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Posted on: Monday, September 19, 2016

As part of their ongoing collaboration Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) and Hanns Seidel Foundation (HSF) organized two lectures on 9 September 2016on the topics of

  • Rethinking the Traditional, Modern, and the Colonial Case Studies for Policy in Cultural Sphere;
  • Dynamics of Religion and Politics in South Asia.

Dr. James Caron of the Department of South Asia and Dr. Jan-Peter Hartung of the Department of Religion and Politics, University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) delivered two discourses centering round a project on the borderlands presently undertaken by a group of researchers and scholars. Within the overall context of their interest in the borderlands they are also looking at Pakistan-Afghanistan borderland from the thematic and theoretical perspectives. The approach to the project covers political economy but more so the systems of knowledge recognizing that both are inseparable from each other and encompass social, intellectual and cultural aspects.

After briefly referring to the project, Dr. Caron underlined that there is a growing field of study related to borderlands. Since he was from the US his attention was drawn to US-Mexico borderland. In this connection he referred to the work on culture and borderlands of Heriberto Yepez. Generally politico-economic and politico-cultural thoughts are viewed holistically and as such the social and political contours of borderland as affecting the intellectual and cultural spheres. Borderlands are identified as places of breakage where communities either synthesize or hyberdize. Contrarily Yepez sees the communities of borderlands as fragmenting, non-cohesive and not representing a unified system. The communities stick together through different things such as system of knowledge which could be Islamic jurisprudence, positivist science and other systems.

Continuing Dr. Caron talked about the centre-periphery relationship stating that empires and nation-states centres are represented by the political economy which is fairly hierarchical. These are underground connections which he labeled as mushroom world having nodes rather than systems. In this alliances can be tactical with no centre and it is in this context that borderland has limits in so far as systems are concerned. At the periphery the system fade out becomes less cohesive and it gets reshaped, recombining in different ways. Dr. Caron then referred to the British colonial system in the subcontinent, the Sandeman system and the way the British Empire administered the tribal areas and imposed indirect system of governance, through network of people and turned around the then prevailing system. He stated that the colonial military provided defencein the borderlands but did not unite the communities. He also talked about the Khidmatgar movement within the theoretical concept of fragmentation theory of Yepez, which he said was participatory and involved as well as united different communities towards the common goal of fighting the colonial rule by way of putting together different fragments. As opposed to this the Taliban movement has no centre and tends to isolate and seclude communities. While inviting Dr. Hartung for his talk, Dr. Caron reminded the audience to keep in mind the idea of horizontal-trans-regional organizations versus horizontal-vertical and social technologies as opposed to verticalized long distance management and reforming the system.

Dr. Hartung began by underscoring that his view would be that of a German embedded in European experience reflecting that background with different approaches in connection with the understanding of borderland aspects. He distanced himself from the notion of system as these constituted self-contained unit that were autonomous and protected from outside influences. He opted to use the notion of paradigm instead embodying conflicts as one paradigm would move from one to another. Paradigm shift could be based on multifarious factors more often not rational as one would like them to be. He then cited the example of Galilean world view as opposed to heliocentric worldview and cosmological understanding in terms of geopolitical and geocentricism. There was no ultimate way of reaching truth as there are competing understandings of validities, he emphasized.

With the above backdrop Dr. Hartung stated that more clearly in the areas of borderlands his understanding was informed by geopolitical discussions where the word border-state has been coined for spaces where values of validities are negotiated within the framework of regionality and trans-nationality. This leads to regionally accepted values of validities which clash with transnational understanding of how validity should be from outside. So there is a need to constantly negotiate and renegotiate over validities of certain value that shape social and cultural realities: peace negotiations are not always peaceful. And the Taliban might be one of the examples of negotiation constellation. He also said that he would not preclude thatparadigm are considered as certain geographical spaces that are static and closeto outside influences.

Dr. Hartung cited the example of Deobandi School’s rise to extreme in thePak-Afghan borderland context as a case in point. He then alluded to various movements and personalities from 1830s onwards in the subcontinent to strengthen his argument. Notwithstanding the political, social and economic specificity religion as he saw it was a major signifier of cultural and social identity which in the case of borderland assumes added significance. He then mentioned about topography as a factor and hegemonic attempts by certain regions to advance causing disruptions in other regions giving rise to resistanceand explained Tyrol situation in Europe to elaborate his point. He meshed it with the issue of economic and development aspects.

Dr. Hartung also believed that genealogy plays an important part in determining inclinations of people.These were religiously grounded or religiously based resistances that could be traced to the current Taliban In this context he cited the example of a 17thy Century figure in Waziristan who set up a sufi-inspired yet sharia-oriented movement which rejected both the imperial Moghuls and quasi-imperial Khans. There has been an element of reciprocity in dealing with dissent in the region in terms of contradiction between imperial inspired and locally inspired narratives as well as the portrayal of various movements by the two. He also referred to another attempt in the early 20th Century in Waziristan by the then King of Afghanistan to forge nationhood among the people living on both sides of Durand line. The crux of the argument was the constant tension between the paradigms and resultant conflict which is not peaceful.

The insightful intellectual discourses and deep analysis of the subject of borderlands generated wide interest among the participants which led to an animated discussion.   

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