Location: Luce Hall Auditorium
Time: 2:00pm – 3:30pm, April 13, 2018
Chair: Tom Barfield
Drawing on two ground-breaking papers, this panel addresses a major gap in the existing scholarship surrounding identity in Afghanistan; that of the impact of humanitarian action and actors upon Afghan subjectivities and wider process of social change.
Antonio Donini – The Afghan Crisis in Historical Perspective: Humanitarian Action as a Vector of Social Change
The Afghan crisis spans a 40-year period that saw the end of the Cold War; the ensuing disorder and reshuffling of political, military, and economic agendas in Central and South Asia; and the putative emergence of a hegemonic order built around globalization and securitization. There is a copious and diverse literature on the conflict, its political implications, as well as on the many failures and few successes of the reconstruction and state-building efforts. But there has been little research on how the conflict has affected local perceptions of the outside world and on how these perceptions – and the interactions between Afghans and outsiders through social processes such as aid – have contributed to change in Afghan society.
Building on recent research and the personal involvement of the author in the provision of humanitarian action, this paper will explore this research gap. It will examine how the prolonged presence of a vast apparatus of humanitarian organizations has profoundly transformed individual subjectivities, collective identities and everyday social relations in Afghanistan. For the population of rural Afghanistan from the 1980s, the presence of foreign aid workers, often young, idealistic and dedicated, represented the only available window on the outside world. However small scale their activities, however intermittent or amateurish, aid agencies became a structural feature in the social landscape of most Afghans. As such, they have been an important vector of change, or at least of ideas of change, for a significant proportion of rural Afghans. The Afghan crisis is an emblematic case that will serve as a starting point for a wider analysis of the vectors of change in conflict and post-conflict situations.
Understanding how humanitarian action and new ideas around rights have contributed to social change will not only fill an important lacuna in our knowledge of social processes in contemporary Afghanistan but will also yield key insights on wider issues such as the power of social and advocacy networks, the functions wittingly or unwittingly performed by outsiders (for example in promoting exogenous values or undermining local cultural practices), the importance of brokers and translators in the outsider-insider relationship, and so on.
Andrea Chiovenda – Globalizing Masculinity? Pashtun Afghans and the Impact of Two Decades of Foreign Development in Afghanistan
After September 11, 2001, Afghanistan was quickly reached by a multitude of international and non-governmental organizations, tasked with providing aid work, relief programs and policy-oriented consultancy. The presence of these organizations in Afghanistan created fresh possibilities for employment for thousands of Afghan citizens, in most cases men. Landing a paid position in one of such organizations has over time become not only the pragmatic, necessary way of securing an income to sustain one’s own family, but also an original path to acquire a degree of clout, prestige and political significance in one’s community. However, especially for Pashtun men living in Pashtun-majority areas of the country, these positions come with strings attached – most importantly, personal vulnerability and threats to individual safety. Nevertheless, this new “class” of private sector administrators and bureaucrats seems to take advantage of the status that derives from a substantive link to foreign models of governance, knowledge and intellectual engagement. They are, with or without their awareness, contributing to the creation of a sense of masculinity and manly worth that is premised on a distinct set of assumptions, different from the ones that were firmly hegemonic until the demise of the Taliban regime in 2002.
The conclusion that Western-inspired ideals are swiftly changing the mindset of previously culturally entrenched and conservative peoples should be questioned on the basis of the possibility that a non-hegemonic aspect of Pashtun culture, present prior to the international intervention in the country, has now found legitimacy and an authorized stage to express itself.
Location: Luce Hall Auditorium
Time: 3:30pm – 5:30pm, April 13, 2018
Chair: David Edwards
This panel draws together three insightful papers that explore new modes of identity in contemporary Afghanistan; either by presenting new forms of Afghan identity or by discussing new framings for their analysis.
Khadija Abbasi – Home Bitter Home: “Iranigak”, New Forms of Identity in Afghanistan?
