More dirty dancing

As I work on turning my Beirut talk on drone strikes in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) into a long-form version – which includes a detailed and critical engagement with Giorgio Agamben‘s characterisation of the state/space of exception – I’ll post some of the key arguments here.  But for now, two important developments.

Document-excerpt

First, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has just published a list of 330 drone strikes  between 2006 and July 2013 (data for the five strikes that took place in 2007 are missing) compiled by the Pakistan government (see extract above); this is an update of a partial release from the Bureau last summer.  The source is a series of reports filed each evening by Political Agents in the field to the FATA secretariat, and while it’s not a comprehensive listing – and Islamabad relies on other sources too – the document closely follows the Bureau’s own database compiled from other independent sources.  It also allows for a more accurate mapping of the strikes – more to come on this.

But one key difference between the list and the Bureau’s database is that, following the election of Obama, the official reports no longer attempted to classify the victims as combatants or civilians: and the coincidence may not be coincidental.  According to Chris Woods,

‘One of my sources, a former Pakistani minister, has indicated that local officials may have come under pressure to play down drone civilian deaths following the election of Barack Obama. It’s certainly of concern that almost all mention of non-combatant casualties simply disappears from this document after 2009, despite significant evidence to the contrary.’

One of the most egregious omissions is the drone strike on 24 October 2012 that killed Mamana Bibi, a grandmother tending the fields with her grandchildren.  The case was documented extensively by Amnesty International and yet, as the Bureau notes, while the date and location of the strike is recorded the report from the political agent is remarkably terse and makes nothing of her evident civilian status.

‘If a case as well-documented as Mamana Bibi’s isn’t recorded as a civilian death, that raises questions about whether any state records of these strikes can be seen as reliable, beyond the most basic information,’ said Mustafa Qadri, a researcher for Amnesty International…. ‘It also raises questions of complicity on the part of the Pakistan state – has there been a decision to stop recording civilians deaths?’

These are important questions, and in fact one of the central objectives of my own essay is to document the close, covert co-operation between the US and Pakistani authorities: what I called, in an earlier post, dirty dancing, trading partly on Jeremy Scahill’s inventory of ‘dirty wars’ and partly on Joshua Foust‘s calling out of the ‘Islamabad drone dance’.

We now know that this collaboration continued at the very least until late 2011.  The CIA’s Counterterrorism Center routinely prepared reports that included maps (see below) and pre- and post-strike imagery that were briefed by the Deputy Director to Husain Haqqani, the Pakistani ambassador in Washington, and subsequently transmitted to Islamabad.

US_Pakistan_Panorama21382550661-1

And consistent with the reports from Political Agents to the FATA Secretariat, Greg Miller and Bob Woodward note that in these briefings:

Although often uncertain about the identities of its targets, the CIA expresses remarkable confidence in its accuracy, repeatedly ruling out the possibility that any civilians were killed.  One table estimates that as many as 152 “combatants” were killed and 26 were injured during the first six months of 2011. Lengthy columns with spaces to record civilian deaths or injuries contain nothing but zeroes.

The collaboration is important, because it has major implications for how one thinks about the Federally Administered Tribal Areas as a ‘space of exception’: there are multiple legal regimes through which the people who live in these borderlands are knowingly and deliberately ‘exposed to death’, as Agamben would have it.  More on this later, but for now there is a second, more substantive point to be sharpened.

I’ve previously emphasised that the people of FATA are not only ‘living under drones‘, as the Stanford/NYU legal team put it last year, but also under the threat of air strikes from the Pakistan Air Force.  Last week the PAF resumed air strikes against leaders of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in North Waziristan, using first F-16 aircraft and then helicopter gunships to attack what were described as ‘eight major targets’ in the villages of Mir Ali (Hamzoni, Issori, Khadi and Nawana). Although the Air Force described the operation as a ‘blitz’, it initially claimed that only two people were killed.  A different story soon emerged.

MIR ALI

According to Pakistan’s International News, the air raids started just before midnight on 20 January, and people ‘left their homes in desperation and spent the night in the open along with children when the jets started bombing.’

There were conflicting reports about the identity of those killed. Military authorities said all the 40 people killed in the overnight aerial strikes were hardcore militants or their relatives and family members.

However, tribesmen in Mir Ali subdivision insisted that some local villagers, including women, children and elderly people, were also killed in the bombing by the PAF’s fighter aircraft and Pakistan Army’s helicopter gunships as residential areas were attacked.

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Several days later there were reports of hundreds – even thousands – of people fleeing the area in anticipation of continuing and intensifying military operations.  On 25 January the Express Tribune reported:

“Most of the families of Mir Ali Bazaar and adjacent areas have been leaving,” Abdullah Wazir, a resident of Spin Wam told The Express Tribune, adding, “women and children have been leaving with household materials, but livestock and larger items of belongings are being abandoned by these families.”

“It is difficult to find shelter in Bannu,” said Janath Noor, aged 38, who travelled there with her family. “There are problems at home and here in Bannu too.” She added that the families were forced to act independently as the political administrations in North Waziristan and Bannu have not made arrangements for the fleeing families. Some families reportedly spent the night under the open sky in Bannu town, waiting for any available shelter.

Some IDPs have also faced problems such as harassment at the hands of the police, requests for bribes, soaring rates of transport from Mir Ali and inflated rents for houses in Bannu. Some families, suspected of being militants, have had problems finding accommodation in Bannu district.

Mir Ali:Bannu

By 27 January the government estimated that 8,000 people had arrived in Bannu, while many others unable to find shelter and unwilling to sleep in the open had hone on to Peshawar and elsewhere.  But the head of the FATA Disaster Management Authority declared that ‘No military operation has been announced in the tribal area so there are no instructions to make arrangements for the internally displaced people.’

Most local people were clearly sceptical about that and, certainly, there were authoritative claims that Pakistan was being put ‘on a war footing’ to counter the surging power of the TTP.  In the same week that the air strikes were launched, Islamabad promulgated an amended Protection of Pakistan Ordinance (PPO), modelled on the imperial Rowlatt Act of 1919, that included provisions for secret courts, greater shoot-to-kill license for the police, house raids without warrants and the detention of terror suspects without charge. Rana Sanaullah, Minister for Law, Parliamentary Affairs and Public Prosecution in the Punjab and a close confidant of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, told the Guardian: ‘I think what will be done will be no worse than what has happened in Guantánamo Bay.’  Not surprisingly, he also offered support for the US drone strikes:

‘We believe that drone attacks damage the terrorists, very much… Inside, everyone believes that drone attacks are good; but outside, everyone condemn because the drones are American.’

And, as I’ll try to show in a later post, it’s a different inside/outside indistinction that plays a vital role in producing the FATA as a space of exception.

Theory of the drone 3: Killing grounds

This is the third in a series of posts on Grégoire Chamayou‘s Théorie du drone, in which I provide a detailed summary of his argument, links to some of his key sources, and reflections drawn from my soon-to-be-completed The everywhere war (and I promise to return to it as soon as I’ve finished this marathon).

5: Pattern of life analysis

Chamayou begins with the so-called ‘Terror Tuesdays‘ when President Obama regularly approves the ‘kill list’ (or disposition matrix) that authorises ‘personality strikes’ against named individuals: ‘the drones take care of the rest’.

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But Chamayou immediately acknowledges that most strikes are ‘signature strikes‘ against individuals whose names are unknown but for whom a ‘pattern of life analysis‘ has supposedly detected persistent anomalies in normal rhythms of activity, which are read as signs (‘signatures’) of imminent threat.  I’ve described this as a militarized rhthmanalysis, even a weaponized time-geography, in ‘From a view to a kill’ (DOWNLOADS tab), and Chamayou also notes the conjunction of human geography and social analysis to produce a forensic mapping whose politico-epistemological status is far from secure.

