Informal but Legal: Military-Labor Networks in the Arabian Sea

Saturday, January 6, 2018: 4:30 PM
Columbia 12 (Washington Hilton)
Ameem Lutfi, Habib University
The refusal by Pakistan to militarily support Saudi Arabian aggression in Yemen has renewed interest in Pakistani involvement in the Middle East. Most commentators though have understood this transnational relationship through either an existent Sunni nexus or commercial interests of Punjab based Pakistani army. Military-labor networks in the Arabian Sea, this paper argues, precede the Sunni alignments formed only in the 1970’s. Furthermore, these networks are often not the sole monopoly of the Pakistani army.

Though archival and ethnographic research conducted across the Arabian sea, this paper will discuss the alternate case of ethnic Baloch military-labor networks operating in Bahrain since the early 20th century. This paper argues that while at times these Baloch networks of family and middlemen connections have competed with Pakistani military-labor supply, at other moments they have mapped themselves onto official channels. It asks: how do transnational networks operate between and beyond states?

Through a discussion of Baloch military-labor networks, this paper looks to contribute to our understandings of states beyond borders, which as opposed to the diverse conceptualizations of state's relationship with societies within borders, remains under theorized. Borrowing from historical approaches of studying empires through diasporic networks, this paper goes beyond imaginations that assume either rational states or paralegal networks as the only trans-national actors. Through the changing contours of the relationship between the Pakistani state and Baloch military-labor networks in the Persian-Gulf, this paper frames a transnational imagination of sovereign relationships in which states and informal networks share a common political terrain.

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