After the US-led intervention and the establishment of an interim government in 2001, Afghan refugees—settled in Iran for decades—faced greater public and state pressure to return to Afghanistan. For the second generation of Afghan refugees struggling to define ‘home’ in Iran, it was their first time to see Afghanistan, their supposed ‘home country’; therefore, the term ‘returnee’ is problematic here. The derogatory term afghâni used by individual Iranians to remind them that they belong to Afghanistan. They came ‘home’ to be called irânigak i.e. little Iranians by Afghans who either stayed in Afghanistan or those who have been out of the country, but have not ‘forgotten’ their identity. Through the pejorative term irânigak in this presentation, I bring my auto-ethnographic account to cast light on new forms of identity that have emerged in contemporary Afghanistan, particularly emerging peculiarity between returnees and those who stayed in. I attempt to depict how the experience of ‘coming home’ turned bitter for some Iran-raised and born Afghans. Applying irânigak as a social category, I attempt to demonstrate how the construction of identities of irânigak intersects on the grounds of gender, generation, ethnicity, religion and age which informs their social exclusion and stigmatisation and their social organisation. This paper will not only cast light on the multi-faceted exclusions this population encounter, but also on how they have become a vector of social change in Afghanistan particularly in socio-cultural and political landscape.
Omar Sharifi – Nauroz as Social Site, Living in an Afghan Atmosphere
Every year on March 20/21, hundreds of thousands of people from all corners of Afghanistan gather in the city of Mazar-e-Sharif (ancient Bactria-Balkh) to celebrate the Afghan/Persian New Year, Nauroz. The Nauroz festival is held in the Shrine of Ali bin Abu Talib, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammad, the fourth Caliph of Sunni Islam and the first Imam in Shia tradition. The Nauroz festival is not a religious pilgrimage or part of the Islamic calendar, but a syncretic event that happens every year in a self-organized way. Despite its association with the Islamic shrine, the festival and its associated ceremonies such as Janda bala (raising the flag), public performances of music and theatrical shows, poetry contests, storytelling and Sufi Zikr sessions, are all perceived as (not entirely) secular events. Both Sunni and Shia Afghans from all walks of life, including high ranking government officials gather in the Shrine of Ali to attend the official Nauroz ceremony and other associated festivities. This important designation is considered a space for “ethnic and religious harmony”, manifestation of collective identity and symbolic reaffirmation of the political legitimacy of the central government.
My paper examines the processes of the juxtapositions that give rise to the Nauroz festival and its associated festivities, and how it came to be celebrated in an Islamic shrine, viewing the festival as an arena for reproduction and possible negotiation of the notions of nation, governance, ethnic identity and frameworks for plural coexistence.
Nafay Choudhury – Adapting to Markets: The Shifting Identities of Afghanistan’s Money Exchangers
This paper focuses on the shifting identities of Afghanistan’s money exchangers in the face of changing social, political, and economic conditions. Money exchangers are responsible for currency exchanging, money transfers (hawala), deposit safekeeping, trade financing, and
controlling the money supply. Their identity is deeply intertwined with the social relations that arise from their transactions. While factors such as ethnicity, language, geographic region of origin, and qawm play a role in shaping their identities and behaviour, such categories elude the dynamism and flexibility of their trade. The mark of a successful money exchanger lies in the fluidity of his social relationships, his flexibility in the face of unpredictable circumstances, and his ability to maintain a sense of self despite seeming contradictions and inconsistencies. Their role in the market is complicated by the presence of commercial banks, which offer many comparable financial services, as well as of the government, which regulates certain transactions.
Far from being supposedly pre-modern actors with fixed modes of operation, these exchangers reveal resilience and ingenuity in adapting to changing circumstances by forging new ties and new relations. While maintaining kinship-based social structures, they have co-opted—rather than resisted—banks and formal state institutions into their operations through a variety of creative techniques. Their behaviour is not only informed by their multiple spheres of social interaction, but also generative of new forms of sociality. This research shows how social identity may challenge categories such as ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’, as exchangers inhabit a normative space rife with contradictions and conciliations that give meaning to their social and interactional world.
By weaving together three innovative papers, this panel charts out major dynamics in Hazara collective identity; exploring the relationship between individual and collective representations of trauma, the forging of new forms of Hazara identity, and the deepening of class relations driven by improving Hazara status.
