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Himalayan Crossings: Explaining the Rise of China and India

Selected Insights on US Foreign Policy and on Political Economy, Security, Finance, and Information Technologies in and between South Asia and Greater China

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Thistle and Drone

August 25th, 2015 by Gurbinder

In his new book, The Thistle and the Drone: The United States, Islam, and the War on Terror, American University’s Dr. Akbar Ahmed undertakes a meditative exploration of tribes and of center-periphery relations in the US “war on terror”.  The book brings into focus to something that those unfamiliar with the zones of drone activity should learn more about.

Ahmed’s argument should be considered seriously by an American audience because that audience should be more aware of the nature of the tribal societies where drones attacks mostly occur.

Ahmed writes, “Only by recognizing the true source of the violence and the nature of the tribal society which produces it can the U.S. begin to provide lasting solutions.”

Ahmed himself certainly is aware that tribal societies are not now and have never been, static.  There is therefore a risk to caricaturing or “reifying” (i.e. making a complex, dynamic concept and phenomenon into an oversimplified and static stylized fact) “tribes”.  Ahmed’s role as Political Agent could (but not necessarily) put him in long line of external or internal colonial producer of such reified knowledge about “tribes”.

The center-periphery argument is not clear to me without further reading, but I’m skeptical there.  It is as much intrusion into once live-and-let-live zones as “breakdown” in center-periphery relations, that is the cause of unrest in Pakistan’s tribal areas.  Moreover, it is the presence of outsiders, both carpet-bagging militants and NATO/US forces, and the presence of technologies and new channels of connection that disrupt these areas and make them and their long-time and recently-arrived residents more capable of disrupting the old center-periphery relations.These places were not “ungoverned” before 9/11, they were just “differently governed”.




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