GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Social world of Bahraini Police
Paper Proposal Text :
This paper tells the story of an old Baloch neighborhood in Karachi, in which almost every family has a male relative who has served in the Bahraini police. Of about the thousand odd residents in the area, about two hundred have at some point in time been part of the police in Bahrain. On the basis of extensive ethnography conducted in Karachi and records collected from archives in Karachi and London, this paper attempts to sketch socio-political milieu which creates for the Bahraini regime a stable source of military-labor; on which depends the stability of the Bahraini regime.
Much of the scholarship on the international military markets has looked at trans-national connections either through market flows, logics of states acting as singular rational actors, or an abstract language of globalization. However, this paper uses the more precise lens of anthropology to construct the specific context within which emerge the conditions and the desires for men to seek employment in a foreign security force. The paper thus locates the trans-national orientation of the Bahraini police neither in official state deals or unofficial backdoor negotiations on geo-political interest; but in lived experiences of those going from Karachi to Bahrain. More particularly the paper traces 1) the emergence of the particular socio-economic conditions in the neighborhood that create the conditions for its residents to seek employment abroad, and 2) the familial networks that presents employment in Bahraini police as the favored option.
The neighborhood under discussion was prior to the 19th century one amongst the handful of Baloch agricultural villages predating the emergence of Karachi. Following the processes of urbanization such villages were transformed into dense urban neighborhood located in the heart of the city. Consequently its residents themselves were reduced to one amongst the several ethnic groups in the city competing for resources. Through archival records of the area and ethnography conducted in it, the paper asks how such changes force the city’s oldest inhabitants to look for livelihood beyond it.

While the trajectory of migration to Bahrain overlaps with other concurrent labor-migrations from Karachi to the Persian Gulf, for those employed in the police their movement is animated by a distinct historical genealogy. Since at least the 18th century militaries in the Persian Gulf, first under then Omani and then British Empire, had been recruiting military-labor from Makran and other areas around the Indian Ocean with a Makrani diaspora, like Karachi. This long history of service in the Gulf military has left a legacy alive both in memory and in the geographically dispersed family networks, aiding recruitment and settlement in Bahrain. Even in the post-1970 period, following the departure of the colonial regimes in the Gulf, when the struggling Pakistani state brought military recruitment networks under an elaborate bureaucracy; a large portion of the recruits bypass the bureaucracy by getting appointed directly through relatives already working in the Bahraini police. Through the generational histories of families residing in Karachi, but spread across a broad Indian Ocean geography, the paper highlights the informal networks implicated in the recruitment of Bahraini police force.

The paper then thus locates Bahraini regimes capacity of enforcing violence not in its structural apparatus or social conditions within its boundaries, but in family networks, historical memory of migration, and urban relationship present in cities located across the sea.