Globalizing Afghanistan: Terrorism, War, and the Rhetoric of Nation Building

Globalizing Afghanistan: Terrorism, War, and the Rhetoric of Nation Building

by Zubeda Jalalzai

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Globalizing Afghanistan offers a kaleidoscopic view of Afghanistan and the global networks of power, influence, and representation in which it is immersed. The military and nation-building interventions initiated by the United States in reaction to the events of September 11, 2001, are the background and motivation for this collection, but they are not the


Globalizing Afghanistan offers a kaleidoscopic view of Afghanistan and the global networks of power, influence, and representation in which it is immersed. The military and nation-building interventions initiated by the United States in reaction to the events of September 11, 2001, are the background and motivation for this collection, but they are not the immediate subject of the essays. Seeking to understand the events of the past decade in a broad frame, the contributors draw on cultural and postcolonial approaches to provide new insights into this ongoing conflict. They focus on matters such as the implications of Afghanistan’s lucrative opium trade, the links between the contemporary Taliban movement and major events in the Islamic world and Central Asia since the early twentieth century, and interactions between transnational feminist organizations and the Afghan women’s movement. Several contributors address questions of representation. One looks at portrayals of Afghan women by the U.S. government and Western media and feminists. Another explores the surprisingly prominent role of Iranian filmmaking in the production of a global cinematic discourse about Afghanistan. A Pakistani journalist describes how coverage of Afghanistan by reporters working from Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa (formerly the North West Frontier Province) has changed over the past decade. This rich panoply of perspectives on Afghanistan concludes with a reflection on how academics might produce meaningful alternative viewpoints on the exercise of American power abroad.

Contributors. Gwen Bergner, Maliha Chishti, Cheshmak Farhoumand-Sims, Nigel C. Gibson, Zubeda Jalalzai, David Jefferess, Altaf Ullah Khan, Kamran Rastegar, Rodney J. Steward, Imre Szeman

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Ten years after September 11th, Afghanistan remains a center of global conflict and the scene of seemingly endless tragedies. This timely and important volume encourages us to step back from the relentless immediacy of the news cycle and examine the historical forces and international interests that created the present situation, including drug economies, gender hierarchies, and imperialist adventures.”—Michael Hardt, co-author of Commonwealth

“This fascinating and timely collection situates Afghanistan in the context of globalisation and brings new and little-known material into the public domain. Many of the chapters show impressive conversancy with the micropolitical and social contexts of the present conflict in Afghanistan, reflecting a highly productive partnership between academics, activists, and practitioners. This book is an invaluable companion to both students and scholars of Afghanistan, cultural and literary studies, politics, and film and media studies.”—Corinne Fowler, author of Chasing Tales: Travel Writing, Journalism and the History of British Ideas about Afghanistan

Signs - Elaheh Rostami-Povey
“The writers in [this collection] remind us that the impetus for women’s rights must come from Afghans themselves. They show that transnational feminism needs to step away from the imperial agenda and incorporate the diverse views of Afghan women, as well as women of Islamic and other cultures, to become broader, more inclusive, and ultimately a stronger force for change.”
Women's Studies International Forum - Milica Minic
Globalizing Afghanistan is a valuable resource for everyone who wishes to better understand Afghanistan and the complexities at play. It is also highly recommended reading for scholars and students examining the processes of globalization and nation-building, as well as gender studies scholars.”
College Literature - James Caron
“[T]his volume's approach—situating Afghanistan's cultural history globally, rather than bracketing off its travails as domestic, separate, exotic—represents a positive intervention in metropolitan knowledge production about Afghanistan. It balances depth and breadth in its selection of features related to global hegemony, resulting in a volume both unified and unique. Most of its essays engage representations accessible in American living rooms, unfurl outward through powerful global institutions, and move back down to global action on the Afghan stage. The volume should prove essential for courses on Afghan history that aim at complicating an impoverished security-state narrative, and useful in a broad range of courses in international humanities.”
Digest of Middle East Studies - Ihsan Ali Alkhatib
“I highly recommend this volume. This is useful material for undergraduate and graduate students in the social sciences, particularly international relations, political science, gender studies, and culture studies. It is readable and accessible, and does not require a lot of background knowledge from the students.”

