Sunday, October 03, 2010

the frontier

Am I right in thinking this is a form of "superempowerment", of the NATO forces on the border, the Taliban, and the Pakistani Frontier Corps on the other side?

Pakistani authorities say that the checkpoint guards tried to alert the US helicopters that they had strayed into Pakistani territory by firing in the air, but the US pilots mistook this action for a hostile attack and blew away the checkpoint.

Any one of them can trigger a violent response from the other, which rapidly flips the whole situation into a higher energy state, with consequences at least up to the operational level. Of course, the FATA are only sovereign territory in a very special and restricted sense of the word "sovereign" - but arguably, optional sovereignty is a useful political tool, permitting the Pakistani state to a) tolerate the jihadis in some parts of the country when that is useful, b) tolerate the Americans in the same places when useful, and also c) assert sovereignty to push back on the Americans when useful, in the light of this.

This is actually roughly what Gallagher and Robinson meant with the "crumbling frontier" 50 odd years ago - zones of ambiguous sovereignty were important because they provided reasons for imperial expansion, reasons against it, and a way for peripheral political actors to use the empire for their own ends.

1 comment:

Laban said...

Is that Gallagher and Robinson as in 'Africa and the Victorians' or as in 'Imperialism of Free Trade' ?

I thought the main lesson of 'Africa and the Victorians' was that the reality was nothing like the Guardian stereotype of grasping imperialists descending to loot a continent - that indeed in the mid-nineteenth century it was only abolitionist (Guardianista) sentiment which kept any presence at all in East and West Africa. Even for South Africa, where the 'grasping imperialist' story holds up best, it seems that worries about an economically powerful Boer hinterland compromising British coastal control (and by extension control of the sea-routes to India and Australia) were at least as powerful as the desire for all that lovely gold and diamonds.

Afghanistan does seem to fit well into the slightly shambolic imperialist pattern Gallagher and Robinson described - with the abolitionist-equivalent being David Aaronovitch.

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