Pol­i­tics of Sur­vival

Southasia - - BOOK - Taha Ke­har is a blog­ger on so­cial is­sues and has pre­vi­ously worked for a me­dia mag­a­zine. He is cur­rently pur­su­ing Law Stud­ies at the School of Ori­en­tal and African Stud­ies.

As­trong co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity and lo­cal so­cio-eco­nomic net­works is re­quired to en­sure post­con­flict re­con­struc­tion in Afghanistan. How­ever, lo­cal vari­ants of fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions in the re­gion have come to be viewed with sus­pi­cion. Hawala - an an­cient fi­nan­cial sys­tem op­er­at­ing in the Mus­lim world - has been wrongly con­demned for fund­ing ter­ror­ist out­fits across the world. De­spite grow­ing con­cerns about its ques­tion­able po­lit­i­cal agenda, hawala may pro­vide a suit­able rem­edy for the war-torn coun­try to climb out of its predica­ment and give it a new lease of life.

Ed­wina Thomp­son pro­vides a de­tailed scru­tiny on the ex­tent to which the in­dige­nous fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions can fa­cil­i­tate re­con­struc­tion, de­vel­op­ment and global eco­nomic gov­er­nance. Trust is the Coin of the Realm aims to ques­tion and re-define the le­git­i­macy of ex­ter­nal mech­a­nisms to en­force po­lit­i­cal change through unique state-build­ing mod­els. Based on pri­mary re­search con­ducted in Afghanistan, the study demon­strates that any form of de­vel­op­ment in Afghanistan can only oc­cur if the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity en­gages with so­cio-eco­nomic net­works op­er­at­ing within the re­gion. The pol­i­tics of sur­vival and change is vested in ob­tain­ing trust.

Al­though the book adopts a largely the­o­ret­i­cal fo­cus, dis­cus­sions on the role of pol­icy add a prag­matic touch to what would oth­er­wise be­come a purely aca­demic dis­course. The author has painstak­ingly out­lined the ob­jec­tive of her field­work, the scope of her method­ol­ogy and the chal­lenges in­volved in con­duct­ing re­search in Afghanistan. A care­ful ex­pla­na­tion of th­ese de­tails high­lights the in­ter-dis­ci­plinary con­text of the work and al­lows the reader to as­sess the strengths and weak­nesses of the anal­y­sis. How­ever, it is im­por­tant to note that Trust is the

Coin of the Realm is based on a se­ries of un­der­ly­ing aca­demic pref­er­ences and bi­ases. Thomp­son’s start­ing point is the con­cept of the in­ter­na­tional sys­tem of states. While the de­ci­sion to use this the­o­ret­i­cal frame­work ap­pears con­vinc­ing, it is dif­fi­cult to ig­nore the in­flu­ence it has on the course of the study. The ap­proach is skewed to­wards an­a­lyz­ing hawala within the sphere of in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions. As a re­sult, the book is nei­ther a com­pre­hen­sive nor con­clu­sive guide on the work­ings of one of the world’s old­est fi­nan­cial sys­tem.

Con­ven­tional wis­dom on hawala presents an in­ac­cu­rate view of its scope and func­tions. By pro­vid­ing a his­tori- cal con­text of its in­sti­tu­tional legacy, the author skill­fully de­vi­ates from th­ese myths and ex­plores the re­al­ity of the sys­tem. The role of hawala in en­cour­ag­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian ef­forts across the world has been used as an ex­am­ple to negate the mis­per­cep­tions held about such in­sti­tu­tions. This serves to show that Western bi­ases about hawala need to be re­vis­ited and re­vised.