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Duke University Press Books
Publication date:
American Encounters/Global Interactions
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6.10(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.60(d)

Read an Excerpt


Terrorism, War, and the Rhetoric of Nation Building

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2011 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-5001-9

Chapter One

It's the Opium, Stupid

Afghanistan, Globalization, and Drugs Nigel C. Gibson

An account of fighting in Afghanistan from the spring of 2007 says almost everything that needs to be said about the seemingly never-ending Afghan war:

The patrol was stuck, enveloped in a poppy field in a Taliban ambush. Automatic rifle fire came toward them from a tree line about 175 yards to the west and from a row of mud-walled Afghan houses to the east and north.

Being stuck in a red poppy field evokes the popular image of death worn on the lapel every 11 November in Britain and Canada. The red poppy is a symbol that comes not only from the killing fields of the First World War but from earlier disastrous British imperial adventures into Afghanistan in the 1840s and 1860s. This period also saw the beginning of war photography and governments' attempts to control such images. In a familiar pattern, the bodies pile up in the present Afghanistan war, though we do not see them in the media (see Imre Szeman's essay in this book). Five years into the war NATO forces in southern Afghanistan faced a "resurgent" Taliban, who killed an average of five coalition soldiers every week between 1 May and 12 August 2006. Military leaders warned the coalition governments that victory in Afghanistan was far from certain. After intense fighting in 2006 which inflicted high casualties on the Taliban and a Taliban offensive in spring 2007, these commanders once again pressured their governments for more troops and supplies.

Until the election of President Obama in 2008, America's commitment to the occupation of Afghanistan played second fiddle to the Iraq war, which had been named (by those who supported the occupation of Afghanistan but opposed the occupation of Iraq) as a reason why the Afghan war dragged on and will drag on well past the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. One reason for the continuing violence is that Afghanistan is "enveloped in poppies"—red gold—which despite eradication attempts continues to post record-breaking crops. Afghanistan, the opium capital of the world, is the source of cheap heroin. The opium industry represents at least 50 percent of Afghanistan's gross domestic product, which dwarfs its "formal economy," backed by the EU and NATO.

Opium has been a major driver of Afghanistan's economy since 2001 and permeates political life. It dominates the economy, particularly the economy of war, and thus contributes to making it a war without end. Since the opium trade is essential to funding local leaders and the Taliban insurgency, President Karzai has insisted, "Either Afghanistan destroys opium or opium destroys Afghanistan." But the destruction of the poppies would also herald the destruction of "Afghanistan." Poppy production (employing nearly three million people) gives most farmers a means of survival. Additionally the apparatus of a (narco) state—as much as one can speak about such an institution—is probably most efficient (and equally brutal) in the areas controlled by the Taliban and the opium warlords. Ironically the opium industry creates state-like structure.

Much more than the invasion of Iraq by the United States and Great Britain, the overthrow of the Taliban is still considered a "just war," for two reasons: first, it ousted a "rogue regime" that gave refuge to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda; second, it was considered a humanitarian intervention to "liberate" the people, especially women, from the "feudal" Taliban regime (see the essays in this book by Gwen Bergner and Maliha Chishti and Cheshmak Farhoumand-Sims). More than seven years after the invasion, however, NATO is losing the war on both counts. The Taliban controls significant areas of the country, and despite tactical defeats in 2006 (mainly based on fighting a conventional war rather than an insurgency) it still controls vast areas in the south. The mountainous areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan which provided refuge to al Qaeda remain beyond the control of NATO as well as Pakistani forces (who had been seen as supporting the Taliban). The Karzai government's lack of capacity to control vast areas of the country, bemoaned by many, is echoed by the Pakistani government's inability to police the Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa (formerly North West Frontier Province) and by NATO's inability to control the south. President Musharraf 's attempted compromise with "Islamic militants" in the semiautonomous North Waziristan led to accusations of turning a blind eye to the consolidation of the Taliban in the area. NATO's inability to deal with the Taliban in the south led to aerial bombings in 2006, with the consequent death of many innocent people. The strategy continued into 2007. The sum of these conditions points to a failure to maintain security by the world and regional powers (NATO, Pakistan). Meanwhile suicide bombings have rocked Kabul, indicating the absence of security in the heart of the most secure zones. Despite the rhetoric to justify the invasion, the humanitarian situation in the country as a whole has not improved, as evidenced by constant warnings of impending food shortages and other crises. Significantly the situation for women has not really changed much at all and may in fact have taken some steps back.