The principal limitation – and the grave danger – lies in mistaking form for substance.  Image-streams are too imprecise and monotonic to allow for  fine-grained interpretation, Chamayou argues, and supplementing them by equally distant measures, like telephone contacts, often compounds the problem.  Hence Gareth Porter‘s objection, which both Chamayou and I fasten upon:

‘The phone numbers and call histories from those phones go into the database which is used to “map the networks.” But the link analysis methodology employed by intelligence analysis is incapable of qualitative distinctions among relationships depicted on their maps of links among “nodes.” It operates exclusively on quantitative data – in this case, the number of phone calls to or visits made to an existing JPEL target or to other numbers in touch with that target. The inevitable result is that more numbers of phones held by civilian noncombatants show up on the charts of insurgent networks. If the phone records show multiple links to numbers already on the “kill/capture” list, the individual is likely to be added to the list.’

This is exactly what happened in the Takhar attack in Afghanistan on 2 September 2010 that I’ve discussed elsewhere, relying on the fine investigative work of Kate Clark, and Chamayou draws attention to it too.   The general assumption, as Kate was told by one officer, seems to be that ‘”If we decide he’s a bad person, the people with him are also bad.”

Takhar For a better future.001

These necro-methodologies raise two questions that Chamayou doesn’t address here.

The first, as Porter notes, is that ‘guilt by association’ is ‘clearly at odds with the criteria used in [international] humanitarian law to distinguish between combatants and civilians.’  You can find a much more detailed assessment of the legality of signature strikes (and what he calls their ‘evidential adequacy’)  in Kevin Jon Heller‘s fine essay, ”One hell of a killing machine”: Signature strikes and international law’ [Journal of international criminal justice 11 (2013) 89-119; I discussed a pre-publication version here].

The geo-legal ramifications of these attacks reach far beyond the killing grounds.  Earlier this month in the High Court in London one man who lost five relatives in the air strike in Takhar (as you can see on the slide above, on an election convoy) challenged the legality of the alleged involvement of Britain’s Serious and Organised Crimes Agency (SOCA) in drawing up the kill-list, the Joint Prioritized Effects List, used by the military to authorise the attack: more herehere and here. (It was the presence of names on the list that triggered the faulty network analysis).

The second is the imaginary conjured up by the very idea of a ‘pattern of life’ analysis.  I’ve written before about the way in which the screen on which the full-motion video feeds from the Predators and Reapers are displayed interpellates those who watch what is happening on the ground from thousands of miles away, and I’ve emphasised that this isn’t a purely optical affair:  that it is an embodied, techno-culturally mediated process that involves a series of structured dispositions to view the other as Other (and often dangerous Other).   But these dispositions also reside in what we might think of as a grammar of execution.  To see what I mean, here is Micah Zenko:

‘Recently, I spoke to a military official with extensive and wide-ranging experience in the special operations world, and who has had direct exposure to the targeted killing program. To emphasize how easy targeted killings by special operations forces or drones has become, this official flicked his hand back over and over, stating: “It really is like swatting flies. We can do it forever easily and you feel nothing. But how often do you really think about killing a fly?”’

Hence, of course, ‘Bugsplat’ [according to Rolling Stone, ‘the military slang for a man killed by a drone strike is “bug splat,” since viewing the body through a grainy-green video image gives the sense of an insect being crushed’], and a host of other predatory terms (see also here) that distinguish between this mere (bare) life and what Judith Butler calls ‘a life that qualifies for recognition’.

state-violence-and-the-execution-of-lawBut the same result is achieved through the nominally neutral, technical-scientific vocabulary deployed in these strikes. Joseph Pugliese captures the grammar of execution with acute insight in another fine essay, ‘Prosthetics of law and the anomic violence of drones’, [Griffith Law Review 20 (4) (2011) 931-961; you can also find it in his excellent new book State violence and the execution of law]:

‘The term ‘heat signature’ works to reduce the targeted human body to an anonymous heat-emitting entity that merely radiates signs of life. This clinical process of reducing human subjects to purely biological categories of radiant life is further elaborated by the US military’s use of the term ‘pattern of life’…

‘The military term ‘pattern of life’ is inscribed with two intertwined systems of scientific conceptuality: algorithmic and biological. The human subject detected by drone’s surveillance cameras is, in the first scientific schema, transmuted algorithmically into a patterned sequence of numerals: the digital code of ones and zeros. Converted into digital data coded as a ‘pattern of life’, the targeted human subject is reduced to an anonymous simulacrum that flickers across the screen and that can effectively be liquidated into a ‘pattern of death’ with the swivel of a joystick. Viewed through the scientific gaze of clinical biology, ‘pattern of life’ connects the drone’s scanning technologies to the discourse of an instrumentalist science, its constitutive gaze of objectifying detachment and its production of exterminatory violence. Patterns of life are what are discovered and analysed in the Petri dish of the laboratory…

‘Analogically, the human subjects targeted as suspect yet anonymous ‘patterns of life’ by the drones become equivalent to forms of pathogenic life. The operators of the drones’ exterminatory attacks must, in effect, be seen to conduct a type of scientific ethnic cleansing of pathogenic ‘life forms’. In the words of one US military officer: “Our major role is to sanitize the battlefield.”’

Later modern war more generally works through relays of biological-medical metaphors – equally obviously in counterinsurgency, as I’ve described in “Seeing Red” and other essays (DOWNLOADS tab), where the collective enemy becomes a ‘cancer’ that can only be removed by a therapeutic ‘killing to make live’ (including ‘surgical strikes’) – and Colleen Bell has provided an illuminating series of reflections in ‘Hybrid warfare and its metaphors’ [in Humanity 3 (2) (2012) 225-247] and ‘War and the allegory of medical intervention’ [International Political Sociology 6 (3) (2012) 325-8].

This immunitary logic is clearly bio-political, and its speech-acts just as plainly performative, and Pugliese draws the vital conclusion:

‘As mere patterns of pathogenic life, these targeted human subjects effectively are reduced to what Giorgio Agamben would term ‘a kind of absolute biopolitical substance’ that can killed with no concern about the possibility of juridical accountability: they are ‘bare life’ that can be killed with absolute impunity. Anonymous ‘patterns of life’ signify in contradistinction to legally named persons; they exemplify the ‘ontological hygiene’ legislated by US government policy in order to secure the reproduction of the ‘principle of scarcity with respect to agency and personhood’.

‘Situated in this Agambenian context of the extermination of human life with absolute impunity, the Predator drones must be seen as instantiating mobile ‘zones of exception’…’

Which artfully brings me to Chamayou’s next chapter…

6: Kill-box

Chamayou notes that the ‘war on terror’ loosed the dogs of war from their traditional boundaries in time and in space: at once ‘permanent war’ and, as he notes, ‘everywhere war’.

But for Chamayou it is more accurate to speak of the world turned into a ‘hunting ground’ rather than a battlefield, and this matters because two different geographies (his term) are involved.  War is defined by combat, he explains, hunting by pursuit.  Combat happens where opposing forces engage, but hunting tracks the prey, so that the place of military violence is no longer defined by a delimited space (‘the battlefield’) but by the presence of the enemy-prey who carries with him, as it were, his own mobile halo of a zone of personal hostilities.

