Under the Drones: Modern Lives in the Afghanistan-Pakistan Borderlands

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In the West, media coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan is framed by military and political concerns, resulting in a simplistic picture of ageless barbarity, terrorist safe havens, and peoples in need of either punishment or salvation. Under the Drones looks beyond this limiting view to investigate real people on the ground, and to analyze the political, social, and economic forces that shape their lives. Understanding the complexity of life along the 1,600-mile border between Afghanistan and Pakistan can help America and its European allies realign their priorities in the region to address genuine problems, rather than fabricated ones.

This volume explodes Western misunderstandings by revealing a land that abounds with human agency, perpetual innovation, and vibrant complexity. Through the work of historians and social scientists, the thirteen essays here explore the real and imagined presence of the Taliban; the animated sociopolitical identities expressed through traditions like Pakistani truck decoration; Sufism’s ambivalent position as an alternative to militancy; the long and contradictory history of Afghan media; and the simultaneous brutality and potential that heroin brings to women in the area.

Moving past shifting conceptions of security, the authors expose the West’s prevailing perspective on the region as strategic, targeted, and alarmingly dehumanizing. Under the Drones is an essential antidote to contemporary media coverage and military concerns.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Perhaps nowhere is the international community less prepared to engage in nation-building than in the lawless border regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Edited by Stanford professors Bashir and Crews, the 13 essays in this volume (each by a specialist) seek to shed light on a society that, while stereotyped as monolithically savage and medieval, is actually bewilderingly complex as it adapts to modern force. Written for an academic audience, the pieces cover a grab-bag of topics, such as the identifiers of Baloch ethnicity, the political and religious significance of decorative paintings on trucks, and the effects of the drug trade in opium-producing areas. The title turns out to be a misnomer, as few of the articles directly concern themselves with the ramifications of the war itself. What unites the disparate contributions is an attention to “the way the agency of individuals and communities that inhabit the borderlands have been written out of the stories of their own lives,” how foreigners, whether aid workers, military occupiers, or international jihadists, have constructed a narrative of the region and its peoples that suits their own purposes but bears little relation to the reality on the ground. (May)
Barbara Metcalf
The subject of this volume requires no justification given the extraordinary global ramifications of political events in this area. The contributions assembled by the distinguished editors substantially advance understanding of ongoing wars and violence in this troubled region. They also bring to the discussion both a historical perspective and a human dimension that is simply invaluable.
ForeWord - Karunesh Tuli
Under the Drones will not displace the notions that Western observers often associate with the Afghanistan–Pakistan region—mindless cruelty, female oppression, and a flourishing opium economy. But the book will help readers to make sense of the economic and social forces that motivate the actions of the borderlands' inhabitants and to understand that the local population is not an empty slate to be written upon by agents from the outside.
Inside Story - David Stephens
Essential for readers who wish to understand more about this region...What emerges is an understanding that the issues afflicting this ancient land are far too complex to be settled by lobbing skyrockets at them.
New York Review of Books - Mohsin Hamid
Most of the essays in this book--including noteworthy pieces by Sana Haroon, Shah Mahmoud Hanifi, and Faisal Devji--come across as challenges, intent on debunking popular myths...The experience of reading Under the Drones may, for many readers, be one of constantly losing their footing, as they realize that the assumptions on which their views are grounded have only tenuous bases in fact. It is a feeling that, over the past dozen years, U.S. military planners in the region will have come to know well.

Under the Drones will not displace the notions that Western observers often associate with the Afghanistan–Pakistan region—mindless cruelty, female oppression, and a flourishing opium economy. But the book will help readers to make sense of the economic and social forces that motivate the actions of the borderlands' inhabitants and to understand that the local population is not an empty slate to be written upon by agents from the outside.
— Karunesh Tuli

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674065611
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 5/14/2012
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 1,451,872
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Shahzad Bashir is Lysbeth Warren Anderson Professor in Islamic Studies in the Department of Religious Studies at Stanford University.

Robert D. Crews is Associate Professor of History at Stanford University.

Amin Tarzi is the Director of Middle East Studies, Marine Corps University.

Faisal Devji is Reader in Indian History and Fellow of St Antony’s College at the University of Oxford.

