Inventing the mujahideen

Erik Lund has an interesting post on the high, Kipling era of the North-West Frontier and how it essentially got that way due to technology. Longer-ranged rifles meant that the forts the British and their client rulers relied on were over-watched from the hills, and that the numbers of troops needed to manoeuvre up the valleys were much greater because the area the flank guard had to cover was so much bigger.

As a result, people adopted a cultural identity that made sense of being able to see off the government, the governing classes bought into it through literature, and the government pursued a policy of leaving them alone and recruiting a lot of them into the army. There, of course, they acquired skills which reinforced the whole process, to say nothing of substantial quantities of government property. Eventually, the political accomodation was made formal, by drawing the so-called “administrative border” between the frontier and the rest of India.

The interaction between the centre, the periphery, and the landscape is mediated by technology and has consequences for politics and culture.

Now, let’s do a look forward to 1948, where Pakistani irregular forces are busy invading Kashmir. The government of the new state can’t use its army because it doesn’t really exist yet as something separate from the British Indian Army’s structures, and also because it’s still full of British officers who may object. Also, it’s hoping that it can portray the military operation in Kashmir as something separate from the state of Pakistan, a popular rising that will speak to the idea of self-determination, and perhaps spare them any retaliation.

These people are sometimes described as mujahideen or even jihadis, and we’ll meet them again and again between now and 2012. On this occasion, the people involved are recruited out of the pool of army manpower. In the future, though, in 1979 and 1992 and 1996 and 2006, they are increasingly going to be foreigners. They’re still based in the debatable lands and they’re still doing much the same thing.

So what’s happened? One of the things that you traded off in exchange for the government leaving you alone is being a citizen of the new state of Pakistan. (People up there still aren’t now, in the year of our Lord, 2012.) The cities are growing, hugely. It’s time to renegotiate the deal, and there’s no obvious technological fix from the government’s side.

But causality doesn’t have to go only one way. Culture and politics can influence facts on the ground. Hence, the invention of the international jihadi – a cultural identity based on rejecting the city and everything that goes with it (Osama’s Messages to the World is full of this stuff), devised specifically to draw people back the other way and to constitute a new frontiersman serving Pakistani policy goals in Kashmir and Afghanistan.

Anyway, that’s a story about how people try to control space and to contest that control, as Erik says. Here’s one about how they try to control time. NYT report on Syrian rebels and their EFPs, and C.J. Chivers’ exegesis, which forecasts the rebels’ eventual victory.

One of the reasons roadside bombs are quite so important in the wars since 2001 is that they have a distinction in terms of time between the attack and its consequences. They are placed, and go off, but by then the attacker hopes to be long gone. States try to control these kind of threats by finding out who’s doing it, and then killing or arresting them. That, of course, has a time factor as well.

People find the state useful enough to sign up to its cultural, political, and technical solutions. In this case, some of them are willing to support the troops, or more to the point, the police by informing on the guy with the roadside bomb. Until they’re not, at which point the state is going to collapse.

Here’s another attempt to fix it, or rather to create it in the first place. I note that their results do seem to agree with Antonio Giustozzi’s account of history. Also, I’m amazed this hasn’t been on B&T yet.

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