Magnus Marsden - Mobile Life on the Frontiers of Crossroads Asia

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Crossroads Asia Working Paper Series, ISSN: 2192-6034 Competence Network Crossroads Asia: Conflict – Migration – Development Editors: Ingeborg Baldauf, Stephan Conermann, Hermann Kreutzmann, Shahnaz Nadjmabadi, Dietrich Reetz, Conrad Schetter and Martin Sökefeld. How to cite this paper: Marsden, Magnus (2011): Mobile Life on the Frontiers of Crossroads Asia. In: Crossroads Asia Working Paper Series, No. 1. Partners of the Network: Imprint Competence Network Crossroads Asia: Conflict – Migrat
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       Crossroads Asia Working Paper Series, ISSN: 2192-6034Competence Network Crossroads Asia: Conflict  – Migration  – DevelopmentEditors: Ingeborg Baldauf, Stephan Conermann, Hermann Kreutzmann, Shahnaz Nadjmabadi, DietrichReetz, Conrad Schetter and Martin Sökefeld. How to cite this paper: Marsden, Magnus (2011): Mobile Life on the Frontiers of  Crossroads As ia. In:Crossroads Asia Working Paper Series, No. 1. Partners of the Network: Imprint Competence Network Crossroads Asia: Conflict  –  Migration –  Development  Project OfficeCenter for Development Research/ZEFaDepartment of Political and Cultural ChangeUniversity of BonnWalter-Flex Str. 3D-53113 BonnTel: + 49-228-731722Fax: + 49-228-731972Email:crossroads@uni-bonn.deHomepage:www.crossroads-asia.de    Mobile Life on the Frontiers of  Crossroads Asia 1   Magnus Marsden* TABLE OF CONTENTS: 1.   Introduction 1   2.   Tunnels: Changing Political Contexts 2   3.   BBC: Badakshan, Badakshan, Chitral 4   4.   Modern Mobile Muslims 6   5.   Cross-border Traders 9   6.   Conclusion 11   References 12   Information on the competence network Crossroads Asia 13   *   Author’s address: Dr. Magnus Marsden, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London,Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG, Tel.: +44 (0)20 7898 Fax.: +44 (0)20 7898 4699, E-mail:mm101@soas.ac.uk, website: http://www.soas.ac.uk/staff/staff36079.php. 1 Based on a keynote lecture given on 7 th July 2010 at the Deutsche Parlamentarische Gesellschaft to inaugurate the research project ‘ Crossroads Asia’  . Parts of the lecture develop material from Magnus Marsdenand Ben Hopkins, forthcoming (2011), Fragments of the Afghan Frontier  , Hurst and Co.,: London., and areproduced here with the permission of Hurst. I would like to thank Professor Kreutzmann and Dr. Schetter forinviting me to the prestigious event in Berlin and Benjamin Hopkins for commenting on earlier drafts of thisessay.    1.   Introduction Today the Afghan- Pakistan Frontier is depicted as the world’s premier place of violence and lawlessness, an incubator of chaos and radicalism which threatens the stability of all who come intocontact with it. The very titles of some works suggest reductionist visions of this arena as being one- dimensionally defined by the past and future ‘militancy’ of its peoples, for example Joshua White’s Pakistan’s Islamist Frontier  (2008). More sophisticated yet equally problematic conceptualizations of  the Frontier’s cultu ral and political make- up also exist. One seeks to elide the Frontier’s political and cultural heterogeneity by depicting its inhabitants as part of a homogenous group occupying a singular space: the term ‘Af  - Pak’ ignores the multiple self  -identifications nurtured by the region’s inhabitants. It also renders insignificant the very different types of modernizing processes the region’s states have unleashed on local populations. A second mode of representing this spacecharacterizes the Frontier as a ‘non -pla ce’, a chaotic buffer zone situated between the ‘real’ regions of South and Central Asia. This reading of the Frontier traces its genealogy to the imperial ideas of British India and the so- called ‘Great Game’ it purportedly played with Russia for supremac y of Inner Asia. It has been energized by recent popular studies, most especially Rory Stewart’s revealingly entitled The places in between (2006). Such caricatures of the Frontier as a vacuum- like ‘non - space’ resurface in policy circles, notably under the guise of the “ungoverned territory” – a concept carefullydissected recently by Conrad Schetter (2010).The aim of the project which we are here to launch today is to create a more dynamic, nuanced andsophisticated understanding of this space. Such an understanding offers not only a picture of greatercomplexity of the space itself, but also the imprint on it of the various forms of moral and politicalagency enacted by its inhabitants, and the multiple networks of relationships within which thesepeople s’ lives are entwined. There has been a tendency in particular to overlook the lived connectedness of life across the formerCold War boundaries of South and Central Asia. Commentators have preferred to focus on tiesbetween South Asia and the Middle East or the Gulf. This is partly because Crossroads Asia lies at the ‘fringes of the intellectual frameworks known as “area studies”‘(van Schendel 2002: 647). As a result, few scholars considered the connections between societies on the peripheries of South and CentralAsia, the ways in which these illuminate the nature political and religious dynamics unfolding acrossthese spaces, or the thinking and self-understanding of their peoples. The work of those who have  –  many of whom are gathered here today - has revealed the wider significance to the region’s politiesof ‘identifications, hybrid identities, diasporic existences, minorities, and marginal communities’ (Navaro-Yashin 2002: 74). Yet all too often this body of work has been treated by non-specialists andpolicy makers alike as being about a remote if not inconsequential region that is home to many ‘minorities’ yet few communities – social, geographic, or religious  – of central importance to the region’s political future. The new scale of thinking epitomized in the idea of  Crossroads Asia brings into focus, rather, howdifferent parts of South and Central Asia as well as the Middle East interact with one another,influencing the lives of millions, even if the communities themselves described from the national
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