To escape, the quarry must make itself undetectable or inaccessible – and the ability to do so depends not only on physical geography (terrain) but also on political and legal geography.  For this reason, Chamayou argues, the US has rendered contingent the sovereignty of Pakistan because it (for the most part unwillingly) provides sanctuary to those fleeing across the border from Afghanistan.  In such circumstances, what becomes crucial for the hunter is not the military occupation of territory but the ability to control trans-border spaces from a distance through the instantiation of what Eyal Weizman called the politics of verticality that has since captured the attention of Stuart Elden [“Secure the volume: vertical geopolitics and the depth of power”, Political Geography 34 (2013) 35-51], Steve Graham [“Vertical geopolitics: Baghdad and after”, Antipode 36 (1) (2004) 12-23] and others.  For this to work, as Weizman shows in the case of occupied Palestine, air power is indispensable.

Chamayou suggests that the US has refined this capacity – in effect, finely calibrated the time and space of the hunt – through the concept of the kill-box.  I’m not so sure about this; the lineage of the ‘kill-box’ goes back to the USAF’s ‘target boxes’ [target boxes around An Loc in Vietnam in 1972 are shown below] – and two or three specified ‘boxes’ or ‘Restricted Operating Zones‘ were used to define the Predato’s’  ‘hunting grounds’ over North and South Waziristan that were tacitly endorsed by the Pakistan state.

Target boxes around An Loc 1972

The concept of the ‘kill box’ was formalised as a joint operations doctrine in the 1990s as part of the established targeting cycle: what Henry Nash famously described in another context as ‘the bureaucratization of homicide’.  Nash worked for the USAF Air Targets Division in the 1950s and 60s, identifying targets in the USSR for nuclear attack by US Strategic Air Command, but I doubt that Chamayou would dissent from using either the verb or the noun to describe the contemporary, non-nuclear kill-chain.  (In a later post I’ll explain how this technical division of labour feeds in to what Chamayou castigates as a ‘setting aside’, a dispersal of responsibility, which functions to separate an action from its consequences: this is aggravated by the remote-split operations in which drones are embedded, and is central to Chamayou’s critique).  Here is how the relevant military manuals incorporated the development of the kill box into the targeting cycle in 2009 (ATO = Air Tasking Order):

Kill Box Development

You can find more on kill-boxes and their operationalisation here.

Kill Box TTP

Chamayou doesn’t track the development of the concept, but since then the ‘kill-box’ has been supplanted or at least supplemented by the ‘Joint Fires Area’ as a way of continuing to co-ordinate the deployment of lethal force and allowing targets to be engaged without additional communication.  Within the grid of the JFA (shown below, taken from an essay by Major James Mullin on ‘redefining the kill box’) permission to fire in specified cells is established in advance; areas are defined, targeting intervals stipulated, and the time-space cells can be opened and closed as operations proceed.

It is this capacity that Chamayou seizes upon: within the kill box targets can be engaged at will, so that the kill box, he writes, ‘is an autonomous zone of temporary killing’ (cf. the ‘free fire/specified fires zone’ in Vietnam: see my discussion of Fred Kaplan‘s recent essay, ‘The world as a free-fire zone‘).

3-D representation of Joint Fires Area using Global Area Reference System

Chamayou implies that the schema has been further refined in contemporary counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism operations: the fact that the kill-box and its successor allow for dynamic targeting across a series of scales is crucial, he says, because its improvisational, temporary nature permits targeting to be extended beyond a declared zone of conflict. The scale of the JFA telescopes down from the cell shown on the right of the figure below through the quadrant in the centre to the micro-scale ‘keypad’ (sic) on the right.

Global Area Reference System

This is more than a grid, though; the JFA is, in effect, a performative space that authorises, schedules and triggers lethal action.  Chamayou: ‘Temporary micro-cubes of lethal exception can be opened anywhere in the world, according to the contingencies of the moment, once an individual who qualifies as a legitimate target has been located.’  Thus, even as the target becomes ever more individuated – so precisely specified that air strikes no longer take the form of the area bombing of cities in World War II  or the carpet bombing of the rainforest of Vietnam – the hunting ground becomes, by virtue of the nature of the pursuit and the remote technology that activates the strike, global.

KAPLAN World as Free-Fire Zone

The system I’ve described here is one adopted by the US military, and how far its procedures are used by other agencies outside established conflict zones is unknown to me and doubtless to Chamayou too.  Are these micro-cells used to specify individual compounds or rooms, as Chamayou suggests in a thought-experiment?  For him, however, it’s the imperative logic that matters, and here Kaplan’s tag-line (above) can provide the key explanatory exhibit: ‘to kill a particular person anywhere on the planet.’   The doubled process of time-space calibration and individuation is what allows late modern war to become the everywhere (but, contra Kaplan,  not the anywhere, because specified) war.

On the one side, then, a principle of what Chamayou calls precision or specification:  ‘The zone of armed conflict, fragmented into micro-scale kill boxes, reduces itself in the ideal-typical case to the single body of the enemy-prey: the body as the field of battle.’  Yet on the other side, a principle of globalisation or homogenisation: ‘Because we can target our quarry with precision, the military and the CIA say in effect, we can strike them wherever we see fit, even outside a war zone.’

This paradoxical articulation has sparked fierce debates among legal scholars – Chamayou cites Kenneth Anderson, Michael Lewis, and Mary Ellen O’Connell – over whether the ‘zone of armed conflict’ should be geo-centred (as in the conventional battlefield) or target-centred (‘attached to the body of the enemy-prey’). Jurists are thus in the front line of the battle over the extension of the hunting ground, he writes, and ‘applied ontology’ is the ground on which they fight.  I’ll have more to say about this on my own account in a later post.

Exceptions R Us

tumblr_mkc2q1MRtU1s9d11ko1_250Alex Vasudevan writes to alert me to this all-too-relevant site, Agamben Toys or Toys for the State of Exception

Most of the baubles on offer are decidedly for play in the global North, but for older kids with global (in)sensibilities there’s always this model Predator…. and plenty more like it (for example here and here).  Commentary – and comments (you’ll see what I mean) – here and (from Infowars) here.

Toys appeared in a radically different way in an exhibition at the University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science and the Arts (LSA) earlier this year called State of Exception:

166510_475567315838743_1025941788_nLSA Professor of Anthropology Jason De León has spent long hours in the Sonoran environs, cataloging and collecting the items migrants leave behind as they attempt to cross into the United States. Water jugs. Shoes. Small kids’ toys. It looks like trash, but these objects, collected through his Undocumented Migrant Project (UMP), become data to help construct a record of people who are unknown, whose journeys rarely come to light.

Many of these objects are now on display through LSA’s Institute for the Humanities exhibit titled State of Exception. This exhibit considers the complexity and ambiguity of the found objects and what they may or may not reveal in terms of transition, human experience, culture, violence, and accountability.

This is the first major curation of De León’s work since UMP began in 2009, and is a combination of objects, installation, and video shot by photographer Richard Barnes along the U.S./Mexico border.

The exhibition closed earlier this month but you can still access the catalogue/brochure online here.