Melissa Chiovenda – Individual Suffering and Collective Trauma Among Ethnic Hazara Activists in Bamyan
Ethnic Hazara civil society activists in Bamyan, Afghanistan make use of narratives of suffering and trauma to mobilize an ethnic Hazara political base, bring attention to social inequalities suffered by Hazaras, and bring attention to human rights violations and atrocities experienced by the ethnic group. Yet, suffering experienced by individual ethnic activists is rarely foregrounded or presented as evidence of the collectively traumatic past that these activists promote as a key marker of Hazara identity today.
Evidence of collective suffering is most often presented via stories of mass atrocities, such as the mass killings or genocide committed by Amir Abdur Rahman Khan in the late 1800s or the Afshar Massacre of 1993. Activists speak openly of their own traumatic experiences in interviews with the researcher, but do not publicly present them as evidence of suffering by the Hazara people. At times, activists do foreground the suffering of particular individuals who seem to represent a martyr figure, a symbol of the entire Hazara people, in their activities, but this is almost never self-referential. This holds true even in cases when informants experienced traumatic events first-hand, such as the bombing in a bazaar in Quetta, Pakistan in 2013 which killed over 100. This paper will juxtapose collective trauma narratives of activists with individual instances of suffering and traumatic experiences, and will seek to provide an explanation as to why individual suffering is rarely referenced.
Niamatullah Ibrahimi – Religion, Politics and Ethnic Identities in Afghanistan, 2001-17: The Case of Sunni Hazaras
Following the reconfiguration and rehabilitation of Afghan state institutions and social changes that were spawned by the 2001 US-led military intervention, Afghanistan has experienced an upsurge in old and new forms of identity politics. While the country continues to be seen by many either through the prism of colonial era tribal and conservative politics or more recent conceptions of power rivalries among the country’s major ethnic groups, smaller ethno-cultural groups have also embarked on processes of redefining their collective identities, challenging the dominant narratives and categories, and creating new forms of collective identities and belonging.
This paper will seek to shed light on this process through a detailed study of an ongoing effort at redefinition of a new ethno-religious identity: the Sunni Hazaras of Afghanistan. In 2015, activists of the community formed The National Council of the Sunni Hazaras of Afghanistan, a social association that seeks to carve out a new identity between the predominantly Shia and historically-marginalised Hazaras on the one hand, and the predominantly Sunni and Farsi speaking Tajiks, on the other. The attempt at invention of a new ethno-sectarian identity demonstrate the changing role of religion, language, myths of origin and other markers of ethnic identities in the process of reconfiguration of collective identities between 2001 and 2017. Based on extended observation and interviews of the author with Sunni Hazara activists, the paper will examine the link between institutional change and social change and transformation of ethnic identities in contemporary Afghanistan. The paper will seek to contribute to broader understanding of how broader institutional and social change interact with and influence processes of identity formation in the country.
Naysan Adlparvar – Returnees, Regional Identity and Entitlement: Emergent Class Relations in the Bamyan Valley
Political reconstruction in Afghanistan—including the introduction of a constitutional democracy and the re-structuring of the state along ethnic lines—has led to the politicization of ethnicity. In the Bamyan Valley, this has resulted in a shift in the control of, and access to, productive resources including political appointments, access to education, ownership of reclaimed land and property, and control of the marketplace and interprovincial trade. This shift in power has principally benefitted members of the Hazara ethnic category. And has, in turn, led to an improvement in status for Hazaras vis-à-vis members of other ethnic categories in the Valley; namely Saadat and Tajiks.
Set to this dynamic socio-economic backdrop, this paper argues that the rising status of Hazaras, in addition to an influx of educated ‘returnees’, has resulted in a growing sense of competition and differentiation amongst Hazaras in the Bamyan Valley. The emergent class relations, and associated contestation over access to the new—albeit still scare—productive resources are made on the grounds of legitimacy and entitlement. On the one hand, zawari identity (Hazaras that returned from Iran) is contrasted with that of watani (Hazaras that remained in Afghanistan). On the other, legitimacy and entitlement is contested between Hazaras identifying as Bamyani and Ghaznavi. In conclusion, this paper charts the emergent nature of class relations in the Bamyan Valley, whilst also highlighting the intersectional forms of identity deployed to claim and contest entitlement.