A Prisoner of Kabul: Karzai, the Media, and the Mayor

The scene of Hamid Karzai's first presidential inauguration, with newly laid blacktop, whitewashed buildings, and scrubbed streets, may well have been set in a back lot in Burbank, California. The dapper, young, English-speaking president-elect, surrounded by foreign press, foreign dignitaries, and foreign troops, was hailed as the new democratic president of Afghanistan. Karzai is actually an old hand in Afghanistan politics. He served as deputy foreign minister in the post-Soviet government of Burhanuddin Rabbani, which was overthrown by the Taliban in 1996. He originally supported the Taliban but then declined their offer to serve in their government. Pragmatically pro-West and a close ally of the former king, he is a Kandahar Pashtun still favored by some former Taliban supporters but increasingly isolated from any real basis of support in the country.

Some months after Karzai's election in 2004, when a new cabinet was announced, the old war-criminal warlords were excluded (with the exception of perhaps the most powerful one, Ismail Khan, who commanded fifteen thousand men, the largest semiautonomous force, and who was made minister of energy). According to the new Afghan constitution, a member's degree of education determined his or her cabinet position. Thus new members of the cabinet had impressive résumés. They had variously worked for the World Bank, taught in the United States, and spoke the language the donors wished to hear. Overall the cabinet list read like a public relations press kit for Western consumption. There was also one female member, a first in the nation's history. Since the first election the veneer has rubbed off, and the real power, with intimate connections to the narco economy, has emerged. The warlord Ismail Kahn was appointed minister of water and energy, and Qasim Fahim, an advisor to Karzai, was accused of war crimes, as was the chief of staff to the commander in chief of the army, Rashid Dostum. Izzatullah Wasifi, convicted of selling heroin in Las Vegas, was appointed anticorruption chief. On the other hand, one of the elected women, Malalai Joya, survived four assassination attempts and said that her "voice [was] always being silenced even inside the parliament."

President Karzai was known as the "mayor of Kabul," a city which, on the surface, and especially in contrast to the way it looked in 2002, is prospering. It is an artery for international aid, bustling with thousands of governmental and international and national nongovernmental organizations, as well as secret government organizations with connections to the narco economy. Kabul's existence and security is based on an aid economy—official and semiofficial—backed by U.S. and European troops.

The Pitfalls of Humanitarian Aid

A wide range of liberal opinion in the United States supported the war against the Taliban. They argued that U.S. military intervention would lift the burqa off the women and bring enlightenment to a nation that had suffered under the Taliban regime (see Gwen Bergner's essay in this collection). Newspaper articles heralded the "liberation" of women, yet for the majority little has changed. Given current developments, the Americans' commitment to democracy and human rights seems primarily rhetorical. In fact after September 11, 2001, according to Antonio Donini, chief of the Lessons Learned Unit at the United Nations Department of Humanitarian Affairs, the human rights effort in Afghanistan, which has always been subject to political instrumentalization, has been "wiped off the un agenda." Just as the U.S. had bankrolled local leaders, aid and aid workers are sucked into the politics of taking sides. The uncritical support for the Karzai government by the un Mission in Afghanistan made it difficult to raise human rights concerns; abuses of human rights in warlord-controlled areas were overlooked, with reprisals inflicted against communities who were thought to be pro-Taliban.

The splendor of the pomp and ceremony of Karzai's first presidency differed starkly from the poverty of the common people's lives in the rest of the country, particularly in the rural areas where Western military occupation has brought neither human rights nor economic change. The Kabul government had neither the capacity nor perhaps the will to create a functioning legal system. In common political science parlance, Afghanistan is a "failed" state, a collapsed state, or at least a weak state, which is to say the central administration does not have a monopoly on the means of violence over the territory. The government is simply not in control. Thus Karzai's claim in November 2004 at the Kabul narcotics conference that "terrorism as a force has gone" was taken with some skepticism since armed groups control vast areas of the country; the violence that has continued, even in Kabul, bears this out. Yet that grandiose statement represents Karzai's attempt to shift the discourse. By declaring a "holy war" on the opium trade he indicated that the interconnection between drugs, Islamism, and political power is very real and undercuts "nation building."

The fundamental problematic of this nation-building exercise, and more specifically the humanitarian aid regime in Afghanistan, however, is that it operates within the context of a narco economy. Afghanistan's political economy is based on a relationship between international aid and the drug economy. The issue is not only to what extent international aid will "aid violence" by privileging certain regional areas and the political figures who opened up areas for assistance, but how it will interface with the opium trade. Ironically, by opening up the economy to commodity production, the drug trade has played a role similar to the World Bank's neoliberal economic policies that have been forced on Third World economies.

