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Usman Shah (2009 - 2012)

Contested Governance: State Building and Social Transformation in Pakistan:

Contested Governance: State Building and Social Transformation in Pakistan

This research project focuses on an analysis of the written and oral traditions relating to the District of Lower Dir, in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, a region at the centre of a multifaceted contestation over power, territory, ideology and identity. In the late 19th century the Northwest region of Pakistan was gradually absorbed into British India, following a series of violent campaigns to secure a border/buffer zone between spheres of Russian and British influence. Unlike in Bajaur, to the West, where the British allowed a dispersed ‘tribal’polity to continue, in Dir and Swat a hierarchical system of government was entrenched, appointing local fiefs to positions of power. In Swat to the East, a dynasty arose which allowed the development of education, roads and hospitals, and agriculture. In Dir, however, the Khans of Jandol, now under British patronage, spent the next century brutalizing the local peasantry. Underscoring the orality of local traditions is the fact that education in Dir was banned while schools were established throughout Swat. Only in 1970 was Dir integrated into the development model of the provincial administration of Pakistan after the princely state was abolished. The region was later at the forefront of the mujahideen resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. To this day, the wars against the British and the brutal rule of the Khans of Jandol have become entrenched in the local imagination, with respect to power, formal governance and resistance. This has also been embedded into the stories, myths and legends of the local population, which provide a window onto how they construct their life world.

Research Focus
This research focuses on the social function of local oral narratives. How is the historical context of power and violence remembered and communicated in communities? How are state and anti-state elements viewed in the context of the contemporary violence? How does the collective memory of past contestations explain or respond to, or reflect interpretations of present social and political dynamics? Who are considered outsiders in the collective imagination and how is resistance to them locally depicted? Given the reliance of contemporary commentators on 19th century understandings of the region, are there also threads in local oral traditions linking perceptions of the current Taliban-military
conflict with the 19th century wars with colonial British?

The data required in order to explore these questions will be gathered through a combination of field research and archival study. Field research will consist of an ethnographic exploration of communities within the Jandol area of Dir, by interacting with locals and participating in daily life. Textual sources will consist largely of British colonial gazettes and newspapers. An historiographical analysis of textual as well as oral sources will be conducted, aimed at creating a critical picture of the production of histories relating to the research area.


First supervisor: Prof. Dr. Hermann Kreutzmann

Second Supervisor: PD Dr. Dietrich Reetz