Tag Archives: south asia

Afghanistan and UAE finance capital

A little while back I made a note on the importance of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the ongoing war in Afghanistan.  I took a closer look and found some interesting reports about the cozy economic relationship between Afghan and UAE elites, which gives insight on the financial/economic dimensions of imperial governance.

The 2010 Cablegate leaks of the US State Department communications revealed the way powerful Afghan elites used the UAE as a nexus for money laundering and graft, with hundreds of millions of dollars passing to and fro Emirati banks on a monthly basis.  The Vice-President was in one case observed to have flown into Dubai with $52 million in cash, and the disgraced ex-chairman of Kabul Bank at the center of the 2010 banking crisis, who helped steal nearly $1 billion, holds numerous pieces of lucrative real-estate in the UAE.  The property market in Dubai generally seems to be a favored vehicle for investing ill-gotten gains by warlords, drug traffickers, and corrupt political officials (none of which tend to be mutually exclusive categories).

As this Financial Times article points out, the flow of money is a result of a deep connection between Afghan businessmen and UAE banks.  Many elites fled to Dubai after the Taliban took over in the ’90s, infusing their capital into local conglomerates and business ventures.  Indeed, the famous Palm Jumeirah development apparently took in a large amount of Afghan capital.

Brought to you by Afghan oligarchs! (And South Asian indentured labor)

The current flow of capital out of Afghanistan is even higher than it was prior to the Kabul Bank crisis:

…the Afghan business council estimates about $10bn flows between Dubai and Afghanistan every year. Analysts and Afghans say most of it leaves the country and some of it is derived from corruption and shady business deals. “The closest functioning banking system is here, so a lot of the money coming in could be legitimate but a lot of it is not. It’s drug money, graft money, extortion money,” says Theodore Karasik, a director of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (Inegma).

And it is worth reminding ourselves of the deep connection between the Afghan political economy and US/NATO/UN military presence.  As I noted from Ahmed Rashid’s 2013 book on the Af-Pak region, an overwhelming majority of Afghanistan’s economy — 97% as estimated by the World Bank in 2011 — was linked with foreign military spending.  Individual programs, like the USA’s “Commanders Emergency Response Program” had bigger budgets than the Afghan government itself.  Much of this unaccountable military spending is done in coordination with pro-US Afghan elites, who of course tend to be the same people who have deep connections with the UAE.  In other words, a substantial portion of the billions of dollars spent on Afghanistan has likely been recuperated back into the currents of international finance capital — and little, if any, has reached the Afghan people.

Blurred musical lines in South Asian religions

South Asia has seen more than its share of horrific religious violence, whether it was the mass displacement and mass killings of Partition in 1947, or the genocide during Bangladesh’s 19671 war of liberation, or the pogroms of the 1980s in India, or the communal riots of 2002 in Gujarat or of 2013 in Uttar Pradesh.

But present in this backdrop of religious divisions are cultural and musical traditions that blur the lines that have been imposed between Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, etc.  Take, for example, the musical collective of Riyaaz Qawwali, based in Texas, whose work fuses the musical and philosophical tenets of the various South Asian religions via the medium of Qawwali, a traditional form of Sufi Muslim devotional music.  Here is a video of them singing a Hindu bhajan from 15th-century Gujarat in Qawwali style.

This kind of syncretism isn’t just present in the diaspora — it is present in the homeland too.  Indeed, this style of inter-communal tradition is precisely the target of far-right extremist groups like Islamic State who abhor the notion of religious harmony, diversity, and heterogeneity.  The recent attack in the Sindh province of Pakistan, which killed over 70 people and injured hundreds, was an attack on a shrine whose popularity and meaning transcended religion and culture:

Religious devotees at the shrine of this 12th century saint cannot be compartmentalized into categories through which ISIS sees the world. To his devotees, he is not a Muslim or a Shia saint. He is a peer, who cannot be constrained by confines of religious boundaries. To the Sindhi Hindus, forming the largest religious minority in [Pakistan], he is their peer as much as he peer for Muslims. Some might label him to be a Sindhi saint, but songs of his praises are sung at the Sufi shrines in Punjab as well. In the summers at the time of his urs celebration special trains are booked to bring his Punjabi devotees into the heartland of Sindh.

