2015 Fellowship Recipients

Faiz Ahmed (Brown University), 'Constituting Afghanistan: A Sociolegal History, 1877-1923'

The fellowship project comprises travel to Turkey in summer 2015 to complete the final stages of my book manuscript in progress, “Constituting Afghanistan.” Based on archival research in five countries, the book presents the first transnational study of Afghanistan’s early constitutional history by uncovering the collaborative role of Afghan, Ottoman/Turkish, and Indian jurists in producing the state’s founding national charter, the Qanun-i Asasi (Basic Code) of 1923. As a “sociolegal” history, the book examines the genesis of Afghanistan’s first constitutional commission, its multinational members from Istanbul to Lahore, and the challenges they overcame in producing the pioneering charter. Drawing on records and manuscripts in Ottoman Turkish, Dari, Arabic, and Urdu, this account of the 1923 Constitution and committee that authored it presents a rare opportunity to understand the diverse social and intellectual dimensions of Afghanistan’s legal heritage at a formative moment in the country’s modern history.

Elham Bakhtary (George Washington University), 'Unimagining Khorasan: How British Imperialism nationalized the Qajar-Durrani Wars'

This project explores how British authorities in India helped transform the shared cultural space of Khorasan into the two distinct nation-states of Iran and Afghanistan in the nineteenth century. Specific focus will be given to how British intelligence identified the Qajar and Durrani dynasties as representing distinct peoples and homelands. These descriptions will then be contrasted by indigenous conceptions of personal and regional identity. Research will be conducted at the British Library, National Archives, and Royal Asiatic Society in London, England.

Noah Coburn (Bennington College), 'No Small War: How the Experience of Intervention in Afghanistan Circulates in Nepal and Beyond'

The intervention in Afghanistan is often framed as a conflict between American soldiers and Afghan insurgents. Besides ignoring the deep complexities of the insurgency, this ignores the fact that due in part to the neo-liberal contracting model that many Western militaries are now employing, many of those involved in the intervention are contract laborers particularly from South Asia. This study traces the lives of a group of Nepalese security contractors who have fought in Afghanistan, back to their homes in Nepal and, for those who fought with the British military, England. Workers in both Nepal and England use complex networks of colleagues, friends and kin to find employment opportunities in Afghanistan. When they return home, they often gain status in terms of economic capital, but also with the links that they have established while in Afghanistan. These networks tie into the global market at the highest levels: the security firms that contract with the international military in Afghanistan are publicly traded, they then contract out to local companies that recruit labor and these local companies in turn rely often on personal ties to find qualified individual workers. This multi-sited study asks, how has the experienced altered the way they view their political worlds and make economic and political decisions? It aims to contribute to AIAS’s mission of expanding the field of Afghanistan studies by providing a richer, more contextualized, account of the international intervention, as well as a greater understanding the regional implications, through the lens of this important group. Research will be conducted in Kathmandu and Pokhara, Nepal.

Anila Daulatzai (Harvard University), 'Heroin Use and Harm Reduction in an Islamic Context: An Ethnographic Study'

This proposed research is for a multi-sited ethnographic study of heroin users and harm reduction programs in Zürich (Switzerland), Lahore and Peshawar (Pakistan). The aims of the study are: a) to develop an understanding of the problem of heroin use in Pakistan among Afghans against the background of serial wars and migration; b) to investigate the intricacies of the lives of drug users in Islamic contexts; c) to explore ethnographically how lives of heroin users from Lahore, Peshawar to Zürich intersect through shared material products (heroin), institutional practices (harm-reduction) and forms of governance (war/ and conflict); and d) to understand forms of expertise as constituted around harm reduction practices globally. Preliminary research for the Pakistan portion of this multi-sited study was conducted with support from AIPS in 2013 and 2014.

Helena Zeweri (Rice University), 'From Refugees to Social Advocates: New Categories of Personhood in Afghan Refugee Resettlement Programs in Australia'

Over the past ten years, Australia’s refugee resettlement programs have expanded the breadth of their services, through equipping refugees with practical skills and rights-based knowledge to conduct social advocacy work for stigmatized minorities in a similar position as themselves. At the same time, the Australian state has implemented increasingly stringent immigration policies, most recently in 2013, through its initiative called Operation Sovereign Borders, which has garnered international condemnation. The broader question animating this study is what it means for the Australian state to teach accepted refugees to advocate for their own rights and destigmatization within society, while maintaining an immigration policy that actively and openly stigmatizes and excludes Afghan asylum seekers? My pre-dissertation research will be an ethnographic and archival study of four Afghan refugee resettlement programs in the Australian cities of Melbourne and Dandenong, two cities which house the highest percentage of Afghan refugees in Australia. Specifically, this study will interrogate: (1) the criteria that staff members and refugees themselves use to measure the development of individual refugees’ social advocacy skills; and (2) the economic resources, professional opportunities, and institutional recognitions that are afforded to those refugees who learn to mobilize these new forms of knowledge, by both staff members and local community leaders. This study will be part of a long-term dissertation project that will theorize how developed nation-states create innovative approaches to resettlement, as they attempt a more thoroughgoing integration of refugees leaving contexts undergoing political transition and recovering from long periods of war.

