Thursday, September 23, 2021

Medhi on the Indo-Afghan frontier

 Abhilash Medhi (Mount Holyoke) has published "Infrastructural Contingencies and Contingent Sovereignties on the Indo-Afghan Frontier" in Modern Asian Studies (2020), 1-38. Here's the abstract:

The Khyber Pass Railway is a defunct 42-kilometre-long railway line that connects the western reaches of Peshawar to the Afghan border. Completed in 1925 mainly to carry British troops, the railway line failed to attract decent passenger or commodity traffic. Instead, it made an impact on a more primal register. Negotiations carried out between the British Government of India and populations from around the Khyber to allow its construction reproduced and rearranged lines of authority among the latter. They also embedded colonial administrators in tribal hierarchies. Efforts to acquire land and labour opened up spaces of collaboration between the colonial administration and members of frontier tribes, effectively contributing towards a reconfiguration of sovereign power in the area. This article weaves questions of customary law and colonial legal cultures into a retelling of the history of the Khyber Pass Railway. Examining transactions across three domains of sovereign power—the economic right to use land, extension of juridical regimes, and territorial control—it argues that the operation of sovereignty in the late-colonial Indo–Afghan frontier did not adhere to conventional ideas about its concentration and monopoly. The colonial government as well as members of frontier tribes deployed the inconclusive nature of their transactions strategically and, often, sovereign power lay with the stakeholder who could determine which domains fell within the bounds of the sovereignty question and which domains fell without.

Further information is available on the Modern Asian Studies website via Cambridge University Press.

--Mitra Sharafi