All of this reminds me that there’s a reason we spell ‘us’ the way we do…

Dirty dancing and spaces of exception in Pakistan

Following up my post on the air campaigns waged by the United States and by Pakistan inside the Federally Administered Tribal Territories and the North-West Frontier Province (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), here are some screenshots from Chris Herwig‘s remarkable cartographic animation of casualties from US drone strikes from 2004 through to the present (data from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism):

Casualties from US drone strikes to end December 2007

Casualties from US drone strikes to end December 2007

Casualties from US drone strikes to end December 2008

Casualties from US drone strikes to end December 2008

Casualties from US drone strikes to end December 2009

Casualties from US drone strikes to end December 2009

Casualties from US drone strikes to end December 2010

Casualties from US drone strikes to end December 2010

Casualties from US drone strikes to end December 2011

Casualties from US drone strikes to end December 2011

Casualties from US drone strikes to end December 2012

Casualties from US drone strikes to end December 2012

You can see the rapid escalation of strikes in 2009-2010 and their contraction in 2011-2012.  There is also a tendency for later strikes to cause fewer casualties; the Bureau suggests that this may have been the result of a deliberate decision to limit civilian casualties (the CIA was already reported to be using new, smaller missiles with a restricted blast field and minimal shrapnel by the spring of 2010, so the later change is likely to be down to a mix of better intelligence and greater circumspection) and, more recently, of a switch away from ‘signature strikes’ – the two are of course related – and John Brennan, who was one of the main boosters of the programme’s expansion, now claims that drone strikes are a weapon ‘of last resort’.  Maybe; most sources agree that even as the numbers of deaths dwindled, so too did their tactical significance.  By February 2011 it was clear that fewer and fewer were so-called ‘high-value targets’ and more and more were simply foot-soldiers.

Here are the Bureau’s raw figures:

Drone strikes in Pakistan (BoJ)

You can find an interactive animation of the Bureau’s tabulations from Pitch Interactive here (thanks to Steve Legg for the tip); the screenshot below doesn’t do justice to the political-aesthetic effect of seeing this in full motion (or of clicking on each strike for the details):

Drone strikes in Pakistan PITCH INTERACTIVE

The maps also show that the strikes have been concentrated on North Waziristan, increasingly so since 2010, the locus of the Haqqani Network (which is a longstanding ally of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence), with a secondary concentration on South Waziristan (a key locus of Tehrik-i-Taliban).  Here’s a tabulation from the Long War Journal, and although the strike numbers are marginally different from the Bureau’s the geographical concentration is clear:

US air strikes in FATA by district

What the maps can’t convey is the intricate, inconstant gavotte between Pakistan’s various military campaigns and US air strikes in the borderlands since 2004.  In the wake of 9/11 and the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, and in response to increasing pressure from Washington, the Pakistan Army launched a number of offensives against militants in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).  In April 2004, after fierce fighting in the mountains of South Waziristan, Islamabad concluded a peace accord with Nek Muhammad, a key militant leader in the agency.  But he was killed just two months later, the first casualty of a US drone strike in Pakistan, and the agreement immediately collapsed.   In 2005 similar, fragile agreements were negotiated with Baitullah Mehsud, Nek’s successor, and other militant leaders, but these were soon broken.  Accords were also signed in North Waziristan in 2006 and 2007 but these too were short-lived.  In 2008 a peace accord was signed with the Tehrik-i-Taliban but heavy fighting continued, with major ground and air operations in the agencies to the north of the Khyber Pass.  In 2009 Pakistan’s military campaign became even more aggressive. Much of its effort was focused on the northern districts, especially around the Swat Valley, but attention then switched back to South Waziristan.  During the summer the Pakistan Air Force carried out regular air strikes in the region; in August 2009 Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a US drone strike.  In October 30,000 ground troops entered the region, and US drone strikes in South Waziristan immediately juddered to a (temporary) halt.  These operations drove large numbers of militants into Orakzai, which in recent years has been a major target of air strikes by the Pakistan Air Force.

The previous paragraph is little more than a caricature of a highly complex and evolving battlespace, but the gavotte I’ve described has been artfully – if intermittently – choreographed by the US and by Pakistan in fraught concert: so much so that Joshua Foust writes of the ‘Islamabad drone dance’.

This may surprise some readers; earlier this month Ben Emmerson QC, the UN Special Rapporteur on Counterterrorism and Human Rights, concluded a three-day visit to Pakistan by reaffirming what he described as ‘the position of the government of Pakistan’ that drone strikes in the FATA ‘are a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.’  Emmerson met with officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defence and the Secretariat of the FATA – but not, significantly, with anyone from the military or the ISI – who told him that ‘reports of continuing tacit consent by Pakistan to the use of drones on its territory by any other State are false’ and that ‘a thorough search of Government records had revealed no indication of such consent having been given.’ Certainly, the government has repeatedly protested the strikes in public, and the National Assembly passed resolutions in May 2011 and April 2012 condemning them.  But Foust insists that Emmerson has been an unwitting participant in the dance.

We know, from the Wikileaks cache of diplomatic cables from the US Embassy in Islamabad, that in August 2008 Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani told the Ambassador that he approved of the drone strikes as part of ongoing offensives in the FATA – ‘I don’t care if they do it as long as they get the right people’ – and that ‘We’ll protest it in the National Assembly and then ignore it.’  But this was more than ‘tacit consent’.  Foust reminds us that, until comparatively recently, US drones were being launched or supported from at least six different air bases inside Pakistan, shown below, including Islamabad, Jacobabad, Peshawar, Quetta and Tarbela Ghazi; the US was ordered to leave Shamsi and had its lease terminated in December 2011.

US bases inside Pakistan

Admiral Mullen greets General Kayani, August 2008But there’s more. Pakistan had agreed that the focus of the US strikes would be North and South Waziristan.  Earlier that same year, March 2008, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen asked General Kayani, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff,  for help in approving ‘a third Restricted Operating Zone for US aircraft over the FATA’, and writing in the Washington Post in November 2010 Greg Miller confirmed that these ‘flight boxes’ were confined to North and South Waziristan (although the US had unsuccessfully pressed for permission to extend the flights over Quetta, outside the FATA).  The geometry of those boxes is not known, though it would not be difficult to superimpose two likely rectangles over the previous map sequence. Operational details are, not surprisingly, far from clear.  According to a report in the Wall Street Journal on 26 September 2012, the CIA sends a fax to the ISI every month detailing strike zones and intended targets – replies apparently stopped early last year, but the US interprets the silence as ‘tacit consent’ since Pakistan immediately de-conflicts the air space to allow the Predators to carry out their surveillance – and a report in the New York Times earlier this month claimed that the US still provides the Pakistan military with 30 minutes notice of an imminent strike in South Waziristan (but no advance notice for strikes in North Waziristan because the Haqqani Network enjoys such close ties with the ISI that the CIA fears their targets would be warned of the attack).

The focus on the FATA follows not only from the militant groups that are based there; it also derives from the exceptional legal status of the borderlands.  Under British colonial rule, this was a buffer zone whose inhabitants were allowed a measure of nominal autonomy; colonial power was exercised indirectly through the authority vested in tribal leaders (who received subsidies from the British), and the special Frontier Crimes Regulations – in practice corrupt and draconian – were codified by Lord Curzon in 1901.  After partition and independence in 1947 Pakistan retained the 1901 Regulations, so that the President – who has direct executive control of the FATA – appoints a Political Agent for each agency who has absolute authority to adjudicate criminal and civil affairs; ordinary Acts of Parliament do not apply to the FATA unless the President expressly declares that they do. Limited reforms were introduced in August 2011, including the right to political mobilisation, but some commentators raised doubts about their implementation.  Preventive detention and collective punishment remain in force and the writ of the courts is still severely restricted.

FATA and NWFP map

AMNESTY The Hands of Cruelty Abuses by Armed Forces and Taliban in Pakistan s Tribal AreasThese special measures were reinforced by the simultaneous passage of the Actions (in Aid of Civil Power) Regulations in 2011, a quid pro quo demanded by the military, which allowed the Pakistan Armed Forces to carry out ‘law enforcement duties [and] to conduct law enforcement operations’, granted them sweeping powers of pre-emptive arrest and detention without charge, and forbade the high court from intervening.  According to one local politician, these new Regulations are ‘even more dangerous’ than the Frontier Crimes Regulations: ‘It is a system of martial law over the Tribal Areas.’  A new report from Amnesty International (from which I’ve taken these accounts) borrows its title, The Hands of Cruelty, from a despairing claim made by a lawyer from Peshawar: ‘The hands of cruelty extend to the Tribal Areas, but the hands of justice cannot reach that far.’