Travel Fellowship Recipients

Joanie Meharry (Independent Scholar), 'Untold Stories: the Oral Histories of Afghanistan's Cultural Heritage'

The cultural heritage of Afghanistan has been a source of pride for its people and for the world. Yet recent decades of political turmoil have threatened the preservation of this heritage. This project aims to publish and distribute an educational booklet, Untold Stories: the Oral Histories of Afghanistan’s Cultural Heritage, in order to promote the country’s rich cultural heritage. The booklet will include a series of interviews with Afghanistan’s cultural heritage specialists, recent and historical photographs of the people and cultural sites to be accessible to a wide audience in Afghanistan and abroad. The booklet will be distributed throughout the provinces through Asia Foundation’s Books for Asia literacy program and the Afghanistan Centre at Kabul University’s ABLE Books traveling box set. In doing so, it will provide safekeeping of the oral history of the country’s recent cultural heritage and raise awareness about challenges facing the preservation of this heritage. Finally, it will provide an opportunity to learn about and enjoy the shared cultural heritage of Afghanistan.

Omar Sharifi (Boston University), 'Nauroz, Poetry and Identity in Afghanistan'

Afghanistan since its emergence as a state in the 18th century has been a mosaic of different ethnic-linguistic groups namely Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazara, and Uzbeks. Most of the literature on the ethnic boundaries, ethnic and national identity, and religiosity in Afghanistan has focused on the actions of political actors (Taliban and Mujahidin), tribal politics and government institutions, or on how religious beliefs, rituals and networks determine inter-ethnic relations, ethnic boundaries and identity in Afghanistan. Instead, this study will focus on the role of by analyzing the function of civil society in the discursive formation of sociopolitical identities during a national festival, named Nauroz. The ethnographic research project aims to analyze the ways of how a range of contemporary multi-ethnic Afghan communities employ cultural practices such as Nauroz Festival and its associated literary events (Majlis-e Musha’ara), to shape, construct and reproduce collective identities, cultural and ethnic boundaries, and sectarian religious orientations between the Sunni and the Shia. Furthermore, it will investigate how popular manifestation of collective and individual memory, as embodied in poetic performances, challenge the existing version of Afghan history, particularly the discourses of ethnic identity represented by the Afghan state, and international scholars and the counter discourse espoused by the Taliban and Islamist groups.

Richard Wolf (Harvard University), 'Wakhi Music in Central and South Asia'

I propose to deepen and extend my research on bardic singing and accompaniment in Central Asia from Tajikistan (2012-2013 and summer 2014) to Afghanistan (summer 2015). For this phase of the project I will be examining the transformations Wakhi traditions have undergone as a result of musicians from the Wakhan valley drawing from the broader classical Persian and local folk styles in their musical environments. I address these questions by studying how bards articulate poetic and narrative texts in their vocal genres, and how instrumentalists support or articulate those texts on three kinds of rabāb (lute). Although separated by the Panj river and the national boundaries of Tajikistan and Afghanistan, Wakhis maintain links of kinship and culture across these boundaries as well as with Wakhis in Pakistan and Xinjiang, China. As such, research on each side of the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border is relevant to understanding Wakhi music and poetry on the other. Modern Wakhi poets in Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan compose using Persian classical poetic models as well as continuing to use their own 3-line form. Although they do not use the Perso-Arabic ‘aruz system, Wakhis say that their language has its own meter (wazn). I have been exploring what kinds of prosodic considerations are relevant in various genres, including qasoid, bayt, and bulbulik. My project addresses enduring questions in the cross-cultural study of music and poetry about the ways rhythmic, timbral, and tonal aspects of language serve as resources for musical performances and how musical sounds and structures serve as resources for poets. This research may reveal hitherto underexplored links among the Persianate, Indic, and Turkic-Mongol cultural spheres that intersect across the borders of Afghanistan and Tajikistan.