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Elite Pasts and Subaltern Potentialities

  • James Caron (a1)

In narrating Afghanistan's 21st century, future historians might bracket the first decade with the two Bonn conferences of 2001 and 2011: great-power delegates and handpicked elite Afghans meeting to plot Afghanistan's transitional place in the international system. In contrast, Afghan popular and intellectual cultures alike have often voiced alternate histories. For example, Malang Kohistani, a contemporary working-class singer of Kabul's hinterland, sees top-down Afghan integrations into globality not as a fundamentally new construction of institutions that promise prosperity for a nation-state and its people but rather as one more intrusive disruption—in a chain of similar events beginning over 2,000 years ago with Alexander—in everyday people's continuous, bottom-up efforts to ensure their livelihoods, in part through developing horizontally organized trade networks. And indeed it is not only post-2001 statist intervention that has attracted such popular responses, but this is also a longstanding critique among both urban and rural Afghan intellectuals. In some ways Malang Kohistani echoes Malang Jan, the renowned 1950s sharecropper-poet of Jalalabad, as well as various more elite authors.

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1 For a subtitled song by Kohistani, see Edwards, David’ documentary Kabul Transit (Bullfrog Films, 2006).

2 Pain, Adam and Goodhand, Jonathan, Afghanistan: Current Employment and Socio-Economic Situation and Prospects, InFocus Programme, Crisis Response and Reconstruction Working Paper 8 (Geneva: Recovery and Reconstruction Department, 2002).

3 Hanifi, Shah Mahmoud, “A History of Linguistic Boundary Crossing within and around Pashto,” in Beyond Swat: History, Society and Economy along the Afghanistan–Pakistan Frontier, ed. Marsden, Magnus and Hopkins, Benjamin (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012); Manan Ahmed, “Flying Blind: U.S. Foreign Policy's Lack of Expertise,” The National (UAE), 4 March 2011.

4 Guha, Ranajit, “The Prose of Counterinsurgency,” in Subaltern Studies II, ed. Guha, Ranajit (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1983).

5 Farah Stockman, “Knowing the Enemy One Avatar at a Time,” Boston Globe, 30 May 2010.

6 Both from Nuri, Muhammad Gul, Milli Sandare (Kabul: Da Pushto Tolana, 1944).

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International Journal of Middle East Studies
  • ISSN: 0020-7438
  • EISSN: 1471-6380
  • URL: /core/journals/international-journal-of-middle-east-studies
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