Jamal J. Elias is Class of 1965 Endowed Term Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

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Read an Excerpt

From Chapter 13: Women and the Drug Trade in Afghanistan

Until the drug boom in the 1980s, addiction among Afghan women was limited to Turkmen women who weave carpets. Different surveys cite varying numbers on how many women are addicted, and they do not specify how many are women and how many are children. All the surveys agree that the number of women hooked on opium and heroin is consistently rising. Many of these women, like the men, are returning refugees from Iran and Pakistan. The husbands, brothers and other male relatives became addicts on the job—they smoked heroin to work more hours and make more money. But they ended up spending that money on more heroin and brought their habit home. Their children and women became users, and entire families in Afghanistan have become drug abusers. One family I visited in the historic neighborhood of Deh Afghanan in Kabul described how they became addicted in refugee camps in Pakistan. Mahbooba, a wife and mother of five children, lived in Peshawar for ten years. “My husband was in construction laying bricks all day long in Peshawar. He would come home tired and in pain. We had a neighbor in the camp who offered him some opium to ease his pain. He began smoking the opium in the house. Then the opium was not enough. So the neighbor offered him heroin. The heroin made him feel so energetic and good that he worked two days in a row and didn’t complain. But he needed more and more as time went by. My teeth were hurting and I decided to use opium as a painkiller too. Then day by day, I became interested in the heroin he was smoking. My teenage sons who were fruit vendors also began using the drugs. Instead of eating dinner, we smoked. When we moved back to Kabul after the Taliban left, we found new dealers. My husband works all day and we smoke the money, eating as much as we need to survive. I would like to quit but I think it’s too late.”

Mahbooba and her family returned to their bullet-riddled home and do not have to pay rent. Counselors at Nejat Center, one of 43 treatment centers in Afghanistan, say a large percentage of families at Deh Afghanan are addicts. The neighborhood was deserted during the civil war between the Mujahideen in the 1990s, and families repatriated only after 2001. The counselors make home visits and hand out methadone to addicts. They try therapy and various other methods of out-patient treatment with the women, but the number of addicts are more than the center has the capacity to serve. The impact of addiction unravels the basic unit that has given Afghans their resiliency to survive four decades of war: the family. Mahbooba says her relatives do not contribute to a collective family fund. Each working member spends money on their own addiction, and she begs once a week on the streets to find money for food. Mahbooba’s own addiction has damaged her role as the matriarch of the seven-member family. “My children do not respect me or listen to me. They judge me for becoming addicted. They say I should’ve stopped them and their father from being addicted. I wish I had but nothing’s stronger than heroin,” she said crying as she sits on a crumbling stairway outside her house. The addicts are the poppy trade’s most tragic consequence, their addiction an extremity of the human condition that, like war, is an abyss of hopelessness and death. They are the last link in the chain of the poppy trade which begins with a colorful flower, white, purple or red, spread across the fields of Afghanistan.

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Table of Contents

Introduction Shahzad Bashir Robert D. Crews 1

1 Political Struggles over the Afghanistan-Pakistan Borderlands Amin Tarzi 17

2 The Transformation of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Border Gilles Dorronsoro 30

3 Religious Revivalism across the Durand Line Sana Haroon 45

4 Taliban, Real and Imagined James Caron 60

5 Quandaries of the Afghan Nation Shah Mahmoud Hanifi 83

6 How Tribal are the Taliban? Thomas Ruttig 102

7 Ethnic Minorities in Search of Political Consolidation Lutz Rzehak 136

8 Red Mosque Faisal Devji 153

9 Madrasa Statistics Don't Support the Myth Tahir Andrabi Jishnu Das Asim Ijaz Khwaja 162

10 Will Sufi Islam Save Pakistan? Farzana Shaikh 174

11 The Politics of Pashtun and Punjabi Truck Decoration Jamal J. Elias 192

12 The Afghan Mediascape Nushin Arbabzadah 215

13 Women and the Drug Trade in Afghanistan Fariba Nawa 236

Epilogue Shahzad Bashir Robert D. Crews 257

Notes 265

Recommended Readings 309

Contributors 311

Acknowledgments 315

Index 317

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