There is perhaps no other shrine in the country that captures the essence of religious syncretism like the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar. In his courtyard, it feels as if the riots of Partition never happened, as if Sindhi Hindus were never forced to abandon their land, as if Christian settlements in Punjab had never been burned after alleged cases of blasphemy. The courtyard of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar represents a different world, a world that once existed but has slowly disappeared outside its confines. That’s why this courtyard represents such a threat. It defies all narratives, of exclusive nationalism and religious identities. It maybe just a few thousand people but a powerful narrative. The attack is not on the shrine but on this worldview which does not divide humanity into simplistic separate categories.

Perry Anderson’s crash course on India

If you’re looking for an in-depth but accessible crash course on Indian politics, check out Perry Anderson’s trio of essays published in the summer of 2012 in London Review of Books, covering the ideologies and roles of key figures like Gandhi and Nehru, the complex religious politics of South Asia and how they evolved over the course of the independence movement, the centrality of caste, the various postcolonial insurgencies, and so on.

Some of the general arguments I find questionable, particularly the idea that the exit of the British Empire from South Asia was “inevitable”.  But overall, the essays are a fantastic dissection and critique of prevailing tendencies of India’s political elites.  Gandhi is shown to have helped laid the roots of communal violence in the way he infused the anti-imperialist movement with religion, and the Indian National Congress is shown to be a party of mostly upper-caste Hindu elites, whose politicking undermined inter-communal solidarity and class politics.  A spotlight is shone on the protracted and extremely bloody military occupations in Kashmir and Nagaland.  The fractured landscape of caste and religion is dissected, as is the way this fracturing affects prevailing nationalist ideologies, and influences various electoral coalitions.

While not discussed in much depth, Anderson elevated Subhas Chandra Bose, casting him as the only pre-independence nationalist leader of widespread popularity who could have united the subcontinent across religious lines, and someone of much more intellectual prowess than either Gandhi or Nehru — all of which makes it even more tragic that he was ultimately pushed out of INC leadership in the late 1930s, and was killed in a plane crash in the 1940s.

Subhas Chandra Bose, the only leader Congress ever produced who united Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs in a common secular struggle, and would have most threatened [Nehru], lay buried in Taiwan: the political landscape of postwar India would not have been the same had he survived.

Here are some of the books that Anderson referenced that I have thrown onto my reading list:

Sunday Interesting Links

  • Analysis on the nature of the social democratic political formation that emerged out of the Bernie Sanders campaign, by Salar Mohandesi in Viewpoint
  • Essay arguing that the radical left needs to take politics more seriously than Jill Stein and the Green Party
  • Essay summarizing Heidegger’s philosophy of technology
  • BBC reportage on how Oakland, California beat back a massive surveillance project
  • Analysis on the complex factors behind the rise of Islamic State in the province of Nangarhar, Afghanistan

Sunday Interesting Links

  • Lengthy essay on prison labor, mass incarceration, and labor market dynamics
  • Book reviews on the history of Angola, Cuba, and apartheid South Africa
  • Old essay from 2004 on a radical left environmental strategy in southern conservative states, from the IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus
  • Reportage on Indian oligarchs and the arms industry
  • Article on the racial advocacy of New York City’s Health Commissioner, and her old ties with the Black Panther Party

Sunday Interesting Links

  • Overview of the radical autonomous social movements of 1970s Italy, from Issue 5 of Viewpoint
  • Analysis on imperial obsession with women’s clothing in South Asia
  • Report on private security forces in Washington DC
  • Report on efforts in Kuwait to check citizenship via DNA collection
  • Photo-essay on environmental destruction around the world

Sunday Interesting Links

  • Essay on the connections (and lack thereof) between Althusser and workerism, the relationship between Marxist theory and practice, and the nature of the communist parties in France and Italy in the ’60s and ’70s, from Viewpoint Magazine
  • Polemic by Matt Taibbi against the recent cover story in The Atlantic arguing that the US has too much democracy and not enough of an insulated political establishment
  • Report on the increasing unrest in Kashmir and anti-police attitudes
  • Analysis of renewable energy’s negative impact on nuclear power and carbon mitigation goals