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Mr. Blinken's “Play List”: War, the State, and Empire in Afghanistan in the Age of Neo-liberal (Dis)Order

Lecture by Wali Ahmadi (UC Berkeley)
Discussant: Munazza Ebtikar (University of Oxford)

Thursday, January 27, 2022
9:30 AM - 11:00 AM (Pacific Time)

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Note new date (rescheduled from January 14).

The American "war on terror" launched in Afghanistan in the aftermath of the events of 9/11 was part of an elaborate neo-con politico-military scheme to reshape the strategic landscape of the Middle East and Central Asia. The undertaking coincided with the dynamic changes taking place within the capitalist economic formation, as manifested in the emergence of the triumphal neo-liberal order in the imperialist industrial North and its penetration, in the name of “globalization,” deep into vast regions of the South. As the occupation of Afghanistan dragged on, it became clear that the emphasis on “state building,” “functioning state institutions,” and “raising an effective army” proved useful only to the extent that the military pacification of the region helped the exploitation of the region’s resources by the imperial capitalist center and the expansion of the neo-liberal economic system into the periphery. Meanwhile, with the persistence of the long-held Orientalist and essentialist representation of Afghanistan, such slogans as “promotion of democracy,” “human rights,” “women’s rights,” “minority rights,” etc., which were used as a pretext to invade the country in the first place, were abandoned and increasingly shunned in favor of a fundamentally Orientalist view that emphasized the so-called autochthonous cultural particularities and conservative religious and social propensities of the Afghan people. The Doha agreement, initiated by Trump and carried to the letter by Biden and signed by Khalilzad, shows how the intertwinement of the neo-liberal agenda and Orientalist discursive representation of the country led to the present fiasco in Afghanistan. As such, a terror group with obscurantist views can be successfully coopted and even legitimized as a nativist Islamic liberation front so long as it agrees to pose no threat to neo-liberal global order upheld by the Empire. Hence the surrendering of Afghanistan this past August from a corrupt kleptocratic client state to a terror network with the potential to become a future imperial client.

Wali Ahmadi is Chair of Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures at UC Berkeley, where he teaches Persian literature and literary and cultural studies. Born in Kabul, he received a diploma from Lycée Estéqlal (1982), a BA in Political Science from CSUEB (1987), and a PhD in Comparative Literature from UCLA (1997). He is the author of Modern Persian Literature in Afghanistan: Anomalous Visions of History and Form and the editor of Converging Zones: Persian Literary Tradition and the Writing of History. He founded and edited Naqd wa Arman/ Critique & Vision: An Afghan Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences (1995-2004). He has published numerous articles, in English and in Persian, in leading scholarly journals.

Afghanistan through Afghan Voices is a series of virtual workshops that highlights and critically engages with recent scholarship on one of the most culturally diverse regions in the world. It aims to open an inclusive and multidisciplinary space where Afghan scholars and artists come together in conversation with broad audiences to publicly reflect on their research endeavors and creative trajectories. Monthly programs include Afghan artists from around the globe in dialogue with scholars of literature, art, and history; panels featuring conversations on visual culture and media; and poetry readings in Persian/Dari, Pashto, and English.

The series is hosted via Zoom by the UCLA Program on Central Asia and co-sponsored by the University of Washington’s Persian and Iranian Studies Program, Stanford University’s Center for South Asia and Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies, the UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies, CMRS Center for Early Global Studies, as well as the Center for India and South Asia.

 


Sponsor(s): Program on Central Asia, Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, University of Washington Persian and Iranian Studies Program, Stanford University Center for South Asia and Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies