Live blogging – Rethinking Soviet invasion of Afghanistan

(1.) arrived on time but got lost in the labyrinth of Magdalene college. As I remarked to Vidhi; Cambridge is deliberately deceptive.

(2.) Elizabeth, the speaker, has published a book call “defiant borders, the AfPak border in the wake of decolonisation.”

(3.) Her paper is Rethinking the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan. I’m the only Brown person as it’s a joint group between south Asian centre and World History.

(4.) She’s read out her paper about Rahim, who is the founder of the Resistant. He fled in Feb 1980 to Pakistan. Essentially it was a rejection of Leninism. The Soviet invasion was a seminal moment in history as it brought the Cold War in relief.

(5.) It brought competing actors to the fore (India, Pak, Iran, USSR, USA) all claiming to act in Afghanistan’s interest and sovereignty.

(6.) largest and most enduring refugee crisis. Half of Afghanistan’s population (13.2mm in 1980) chose to become refugees than stay in Afghanistan.

(7.) Afghanistan fighters who chose to oppose Russia framed the struggle in increasingly *Islamist* terms. Rather than imagine Afghanistan as a failed state, we need to consider that Afghanistan has been made and unmade several times in its history.

(8.) Foreign/different actors have defined “Afghanness” in different ways. She disputes that there was ever “one form”’of Afghan identity.

(9.) refugee crisis not only threat state sovereign and supremacy. The refugee camp becomes a place of political action since refugees are settled in camps rather than host societies.

(10.) refugee communities are rarely homogeneous but are a motley of Afghan. After a while the camp stops become a transient place but acquires permanence. New conceptions of nationalism and politics develop in refugee camps.

(11.) Afghan refugees therefore were moulded in their “national vision” by their experiences in these refugees camps. She’s now going to take about Pakistani & UNHCR attempts to mould the Afghan refugee population.

(12.) PDPA (People’s Democratic Army) the Russian organisation disrupted the traditional landlord and links of Afghan society. Even though Afghan resistance had an Islamic mask. She’s talking about a chap called Nur; he and his 3 brothers were held by the authorities for 3 weeks without reason. When they were released his 3 brothers immediately joined the resistance whereas he chose to shepherd their family (34 members) across the border.

(13). Afghans started fleeing the PDPA within 5 week of it assuming power (Feb 1978). The flight to Pakistan stressed the Pakistani government since the frontier population was swelling (local societies in Baluchistan & NWFP could not handle it).

(14.) Pakistan in desperation turned to UNHCR since it was turning into a rapidly growing humanitarian crisis. UN made the suggestion was to shift the refugee camps from the border.

(15.) UNHCR & Pak govt divided roles and basically both decided to make the “refugee camps” as the major site of oversight. The number of RTVs (refugee tented village) had grown to 330 in two years. RTVs had shelter, school, clinic and religious structure.

(16.) UN worked with Red Cross and red crescent to ensure quality of life in RTV. Mobile medical units were visiting RTVs 3 times a week and parents were encouraged to send their kids to the RTV primary school.

(17.) Afghan exchanged one for of government; anyone to receive assistance had to register. What the Soviet invasion had inadvertently done was bring millions of Afghans, in the first time, in contact with State systems either with the PDPA in Afghanistan or the RTV in  UNHCR/Pakistan.

(18.) Afghan refugees were basically issued booklets (refugee passbook) that included information everything salient about them. Their families, their livestock and what they brought into the camp. It involved official signature and had various forms for medical official. The passbook was only tied to each specific RTV but was not valid for travel within or outside Pakistan.

(19.) this RTV living basically meant that half of Afghanistan’s population (or a significant minority) were being inducted into state formation process and being politicised. Old ties of religion, tribe and clan were being flattened in the RTVs.

ZackNote; probably suited Pakistan’s agenda to flatten Afghan identity. I want to ask the question about the ethnic composition of the refugee.

(20.) Tribal leaders initially functioned as intermediaries between refugees and camp officials. Officials increasingly refused to deal with tribal leaders (“ration leader”); this is what led to the rise of the “PassBook.” It made the nuclear family, not the community leader, to receive rations.

(21.) the unintended consequence of this streamlining (Pak/UNHCR were worried about corruption) delegitimised the tribal elders who had to find other means to reinforce status.

