The Express Tribune
Published Date: Jan 2, 2014
Khattak highlights instances of dehumanisation in conflicts
Speaking at a special lecture on "War and Humanitarianism:
Widows, Orphans, Kinship in Contemporary Afghanistan" at the Sustainable
Development Policy Institute (SDPI), Afrasiab Khattak highlighted instances of
dehumanisation which occur in conflicts.
This is exacerbated when even government departments cannot
concur on one figure for casualties of conflict. The key lecture, to which
Khattak was invited as a respondent, was delivered by Dr Anila Daulatzai, an
anthropologist who received her PhD from the John Hopkins University, USA.
The humanitarian tragedy of war often gets ignored.
Similarly, people in Pakistan have experienced such incidents of warring,
Khattak lamented. Sharing his insight on development policies, particularly in
the context of conflict-prone areas, he expressed that policy-formulation
should be based on international humanitarian law.
Daulatzai, who has been conducting anthropological research
in Afghanistan over the past several years, said that martyrdom is not only
viewed differently by various sections of the society in Afghanistan, but also
manipulated to meet political ends.
Drawing on her experience of working as a co-baker at a
bakery run by widows in Afghanistan under a World Food Program project, her
research carefully documents how international aid initiatives based on
neo-liberal ideas of what it means to ‘care’ for widows are fundamentally
altering how the Afghan State, and Afghans are coming to conceptualize the
‘care’ of widows.
Casting light on the lived realities of Afghans post
US-invasion, she detailed how the families of people officially declared as
martyrs in Afghanistan have to go through complex bureaucratic procedures to
claim their rightful compensation. Moreover, given the magnitude of casualties
in Afghanistan, there are not sufficient resources to compensate most families
Instead of caricaturing state bureaucrats, Daulatzai’s
research explores how state officials try to fulfill their duties as ordinary
Muslims by sometimes re-interpreting the state’s rules to help the families of
martyrs, when they can. Yet the state – and the bureaucrats’ creative practices
– are seen as un-modern, corrupt and reform-worthy in the eyes of
After the lecture, participants discussed their views
stating that aid from the international community should also be on
humanitarian grounds, rather than just aiming for policy reforms and agendas
set by others in Afghanistan (and similarly, Pakistan).