(Given the – I think abusive – attack on Amnesty’s report by Abdullah Mansoor at Global Research as ‘malicious’ and ‘misinformation’ that virtually ignores the violence perpetrated by the Taliban and other militant groups, I should also draw readers’ (and his) attention to Amnesty’s previous report, As if Hell fell on me, which provides a detailed indictment of exactly that).

In short, the FATA constitute a space of exception in precisely the sense given to that term by Giorgio Agamben: the normal rights and protections under the law are withdrawn from a section of the population by the law.  To see what this has to do with the geography of US drone strikes we can turn to an attack on 19 November 2008 on a residential compound in Indi Khel, 22 miles outside Bannu and about two hours by road from Peshawar.  Five alleged militants were killed and four civilians injured: not a large toll compared to other strikes, and yet the public reaction across Pakistan was extraordinary.

Drone strike at Indi Khel, Bannu, 19 November 2008

A diplomatic cable from US Ambassador Anne Patterson on 24 November explained the widening gap between what she called ‘private GOP [Government of Pakistan] acquiescence and public condemnation for U.S. action’:

‘According to local press, the alleged U.S. strike in Bannu on November 19 marked the first such attack in the settled areas of the Northwest Frontier Province, outside of the tribal areas. The strike drew a new round of condemnation by Prime Minister Gilani, coalition political parties, opposition leaders, and the media.

‘According to Pakistani press, the strike killed four people, including a senior Al-Qaida member, and injured five others. The first strike within “Pakistan proper” is seen as a watershed event, and the media is suggesting this could herald the spread of attacks to Peshawar or Islamabad. Even politicians who have no love lost for a dead terrorist are concerned by strikes within what is considered mainland Pakistan.’

The language is truly extraordinary, with its distinction between the FATA and ‘Pakistan proper’, even ‘mainland Pakistan’. In short: (imaginative) geography matters.  Not for nothing are the FATA known in Urdu as ilaqa ghair, which means ‘alien’ or ‘foreign’ lands.

The plight of the people in the FATA is exacerbated by the forceful imposition of a second, transnational legal regime: the right asserted by the United States to carry its fight against al Qaeda and its war against the Taliban across the border from the ‘hot’ zone in Afghanistan into militant sanctuaries in Pakistan.  This is part of a larger argument about the advanced deconstruction of the traditional, bounded battlefield – here Frédéric Megret‘s work is indispensable – and the production of a global battlespace, processes that have been accelerated by the remote operations permitted by drones.  But it remains both an assertion and an argument.  Although international law is not a deus ex machina, a neutral court of appeal above the fray, it nonetheless has a developed body of precepts that are supposed to regulate armed conflicts between states, and there are also protocols and tribunals that govern armed conflicts between governments and non-state actors within the territorial boundaries of a state (the former Yugoslavia or Ruanda, for example).  But conflicts between states and transnational non-state actors pose new and difficult questions, and perhaps even map a ‘legal void’.  Significantly, as Eyal Benvenisti points out in the Duke Journal of International and Comparative Law,

Concurrently with the successful efforts to impose restraints on intra-state asymmetric warfare, we have been witnessing efforts by the same powerful countries that pressed for intra-state conflict regulation to deregulate inter-state asymmetric warfare or what may be called “transnational” warfare.

I will leave a review of these debates, at once legal and political, for another day; among the most relevant recent contributions are Kenneth Anderson, ‘Targeted killing and drone warfare: how we came to debate whether there is a legal geography of war’ (2011), available here; Laurie Blank, ‘Defining the battlefield in contemporary conflict and counterterrorism: understanding the parameters of the zone of combat’, Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law 39  (1) (2010-11), available here; Jennifer Daskal, ‘The geography of the battlefield: a framework for detention and targeting outside the “hot” conflict zone’ (2012), available here;  Noam Lubell and Nathan Derejko, ‘A global battlefield? Drones and the geographical scope of armed conflict’, Journal of International Criminal Justice 11 (1) (2013) 65-88 (abstract here).  In this twilight zone, where Washington at once admits its actions through a never-ending string of off-the-record briefings and yet denies any responsibility for their collateral outcomes, there are no inquiries into ‘mistakes’, no culpability for wrong-doing, and no compensation or restitution for the innocent victims.

Whatever you make of the rights and wrongs of all this, what matters for my present purposes is that these two legal regimes, one national and the other transnational, work in concert to expose the people of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas to military and paramilitary violence and, ultimately, death.

It’s more than a matter of law, of course (and in any case we shouldn’t confuse legality with legitimacy).  Within these exceptional spaces there has been active, tactical collaboration between the US and Pakistan.  Another diplomatic cable reported a meeting on 22 January 2008 with General Kayani, who asked US Central Command to provide ‘continuous Predator coverage of the conflict area’ in South Waziristan, but was offered only Joint Terminal Attack Controllers to direct PAF air strikes by F-16s – an offer which was refused because of a reluctance to allow US ground forces to operate inside Pakistan.  But in September and October 2009 small teams of US Special Forces were deployed to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) support to the Pakistan Army, which included a ‘live downlink of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) full motion video.’ (What is interesting about all these exchanges is the degree of collaboration they reveal not only between the US and Pakistan but also between the CIA and the US military, especially Joint Special Operations Command; this is not surprising, given the hybridisation of military and paramilitary violence and the close involvement of the military in supplying, servicing and even flying the drones used in CIA-directed strikes).

There have been several reports of continuing collaboration between American and Pakistani intelligence operatives working on the ground in Pakistan, and one source – who purported to run a network of agents and ‘spotters’ in North and South Waziristan – told Reuters in January 2012 that ‘Our working relationship is a bit different from our political relationship.  It’s more productive.’  He claimed that the US and Pakistan agreed priority target lists between them, and that it took little more than two or three hours between the location of a targeted individual and the firing of missiles.  These claims are impossible to verify, but the emphasis on a working relationship rings true.

FATA flagPerhaps the most chilling of the Wikileaks cables is this (redacted) message sent from Islamabad in February 2009, reporting a discussion with a senior member of the FATA Secretariat, who enthusiastically recommended the practice of ‘double tap‘ – follow-up strikes targeting rescuers – and endorses the rationale for signature strikes against unknown, un-named targets:

9.  (S)  XXXXXXXXXXXX remains a strong advocate of U.S. strikes. In fact, he suggested to PO that the U.S. consider follow-on attacks immediately after an initial strike.  He explained that after a strike, the terrorists seal off the area to collect the bodies; in the first 10-24 hours after an attack, the only people in the area are terrorists, so “you should hit them again-there are no innocents there at that time.”  His sources report that the reported September 29 strike in South Waziristan had been particularly successful; “you will see that you hit more than has been reported in the press both in terms of quantity and quality.”  XXXXXXXXXXXX also drew a diagram essentially laying out the rationale for signature strikes…

Here you can see two perspectives on administrative killing, one from Pakistan and the other from the United States, converging onto a single target.

The cables from which I’ve quoted are all four or five years old, but this reflects the shutters coming down after the subsequent assault on Wikileaks and the arrest of  Bradley Manning – the reports from seasoned investigative journalists are much more recent.  I suppose you might conclude that none of them contradicts that artful word that does so much silent work in the official statement repeated by Emmerson, in which Pakistan denies reports of continuing tacit consent.  But given what I’ve shown about the deadly dance over those five years, do you really think the music has stopped?

