations in order to counter the perceived increasing threat of fragile and/or failing states and their transnational conflict / threat potential. In this regard, much has been written on the increasing militarization of US-American foreign policy, especially with regards to post-intervention policies towards Afghanistan, as well as the indelible linking of US-American foreign policy towards both Afghanistan and Pakistan to the demands of the so called “War on Terror”. Less discussed have been the intervention policies of regional powers such as India, or the imperial legacies that inform today’s policies in the region. This panel aims to contribute to a critical debate on interventions in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region through an analysis not only of historical precedents of current policies and practices in the field of security, but also by comparing those to current modus of operandi, underlying (vested) interests, strategies of legitimation and transhistorical as well as transnational implications for conflict resolution and stabilization of the region.

Frontier Tribes and the Problem of Afghanistan: Imperial Policing and Containment, 1880-1935
James L. Hevia, University of Chicago, USA

With the inauguration of the “Forward Policy” in the 1870s on the Punjab-Afghan frontier, the British India Army found itself in conflict with the so-called tribal peoples of the mountains. Experimenting with various tactics to improve the conditions of the tribes, the British eventually relied primarily on military solutions to their frontier “problem.” Drawing on documentary material from the British India army intelligence archives, this paper explores the process of the militarization of the frontier and the particular techniques the British army asserted as effective against the Pathan “tribes,” particularly those in Waziristan. British policies will then be compared with contemporary practices of counterinsurgency in the region.

Indian intervention in Afghanistan and the tradition of pacifying colonial frontiers
Raphael Susewind, Bielefeld University, Germany

India intervenes in Afghanistan to fight global terrorism and to project itself as a responsible partner in world politics – so far the official narrative. India also intervenes in Afghanistan to encircle Pakistan and to thwart its arch enemy’s longing for „strategic depth“ in West Asia – the most frequent scholarly interpretation. Both accounts of Indo-Afghan dynamics are important, but neither questions its foundation in state-centric frameworks. This paper therefore adds a third narrative to highlight how India's intervention in Afghanistan perpetuates colonial traditions of policing the subcontinent's various frontiers – traditions which have little to do with nation states. Saskia Sassen forcefully argued that looking at inter-state relations through the lense „inter-state relations“ leads to tautological fallacies. Rather, territory, authority and rights intersect in specific assemblages throughout history, only some of which might take the form of nation states or systems of nation states. This paper reconstructs Indo-Afghan relations in these trans-historical terms and compares them across time as well as with both India’s role in the Tamil-Sinhalese conflict and its attempt to pacify its own North-Eastern territories. Combining a comparative approach with healthy ignorance towards nation states shows how the contemporary intervention in Afghanistan perpetuates British and Indian attempts to stabilize a fragile assemblage of territory, authority and rights on the fringes of the subcontinent. This assemblage is characterized by quite specific forms of governance and a multitude of actors – most of which are either larger than, smaller than, or simply different from nation states.

“The police is, after all, very bad” – historical myopia and the failure of police reform in Afghanistan
Daniel F. Pineu, Philipps-Universitšt Marburg, Germany

Within the context of current efforts of state-building in Afghanistan, reform of the Afghan police has become a central issue. Seen as a crucial objective on several fronts – legitimating the Afghan government, establishing law and order for the benefit of both Afghan civilians and international development programs, and the successful prosecution on American-led counter-insurgency efforts – police reform as nonetheless been constantly dogged by controversy and failure in Afghanistan. One reason for this, this paper argues, is the lack of historical perspective (and, to an extent, country-expertise) evinced by Western police reformers. Rather than imposing Western liberal conception of policing focused on desired future objectives, this paper argues that international policy-makers engaged in reforming the Afghan police should familiarize themselves with the history of that institution in the country, including its indelible links to centralizing efforts from Kabul, its history of violence, and the social alternatives that have been established by Afghans in areas where a national police force could not extent its jurisdiction. In other words, only by historicizing the police in the Afghan context can current police reformers hope to get their policies right.

“Animalizing” Afghans: Biometrics and Biopolitics in an Occupied Zone
Vikash Yadav, Hobart & William Smith Colleges, USA

This paper analyzes the attempt by the US/ISAF to create a national biometric data archive (i.e. retinal scans, voice prints, digital fingerprints, facial recognition, etc.) of all 28 million Afghans. The project, which originated in Occupied Iraq and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, has led to the creation of biometric support teams assigned to each combat brigade and at all points of entry along Afghanistan's international border to collect data. Biometric enabled intelligence (BEI) units use the collected data to hunt for persons of interest on the biometric enabled watch list (BEWL). However, as a national archive rather than merely a criminal database, the technology promises to create a digital dossier that provides a “complete picture” of each Afghan individual. Thus, biometric data can be used not only to help separate known insurgents from the general population, but also to generate the information necessary for general population management. Although technologically far more advanced, this project bears a striking similarity to the attempt by the British Raj to create a fingerprint archive of all Indians one year after the Sepoy Mutiny. Both projects reveal a deep distrust of the oriental subject as well as a totalitarian impulse by the occupying power. Building on the work of Michel Foucault and Giorgio Agamben, the paper argues that the collection of biometric data is a mechanism for the progressive animalization of the population. These projects therefore carry ominous portents for the prospect of a politics grounded upon human rights after foreign forces withdraw.

Old wine in new bottles? – A Critical Reading of Academic Foci and Perceptions on the so-called AfPak-Region
Andrea Fleschenberg, Independent Scholar, Germany

he bulk of mainstream reports, studies and policy briefings about the Af-Pak border area have been majoritarily concerned with what the national policies of Afghanistan and Pakistan should be like towards the region and its population. Or, they have overwhelmingly focused on what strategy Western governments - most prominently the U.S. - should adopt towards achieving our goals in the area, goals that start from the state-centric assumption of a coherent set of national policies that neatly encompass the messy social reality of a transnational space. This introductory input aims to facilitate the following discussion among the different panel contributions, reviewing recent academic work and policy work through a critical lens and identifying questions for future research and academic engagement. For instance, what would our engagement look like if it started from the inherently transborder practices of the local populations?