Poppy Growing and Nation Building

Violence continues in the south and the east of Afghanistan, where U.S. forces engage the insurgents and the rebels. Yet at the same time the American concern with terrorists, that is, the Taliban and al Qaeda, rather than with the government's drug and warlord allies, indicates that whatever nation building will finally look like, it already includes the latter in some form; the Karzai administration, despite efforts to rise above the fragmented and regional (often considered "tribal," "ethnic," or "cultural") politics, should be considered another regional player, albeit with powerful military backers. At the time of this writing, Kabul's rule is bolstered by forty-two thousand U.S. and NATO troops and a combined Afghanistan force, including paramilitary organizations with allegiance to individuals rather than the state, estimated at fifty thousand. Consequently neither the central administration nor its powerful backers has the capacity to impose its rules or laws across the whole country.

With the U.S. military stretched and taking increasing casualties in Iraq in 2005 and 2006, the Western media reported the transition to democracy in Afghanistan as a limited success. At the same time, because U.S. foreign policy was for so long focused almost entirely on Iraq, until the Obama administration, the occupation of Afghanistan could not be allowed to consume too many soldiers. Thus from the point of view of American empire, Afghanistan's nation building has long been required to be done "lite" and on the cheap. Rather than further involvement, U.S. policy before Obama preferred further disengagement with a pro-U.S. government backed by the un in place as soon as possible. Yet the weakness of Karzai's government and the Afghan nation continues to cause some concern; it is much easier to back a proxy force than to build a national government.

Ironically the only way for Afghanistan to pay for its development as a state is the same way the warlords paid for arms over the past twenty-five years: drug money. The great paradox for the American presence in Afghanistan is that the regional and fragmented narco mini-states are partly its own making (see the conclusions of Alfred McCoy). The issue here is how the establishment of a Kabul state, with a limited electoral democracy based on an elite pact among the warlords and regional leaders and with little authority outside the city, will articulate with the opium economy. In other words, rather than thinking in terms of a binary—a clean state on one side and a narco state on the other—the question is to what degree a legitimate state can be based on narcotics. The Taliban understood that international recognition constituted one aspect of legitimacy. After the Taliban's suppression of poppy farming in 2000, they found no necessary correlation between narcotics control and international recognition, especially evident since the Taliban was criticized (rightly) for other abuses while the Northern Alliance of drug lords became legitimate overnight after 9/11. Yet in the context of the political economy of opium, the possibility that the Taliban could become legitimate seemed slim. They certainly hedged their bets by banning the cultivation of opium poppies but not the distribution of opium stockpiles.

The Center of the Drug World

Often described as being on the periphery of the world (or indeed, from another world), Afghanistan has played a major role in the three great empires of the past two hundred years: the British, the Russian, and the American. Indeed two were defeated on its soil, and there is little reason to doubt that the third may be defeated there as well. All three have engaged in opium wars. Rather than premodern and backward, contemporary Afghanistan plays a critical role in the modern world. Indeed Afghanistan is a product of modern globalization (sometimes called its dark side), as the integration of political (fundamentalist) Islamism and its opium bear witness. As Barnett Rubin points out, Afghanistan's economic networks are transnational, not national or subnational. The transnational opium trade connects Afghanistan with Iran, Dubai, and Pakistan. Furthermore global supply and demand also affect the opium trade.

The heroin economy remains an important determinant for Afghanistan's future, and while many authors have argued that opium was a byproduct of the war against Soviet occupation (Griffin, McCoy, Cooley), some argue that the global opium and heroin industrial complex might have helped induce that war. Only after a two-year failure of the monsoon rains in the Burma-Laos area (the heroin capital in the 1970s) did heroin production in South Asia became significant. At the same time, the CIA, working with the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), already heavily involved in the drug trade, began to fund Islamist warlords. By the 1980s Pakistan was the world's biggest supplier of heroin. Yet the political economy of illegal and illicit commodities (drugs and arms) thrives on armed conflict, which includes the disruption of legitimate state and border controls. Nothing is better for the production of opium than a war that leads, hothouse fashion, with the force of arms, to the destruction of indigenous and often self-sufficient food production and to the introduction of the money economy, or more precisely the cash-cropping opium economy.


Excerpted from GLOBALIZING AFGHANISTAN Copyright © 2011 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Zubeda Jalalzai is Associate Professor of English at Rhode Island College.

David Jefferess is Associate Professor of English and Cultural Studies at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan. He is the author of Postcolonial Resistance: Culture, Liberation, and Transformation.

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