Air strikes in Pakistan’s borderlands

I’m speaking about Drone strikes and the matrix of violence in Pakistan at a conference in Vancouver at the week-end – a presentation which will form part of The everywhere war – and to set some of the parameters I’ve been revisiting the changing geography of air strikes in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.  It’s a formidably difficult question given the extraordinary dangers facing journalists, Pakistani or foreign, seeking to report from the FATA: for an incisive discussion of the media landscape inside the FATA see Sadaf Baig‘s Reporting from the frontlines.

In my view, the most thorough if necessarily imperfect tabulations of US-directed strikes are those provided by the Bureau of Investigative JournalismThere have been several attempts to map this database, including the Bureau’s own use of Google maps (see below and here; but be careful: zooming in is a product of the digital platform and will give a misleading sense of the resolution level of the data).

BOJ US drone strikes in FATA

One of the most thoughtful (and dynamic) representations comes from Chris Herwig.  He described the technical basis of his mapping over at MapBox here, and you can visit his microsite here.  Go here to see the animation running (with annotations).

8448237526_92002912de

Chris’s project has also been featured on PBS here, where he also responds to several criticisms of the data and his visualizations.

Over at Slate, Chris Kirk has produced an interactive that tries to show the maximum number of estimated casualties from each strike, but the data are drawn from the New America Foundation database which has been criticised for underestimating casualties; one (to October 2012) version is here, and another (to February 2013), using a different cartographic design, is here.  More generally, Forensic Architecture‘s Unmanned Aerial Violence team is working to produce an online visualization of drone strikes not only over Pakistan but also over Afghanistan,Yemen, Somalia and Palestine. but it’s not yet operational).

But the problem doesn’t end with the cartographic piercing of the veil of semi-secrecy the White House, the CIA and JSOC cast over their remote operations, though I’ve noted before how their collective teasing of American journalists over the legal and administrative protocols they supposedly follow – especially the so-called “disposition matrix” –  works to (mis)direct attention towards Washington and away from the sites that Chris and others have struggled to map.

I say this because the US is not the only state carrying out air strikes in the region.  Soon after 9/11 and the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, largely in response to pressure from Washington, the Pakistan military moved into the FATA.  According to Zahid Ali Khan, Pakistan’s Frontier Corps was deployed in December 2001, but by May 2002 it was decided that a much heavier hand was needed and the Pakistan Army was ordered into the borderlands for the first time in the nation’s history.  Local people requested that military operations be limited to ground forces, but by 2004 this agreement was in shreds and – as the image below shows – ever since the Pakistan Air Force has made no secret of its continuing air strikes on the FATA.

PAF air strike in FATA

Again, there is no public tabulation, but the American Enterprise Institute‘s Critical Threats daily Pakistan Security Brief – I know, I know, it’s a neoconservative think-tank – culls this (needless to say, approving) record from reports in Pakistan media in the first two months of this year alone:

25 February PAF kills 10 TTP militants in Tirah [Kurram/Khyber, FATA]

21 February PAF bombs militants in Orakzai [NWF Province] killing 29

19-20 February PAF jets bomb TTP hideouts in Orakzai

11 February PAF jets kill 8 militants in the Tirah Valley

8 February Jets kill 9 militants in Orakzai

7 February PAF targets militants in Orakzai

6 February Jets kill 8 in Orakzai

30 January PAF kills 23 militants in Tirah Valley and 8 in Orakzai agency

28 January Pakistani jets bomb militants in Orakzai

4 January Gunships kill 3, injure more in North Waziristan retaliation

It’s a bare bones summary, clearly, and I suspect the readiness of the AEI to trust local media to report PAF strikes is in stark contrast to their attitude to local reports of US drone strikes.  I’ve also deliberately retained the original phrasing: conspicuously, there is no record of  civilian casualties. Like the United States, Pakistan routinely plays these down or denies them altogether.  Here, for example, is a typical report via the Long War Journal on 25 March 2010:

‘Pakistani fighter-bombers struck a series of targets in the Mamuzai region in [Orakzai] today. Sixty-one Taliban fighters were killed, Pakistani intelligence officials told The Associated Press. The military claimed that no civilians were killed in the attacks. The targets included a madrassa, a mosque, and a seminary run by the Tablighi Jamaat. Pakistani officials said that Taliban leaders were meeting at the Tablighi seminary.’

PAF air strike, Orakzai

It’s unlikely that civilians were unscathed.  For the first four years at least the accuracy of the Air Force’s strikes was compromised by what Irfan Ahmad described as  its ‘lack of real time electronic intelligence and inferior technical means for command, control and communications’, by deficiencies in the targeting pods used by the PAF’s  ageing F-16 aircraft, and by the use of laser-guided missiles whose precision was reduced by clouds or poor visibility.  From 2008 new electro-optical targeting pods and sensors were being retrofitted and new ground and air capabilities for image exploitation put in place.  In 2009 the Air Force was also the launch customer for the Anglo-Italian Falco reconnaissance drone (see below), which is now co-produced in Pakistan; five systems were soon in use over the FATA, each comprising four aircraft with one held in reserve, and the Air Force was already anticipating arming them ‘with the most modern and lethal payloads’. More recently, the PAF has upgraded its F-16 fleet with new Block 52 versions and installed advanced avionics.  Throughout this period, as the military offensive periodically intensified, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of people were displaced from the borderlands.

falco_uav_galileo_avionica_paf_pakistan_air_force_01

It’s difficult to provide a detailed accounting of the air strikes, but in a rare admission former Air Chief Marshall Rao Qamar Suleiman claimed that the Pakistan Air Force carried out 5,000 strike sorties and dropped 11,600 bombs on 4,600 targets in the FATA between May 2008 and November 2011.  Unlike US air strikes in the region, PAF strikes are rarely ‘stand-alone’ affairs but are co-ordinated with ground forces (which is also the case with most drone strikes in Afghanistan, which operate in close concert with troops and conventional strike aircraft).

My object is recording all this is (I hope obviously) emphatically not to say that it is perfectly acceptable for the US to launch air strikes in the FATA because Pakistan is doing the same. Rather, the co-existence of the two air campaigns explains, in part, how it is possible for each party to accuse the other of carrying out an attack, as reported earlier this month.  More importantly, it also emphasises the ever-present horizon of danger within which the inhabitants of the borderlands are forced to live.  They are not only Living under drones.

Living Under Drones

The same point was sharpened by CIVIC – now the Center for Civilians in Conflict – in their (I think vital) report Civilian harm and conflict in North West Pakistan, published in October 2010. That report also details the violence meted out to civilians by militant groups in the region; for a detailed survey of the political geography of the borderlands, see Brian Fishman‘s The Battle for Pakistan: militancy and conflict across the FATA and NWFP, produced for the New America Foundation in 2010; there’s also much to think about in Daanish Mustafa and Katherine Brown, ‘Spaces of performative politics and terror in Pakistan‘, and in the same authors’ ‘The Taliban, Public Space and terror in Pakistan‘.

The existence of the two air campaigns also shows that the FATA are produced as a space of exception not only through Washington’s strenuous juggling with the Authorisation to Use Military Force and with international law (to validate the extension of its ‘global battlefield’) – whether it does so with or without Islamabad’s covert consent remains an open question – but also through Islamabad’s continued determination to treat the borderlands as legally anomalous territories for its own assertion of military violence.

ROE Waging war in WaziristanThe last is a doubled colonial legacy.  Not only is the legal geography that structures the FATA’s relations with the Pakistani state a relict from Britain’s imperial decision to treat them as a space to be ‘excepted from state and society for the purposes of war’, as Ian Shaw and Majed Akhter put it in Antipode recently.