By turn­ing her fo­cus specif­i­cally on the op­er­a­tion of hawala in Afghanistan, Thomp­son has high­lighted the so­cial, eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal is­sues that have af­fected its scope and in­flu­ence. The role of the lo­cal­ized no­tion of ‘bazaar’ and ‘fam­ily firm’ has been em­pha­sized as an im­por­tant means of grant­ing le­git­i­macy to the in­sti­tu­tions. Through such sen­si­tive por­tray­als of

hawala as a cul­tur­ally de­ter­mined sys­tem, a fresh and en­light­en­ing per­spec­tive on the an­cient fi­nan­cial sys­tem has been achieved. The author has used this mo­tif to high­light the flex­i­ble na­ture of the lo­cal fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions in the ex­er­cise of state-build­ing. It prop­a­gates the idea that the ‘in­for­mal econ­omy’ can bring Afghanistan out of its quag­mire. While this no­tion ap­pears to be some­what con­tro­ver­sial, it pro­vides a far more ef­fec­tive so­lu­tion to the in­tro­duc­tion of largely un­pop­u­lar for­mal reg­u­la­tory mea­sures.

A col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the hawal­adars and the for­mal struc­ture of the global po­lit­i­cal econ­omy can strengthen eco­nomic gov­er­nance and en­cour­age re­con­struc­tion. Thomp­son shows the ac­cu­racy of this po­si­tion through a range of as­tute ob­ser­va­tions and in­ter­views with ‘lo­cal money-men’ who act as agents to en­sure de­vel­op­ment in the war econ­omy. Th­ese ob­ser­va­tions pro­vide a con­vinc­ing ar­gu­ment for the over­all in­te­gra­tion of the in­for­mal so­cio-eco­nomic net­work within for­mal peace-build­ing strate­gies. This is an in­no­va­tive ap­proach as it breaks away from main­stream lit­er­a­ture on in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions and adopts a po­lit­i­cally sen­si­tive per­spec­tive on the is­sue.

Pol­i­cy­mak­ers have re­al­ized that strate­gies pro­vided by in­ter­na­tional agen­cies are grad­u­ally fall­ing out of fa­vor. In or­der to rec­tify the fi­nan­cial sta­tus of a war econ­omy, reg­u­la­tors, aid prac­ti­tion­ers and sta­bi­liza­tion ad­vis­ers must ac­count for in­dige­nous fac­tors. Hawal­adars have en­joyed a limited range of op­por­tu­ni­ties to bring- ing their busi­nesses within the le­git­i­mate sphere of the for­mal econ­omy. This is a ma­jor set­back be­cause ha

wala has served as the bas­tion of the hu­man­i­tar­ian cause. The book puts the tra­di­tional fi­nan­cial sys­tem within the con­text of the over­all re­form pro­gram con­ducted by in­ter­na­tional agen­cies. It ex­am­ines the sub­tle di­men­sions of the over­all le­git­i­macy of hawala and shows how the sys­tem op­er­ates to pos­i­tively im­pact sta­bi­liza­tion ef­forts in Afghanistan through a com­plex ar­ray of bar­gain­ing strate­gies.

Ed­wina Thomp­son has pro­vided an in­te­grated model that en­cour­ages in­ter­na­tional agen­cies to en­gage with lo­cal in­sti­tu­tions in the war economies. The ap­proach builds on the essence of trust that arises out of the in­te­gra­tion of the po­lit­i­cal econ­omy with the lo­cal sphere of fi­nance. Trust is the key in­gre­di­ent, which can guar­an­tee eco­nomic re­cov­ery against the back­drop of counter-in­sur­gency. It can be ob­tained through a cul­tur­ally sen­si­tive un­der­stand­ing of the pre­vail­ing sys­tem of fi­nance. Hawala is a ‘com­plex site of gov­er­nance and in­sti­tu­tional lo­cal power’ and in­volves strate­gies that are based on re­li­gious, eth­nic, cul­tural and eco­nomic fac­tors. A re­al­is­tic ap­proach that ac­counts for so­cio-eco­nomic ele­ments, the study of­fers var­i­ous in­sights into the flex­i­ble na­ture of eco­nomic gov­er­nance. It high­lights the risks in­volved in fail­ing to ac­count for th­ese fac­tors in the over­all state-build­ing pro­cesses. Eco­nomic re­cov­ery is es­sen­tially a ques­tion of sur­vival. There is an ur­gent need to break away from main­stream dis­courses on the sub­ject. In­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions must ex­plore the scope and po­ten­tial of hawala to ef­fec­tively im­ple­ment post-con­flict re­con­struc­tion, global eco­nomic gov­er­nance and fi­nan­cial se­cu­rity in Afghanistan.

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