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Pakistani worldmaking in international politics: empire, decolonization and Cold War struggles 1950-1989

Zaidi, Asad (2022) Pakistani worldmaking in international politics: empire, decolonization and Cold War struggles 1950-1989. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004486


Conflict in Pakistan became crucial to late Cold War struggles when Pakistanis helped to defeat the Soviet Union during the Afghan-Soviet War (1979-1989). This thesis offers an account of Pakistani society and state’s significance in shaping the post World War II world order, from the height of decolonization in the 1950s to the defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and the collapse of the USSR in 1989. It charts how a society that emerged from an imperial frontier, produced anti-colonial and socialist mass politics, before a merger of the religious right and the military state transformed society, enabling a transnational assault on Soviet and Afghan communist forces, through a US led counter-insurgency that spawned the anti-Communist jihad, with on-going legacies for our contemporary era. Understanding how this was possible requires engaging beyond conventional scholarship’s preoccupation with state elites, bi-lateral interstate relations and terrorism, to uncover a complex, uneven and shifting social terrain in Pakistan, where colonial inequalities created potent sources of mobilization and conflict in the postcolonial era. It means to examine Pakistani Cold War factions, their transboundary imaginaries and international encounters. Struggles for Pakistan comprised of a vigorous field of sociopolitical imaginings for a new society, but also for world order. These were projects of worldmaking that connected Pakistanis with the global transformations of the twentieth century. They included nationalists, socialists, Islamists and ethno-separatists, who fought for the structure of power in Pakistan, but also for deciding Pakistan’s identity and alignment during the Cold War. Conflictual Pakistani factions engaged in struggles amid world historical transformations of empire, decolonization and Muslim world politics, and within the geopolitics of the Cold War. In viewing world politics as a matter of national elite interactions defined by great powers, orthodox historiographies of Global South states and societies misrepresent postcolonial histories of struggle as the symptoms of weak, failing, third world states. By going beyond dominant IR and political science approaches, this thesis extends scholarship on the legacies of empire in international politics, whilst also intervening in debates about Pakistan’s role in geopolitics and the relationship between the Cold War and decolonization. Although Pakistanis suffered greatly through conflict, repression and social upheavals, they also absorbed and adapted the Cold War to their own needs, constraining empires and enabling unruly clients. Pakistanis galvanized the politics of anti-imperialism, anti-communism, Islamism and socialism, in complex and conflicted ways that can tell us a great deal about the modern world.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2022 Asad Zaidi
Library of Congress subject classification: D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D839 Post-war History, 1945 on
D History General and Old World > DS Asia
J Political Science > JV Colonies and colonization. Emigration and immigration. International migration
J Political Science > JZ International relations
Sets: Departments > International Relations
Supervisor: Barkawi, Tarak

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