So too is the decision to continue to use the FATA as a laboratory for what the British called ‘air control’. Andrew Roe has provided a series of detailed discussions in the RAF’s invaluable Air Power Review, here and here and here, and brought much of his research together in Waging war in Waziristan (2010).

But for a rapid and sobering sense of how these campaigns were viewed from the air in the 1930s you need to watch this BBC interview with Group Captain Robert Lister, Wings over Waziristan, which includes extraordinary cine footage showing what he calls ‘tribal operations from the air’.  Lister was posted to Peshawar in 1935, and soon after he arrived both the Army and the Air Force were ordered to put down ‘a tribal insurrection or rebellion’ in Waziristan.  Their preferred method was to destroy villages by setting fire to individual houses, blowing them up, or bombing them from the air ‘to make them say “Right, it’s not worthwhile – come to terms.”‘  Listen as Lister says, in cut-glass tones, ‘It was a fair and just way of dealing with it: they started these troubles and had to be dealt with.’

Waziristan:Lister:Here's an attack being carried out

And if you want to discover a different dimension to ‘unmanning’ aerial vehicles, listen from 08.00-08.40.

UPDATE: I’ve just discovered another film shot over Waziristan in 1937 by Leonard de Ville Chisman, which covers the air and ground war against the Faqir of Ipi described by Lister.  It contains a number of strikingly similar shots, though there is of course no commentary: you can access it via Colonial Film: Moving Images of the British Empire here.  On that remarkably informative site, Francis Gooding writes:

The official record of NWFP operations during 1936-7 – a thick volume, its size indicating the scale and seriousness of the conflict – contains full details about the manner in which aircraft were employed. The flag marches of November that sparked the revolt were accompanied by aircraft reconnaissance, and the record notes that ‘air reconnaissance requirements were met by one flight of No. 5 (Army Co-operation) Squadron’ (Govt of India, op.cit., 15), and the RAF also provided close cover for troops, and this pattern – reconnaissance with close support against the enemy – was repeated throughout the operations.

Reels 14 and 15 of the Chisman collection record precisely these kinds of encounters and air operations, with footage of bombing raids and the dropping of supplies to forward positions by parachute taken from within flying aircraft. Aircraft were also used to disseminate information and warnings about future punitive action (again, this was a tried and tested method, typical of colonial air policing; see Omissi, 1990, 154-5). On 27 August 1937, for instance, ‘notices were dropped over the Shawal area warning the inhabitants that until the Faqir submitted to Government, any tribe sheltering him would be liable for punishment’ (Govt. of India, op.cit., 179), and reel 15 contains a sequence showing a pilot unfurling a large leaflet, with text in Pashto and Urdu. The following sequences show air-drops of these leaflets over hill country. There are also scenes showing armoured cars and tanks on the move, and a sequence apparently shot during a battle, with a line of artillery opening fire on hill positions. 

The Faqir’s uprising was arguably the most serious colonial insurgency of the inter-war imperial period, and the films are remarkable in that they record scenes of action from a poorly remembered but major guerrilla conflict. Beyond this historical importance they have another significance, for they offer scenes of something only very rarely captured on film, despite its regular occurrence throughout the Empire – the recourse to the punitive deployment of heavy weaponry against subject peoples in revolt.

Warscapes

The concept of a ‘warscape‘ was originally proposed by Carolyn Nordstrom in A different kind of war story (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997) – riffing off Arjun Appadurai’s many other ‘scapes’ – as an indispensable term for what she called ‘an ethnography of a war zone’.  It’s been elaborated by several other anthropologists, including Danny Hoffman, Stephen Lubkemann and Mats Utas, and its geographical dimensions have been very acutely mapped by Benedikt Korf, Michelle Engeler and Tobias Hagmann in ‘The geography of warscape’, Third World Quarterly 31 (2010) 385-99.

But there is another, related series of warscapes – or rather Warscapes.  The online journal Warscapes, a magazine of literature, art and politics, was launched a year ago last week,with the mission of ‘highlighting conflicts from the past fifty years, especially those bearing the burdens of extraordinarily complicated colonial legacies, seeking insight from art.’

Among the feast of delights currently on offer is a series of contributions celebrating Gloria Anzaldúa‘s Borderlands/La Frontera: the new mestiza, which was originally published 25 years ago but has lost none of its power to captivate, move and disturb, and a provocative extract from Teun Voeten‘s Narco Estado: Drug violence in Mexico (Lannoo, 2012), including some stunning and heartbreaking images. He writes:

For the last 22 years, I have been covering wars and conflicts worldwide. I have seen the gamut of barbaric acts of which humans are capable. In Sarajevo, I ran from snipers shooting innocent civilians who were already being starved by the strangling siege. I was in Kigali when the genocide started and saw machete-wielding mobs hunting down hapless victims. In Kabul and Grozny, I walked in residential neighborhoods reduced to rubble, their former inhabitants scrounging for food in the company of stray dogs. I had my share of craziness in Sierra Leone and Liberia, where I was confronted many times with doped-up child soldiers. Recently, in Libya, I smelled that sickening odor of dead bodies left behind after another cowardly massacre.

Nothing compares to the recent drug violence in Mexico… The violence in Mexico has passed a threshold and has become a war – a new kind of war.

It may be a ‘new kind of war’ – certainly others have made that case – but, as I’ve argued in ‘The everywhere war’, it’s surely too simple to reduce the violence to narco-violence….

ASAP and experimental geopolitics

My last post trafficked, amongst other things, in a geography of time-space compression, so it’s time (and space) to introduce ASAP: a title chosen by Tina di Carlo, former curator of architecture and design at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and a graduate of Eyal Weizman‘s Research Architecture programme at Goldsmith’s, to echo the English ‘as soon as possible’ – ‘to evoke a sense of urgency and speed where space collapses in time’ – and, more precisely, to signal the Archive of Spatial Aesthetics and Praxis.  Established in 2010, this is a virtual Aladdin’s cave of projects and practices, texts and objects.

You can fossick for your own favourites – everything is accessible from the starting grid – but here are two of mine.  The first is Teddy Cruzs Political Equator project.  This uses the US/Mexico border – specifically  Tijuana/San Diego – as a platform to describe an arc through other global borderlands all located between 30 and 36 degrees North:

Along this imaginary border encircling the globe lie some of the world’s most contested thresholds: the US–Mexico border at Tijuana/San Diego, the most intensified portal for immigration from Latin America to the United States; the Strait of Gibraltar, where waves of migration flow from North African flow into Europe; the Israeli-Palestinian border that divides the Middle East, along with the embattled frontiers of Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Syria, and Jordan; the Line of Control between the Indian state of Kashmir and Azad or free Kashmir on the Pakistani side; the Taiwan Strait where relations between China and Taiwan are increasingly strained as the Pearl River Delta has rapidly ascended to the role of China’s economic gateway for the flow of foreign capital, supported by the traditional centers of Hong Kong and Shanghai and the paradigmatic transformations of the Chinese metropolis also characterized by urbanities of labor and surveillance.

You can find full details of the associated meetings (‘conversations’), videos and more at the project website here.

Second is Karen Mirza and Brad Butler‘s Museum of Non-Participation.   This is a travelling project that started in Islamabad in 2007.  The two artists watched the demonstrations by the Lawyers’ Movement against the dismissal of the Chief Justice by the Musharaf regime and the violent response by the military/police from a window in the National Art Gallery – more about the protests here and here – and went on to develop a multi-sited, multi-voiced project that has been staged in Karachi, in London’s Bethnal Green and elsewhere.  One of its central aims is to contest the dominant narrative (and geographical imagination) of Pakistan as a ‘rogue state’ and to find (in part, I think, through a contrapuntal rendering of London and Karachi) ‘other languages and other voices’ to convey everyday life under the sign of the postcolonial.