(22.) Two new sets of Afghan leaders emerged in the refugee camp. The “Ration Malik” (the ration collector) was no longer the tribal elder; these Maliks were usually younger men, more Western, spoke foreign languages and so were better placed with UNHCR/Pak officials rather than traditional tribal elders.

(23.) the second set of “new leaders” were the political parties. 7 different political parties emerged in Afghanistan. Some were monarchies (wanted to bring back the King who had been exiled to Rome since 1973). Some were informed by Islamists (Muslim Brotherhood / Khomeini).

(24.) ISI under General Zia was promoting Islamification simultaneously. So it was win-win for Pakistan to deal with the “Islamic political parties” around Peshawar.

(25.) Incidentally the only way a refugee could receive the all important Passbook could only be processed by one of the Afghan political parties. This basically politicised the refugee since the political parties would not process a refugee unless they joined a party.

(26.) Political parties became increasingly adept at using the language favoured by IGO/NGO and UNHCR. Political parties writing increasingly piteous letters and embracing the rhetoric of suffering; the parties created additional opportunities to receive Aid.

(27.) Her contention is that there could have been no Resistance or Pushback to the Soviets had there not been a huge Refugee population. I also missed the point that Urban Afghan refugees were essentially trapped in the RTVs and could not blend into Pakistani society therefore steaming the pop.

(28.) Secular Political parties failed to win victory post the Soviet retreat because of infighting vis a vis the Islamist. Islam embraced a new importance as some of the refugees identified as either Mujhahideen (fighter) or Muhajir (one who takes refugee in the land of Islam).

(29.) IGOs and NGOs allowed the replacement of traditional elites since they imposed a “Western” structure in the camps. Refugee camps ultimately created new modes of politics. One Afghanistan rooted in the former homeland was unmade to be replaced by another Afghanistan made in the crisis of displacement.

(30.) QuestionTime: Moderator asks about parallels. Parallels with Palestine very strong because both Palestine & Afghanistan are known as “protracted refugees.”

(31.) Question; how did Pakistan treat the refugee camps as a political space and who took the decision to put political parties in charge of the process? Answer Pakistan took the decision to funnel the passbook through political parties.

(32.) Question; did the political parties, which were so effective in refugee camps how influential were they back in Afghanistan contemporaneously.

answer: basically no. Jamaat Islami who had a flexible leadership (Shah ahmad Masood) thrived In comparison to the more violent Hizb party.

(33.) missed this question but the answer

is that Passbooks were all-important since they were only valid for one RTV and Afghanis couldn’t go and live in a Pakistani town/cities.

(34.) same dude (Texan who manages the Asian Manager) asked a question. Lost the question but it’s a question about identity. Afghan government denied that there was a refugee crisis but essentially tripped migrant workers.

(35.) question what were the other parties (monarchists and Islamists). What were the other parties. q2 What were the other NGOs (Germans were active).

Answer she focussed on UNHCR because it controlled most of the funding.

There were 3 political (of the 7) based in Iran. Hizb Ul Islami wanted a Khomeini type state. Traditionalists lost legitimacy because they were associated with pre-PDPA.

(36.) 2 more questions from the head of the South Asian centre. (1) when does it become transnational (he contrasted Tamils of Sri Lanka). Answer – transnationalism becomes broken down by class and money; so rich refugees go to London, Delhi poorer ones go on foot to Pak. Massive mental health crisis for many Afghan migrants communities especially in Cali. (2.) Ethnicity? The Pashtun community links AfPak forces Pak government to focus on the Islamist parties.

Interesting factoid; Afghan ethnic minority communities much more Willy g to take up advancement schemes and gender advancement.

(37.) Question about political parties/ Jamaat e Islami extremely well-organised. Hizb Ul Islami had a secret police. H-u-L had a English language publication obviously meant for foreigners rather than Afghans.

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5 years ago

” this RTV living basically meant that half of Afghanistan’s population (or a significant minority) were being inducted into state formation process and being politicised. Old ties of religion, tribe and clan were being flattened in the RTVs.

ZackNote; probably suited Pakistan’s agenda to flatten Afghan identity. I want to ask the question about the ethnic composition of the refugee.”

That’s why regardless of all Hullabaloo over PTM, and supposedly Indo-Afghan bonhomie, the pashtuns/PTM will not succeed. There are far too integrated within the Pak society and military structures (unlike the Bengalis) to realistically portray themselves as “victims”.

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