Thursday, June 19, 2014

Abstract 2014 Francesca Fuoli

Francesca Fuoli, SOAS, University of London


The role of ethnography and the study of Pashto in the construction of the Pashtun race in nineteenth century British colonial discourses on Afghanistan

The years between the two Anglo-Afghan wars –1842 and 1878 – have commonly been understood in terms of Afghan voluntary isolation and British India’s loss of interest in the country, epitomised by its strategy of ‘Masterly Inactivity’. However, the proliferation of record materials on Afghanistan produced by the colonial state in this period, ranging from documents exchanged at a high political level to the flow of information originating from the permanent government representative in Kabul, first appointed in 1856, may tell a very different story. In these same years a strong interest in the study of the Pashtuns began to gain ground among British officials, especially the figures of H. G. Raverty and H. W. Bellew, as demonstrated by the appearance of a number of Pashto grammars, dictionaries, as well as ethnographic and historical studies. Focusing on the way the Pashto idiom was framed as a territorially bounded, standardised and original language, I will argue that this ethnographic knowledge significantly contributed to the emergence of an official colonial discourse, in which Afghanistan, narrowly understood as the portion of land inhabited by the Pashtuns, was constructed as a separate territorial entity. The colonial state framed an Afghan social landscape divided along clearly demarcated ethnic lines, among which the Pashtuns, glorified as a superior, manly and ‘martial race’, were the legitimate inhabitants of the country. This evaluation of largely under-studied sources, will give new insight into the way British India framed its policies towards the country during its second occupation (1878-1880), as well as into the strategies the British appointed Amir in 1880 used in his radical re-organisation of the Afghan state.

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