ASAP explains:

The Museum of Non Participation began as a critique and ultimately exploration of the political agency of the Museum through what the artists call the space of the NON… which is at once a radical critique of the Museum which often and has historically stood by as a mute witness [and [a redefinition] of [its] traditional architectural typology, transforming it from a shelter that houses objects to a literal sign that travels around.

You can download a detailed (30pp) feature from Kaleidoscope here.

The Museum was in Vancouver this month, where it included a screening of Deep State (2012) , a film developed in collaboration with China Miéville (and my thanks to Jorge Amigo for the notice). Here is a preview:

The film takes its title from the Turkish term ‘Derin Devlet’, meaning ‘state within the state’. Although its existence is impossible to verify, this shadowy nexus of special interests and covert relationships is the place where real power is said to reside, and where fundamental decisions are made – decisions that often run counter to the outward impression of democracy.

Amorphous and unseen, the influence of this deep state is glimpsed at regular points throughout the film – most clearly surfacing in its reflexive responses to popular protest, and in legislated acts of violence and containment, but also rumbling and reverberating, deeper down, in an eternally recurring call-and-response between rhetorical positions and counter-languages, in which a raised fist, a thrown rock, a crowd surge, an occupation provoke a corresponding reaction in the form of a police charge, a baton attack, a pepper spray, assassinations.
There’s an interview with Mirza and Butler about the film here, where Mirza explains that when she read Miéville’s The city in the city she was struck by the ‘condition of unseeing in the midst of seeing’ which is at the heart of the book. Miéville’s extraordinary combination of a radical reading of international law  – in his Between equal rights: a Marxist theory of international law (2006) and also, for example, here –and what he calls his ‘weird fiction’ was not only a ‘compelling combination’ but also a creative platform from which to develop a script and then the screenplay. Michael Turner provides both a sympathetic account of the Museum project and a spirited critique of the Vancouver screening here (there’s also a constructive response: scroll down).
You can, I hope, see why these two projects – from borderlands to international law – interest me.  They are also vivid examples of the connections Alan Ingram is so deftly pursuing between contemporary art and what he calls ‘experimental geopolitics’ (a term I find much more appealing than critical geopoltiics….)

Military/Policing and the US/Mexico border

The US/Mexico borderlands was one of the sites I discussed in ‘The everywhere war’ (see DOWNLOADS tab), along with the Afghanistan/Pakistan borderlands and cyberspace.  It’s also another zone where the blurring of policing and military operations is highly visible.

For the book I plan to separate these three into three chapters, which I’m hoping will produce a more nuanced, certainly less cartoonish discussion – inevitable, I suppose, in such a short essay (and written – for me – in an unusually short time, though editor Klaus Dodds may not have seen it quite like that…).  So I’ve been gathering materials, and en route found a short, sharp documentary from Real Television News [‘No advertising, no corporate funding’ – and really excellent] that debunks claims of  ‘spillover violence’, at least from Mexico into the US.  It asks ‘Is the Arizona/Mexico border a war zone?’

The Washington Office on Latin America, an NGO ‘promoting human rights, democracy and social justice’ founded in response to the military coup in Chile in 1973, has a fact-checking blog on the securitization of the border, and this year published Beyond the Border Buildup: Security and migrants along the US Mexico border.

The study finds a dramatic buildup of U.S. security forces along the southern border – a fivefold increase of the Border Patrol in the last decade, an unusual new role for U.S. soldiers on U.S. soil, drones and other high-tech surveillance, plus hundreds of miles of completed fencing – without a clear impact on security. For instance, the study finds that despite the security buildup, more drugs are crossing than ever before.
 
Furthermore, the study reveals that security policies that were designed to combat terrorism and drug trafficking are causing a humanitarian crisis and putting migrants in increasing danger. Migrants are often subject to abuse and mistreatment while in U.S. custody, and face higher risks of death in the desert than in previous years. Also, certain deportation practices put migrants at risk. For example, migrants can be deported at night and/or to cities hundreds of miles from where they were detained. These same cities are also some of the border region’s most dangerous, where migrants may fall prey to – or be recruited by – criminal groups. In Mexico, approximately 20,000 migrants are kidnapped a year; many others face other abuses.
 
WOLA found that any further increase in the security buildup will yield diminishing returns. Contrary to common opinion, the report documents a sharp drop in migrant crossings. Since 2005, the number of migrants apprehended by the Border Patrol has plummeted by 61 percent, to levels not seen since Richard Nixon was president. Today, twenty migrants are apprehended per border patrol agent per year, down from 300 per agent per year in 1992.
 
Finally, the study finds that violence in Mexico is not spilling over to the U.S. side of the border. U.S. border cities experience fewer violent crimes than the national average, or even the averages of the border states. WOLA recommends that before making further investments in border security, the U.S. government should stop and take stock of what is and isn’t working in order to create a comprehensive strategy that takes addresses the real threats while respecting the human rights of migrants.

Then I turn to the pages of the latest Military Review, where Christopher Martinez elaborates on Mexico’s transnational criminal organisations – the drug cartels – as constituting a commercial insurgency: ‘They seek to influence the four primary elements of national power — the economy, politics, the military, and the information media — to form an environment that enables an illicit trafficking industry to thrive and operate with impunity.’  Martinez is not the first, and he certainly won’t be the last, to describe Mexico’s militarized ‘war on drugs’ in terms of insurgency and counterinsurgency and, as I showed in ‘The everywhere war’, this rhetoric slides easily into the armature of a ‘border war’ in which the United States is fully invested as part of its boundless ‘war on terror’.

But what is most interesting about the MR essay is its author: Major Martinez is described as ‘the senior military intelligence planner for the U.S. Southwest Regional Support team at Joint Task Force North, Fort Bliss, TX’ who ‘serves as an advisor and partner to federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies in Arizona and California.’

JTF-North, part of US Northern Command, provides military support to federal law enforcement agencies.  Described as a ‘force multiplier’ by one Border Patrol officer, the function of its ground troops – like the unarmed Predators deployed by the Border Patrol – is limited to surveillance and under the Posse Comitatus Act the US military is not allowed to ‘execute the laws’ without express Congressional approval.  As one Army officer explained, therefore, in a recent exercise troops ‘used their state-of-the-art surveillance equipment to identify and report the suspected illegal activities they observed and vectored border patrol agents in to make the arrests and drug seizures.’  But the practices, co-ordinated from a tactical operations center like the one shown on the left, are portable and even interchangeable:

While providing the much needed support to the nation’s law enforcement agencies, the JTF North support operations provide the volunteer units with real-world training opportunities that are directly related to their go-to-war missions.

“This type of experience is impossible to replicate in a five- or 10-day field exercise back home,” said Lt. Col. Kevin Jacobi, squadron commander. “Where else can we operate over an extended period of time, in an extended operating environment, against a thinking foe who is actively trying to counter us by actively trying to hide, in order to make us work hard to find him?” asked Jacobi.

Not surprisingly, there have been elaborate circulations between the Afghanistan/Pakistan borderlands and the US/Mexico border: Predators, personnel and procedures.  All of which provides another disquieting answer to the question posed in the RTN video…

Does this also return us to the world mapped by Mark Neocleous from my previous post?  He concludes:

‘From a critical perspective, the war-police distinction is irrelevant, pandering as it does to a key liberal myth. Holding on to the idea of war as a form of conflict in which enemies face each other in clearly defined militarized ways, and the idea of police as dealing neatly with crime, distracts us from the fact that it is far more the case that the war power has long been a rationale for the imposition of international order and the police power has long been a wide-ranging exercise in pacification.’