Sunday, October 31

The Halloween Post: Ghost Nations and the shape of the early 21st Century

NowhereVille tourist spot, Tajikistan

This passage from the (U.K.) Guardian's report on the Yemen cargo bomb plot sent me scurrying back to Nils Gilman's recent writings on deviant globalization and the 'hollowed out' state:
Travelling to the impoverished tribal areas [in Yemen] earlier this year, the Guardian's Ghaith Abdul-Ahad found al-Qaida was able to exploit the local traditions of hospitality, profound poverty, deep distrust of [President Ali Abdullah Saleh] and the ambivalence of the Yemeni government itself. Jihadist leaders had been released from prison on the understanding that they helped with the government's battles with Shia rebels in the north and not confront Sana'a [the capital city of Yemen] directly.

Saleh is also fending off secessionists in the south of the country and many observers believe that, among the many threats to his power, AQAP is the least of his worries.
If you stack this situation against Mexico, Pakistan, Nigeria, Thailand and several other nations, it's getting harder to tell many countries, apart, isn't it?

No matter how different the society, no matter how much or little economic progress, nature abhors a vacuum: wherever the state isn't strongly represented (the 'hollowing out' phenomenon) today's bad guys -- whether criminals or terrorists or insurgents or all the above -- have become skilled at quickly making themselves at home and creating a kind of ghost nation.

This situation is also present in India, which is expected to be the next big Asian Financial Tiger. But a big swath of India is controlled by the maoist Naxalites, who are gangsters, terrorists, and insurgents all rolled into one. Of course this swath is not near a big city. They rule out in the boonies, where the Indian bureaucrats and military don't have a presence to speak of.

Even in the United States, the Sonora Desert National Monument in Arizona is so overrun with Mexican drug gangs that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has warned Americans not to enter the park. The gangs have hollowed out a little ghost nation for themselves right inside the USA.

Last I heard, which I think was back in the summer, the embattled sheriff in the region was so desperate that he held a press conference during which he begged the federal government to send in at least 3,000 troops. He said that he and his deputies were completely outgunned and outmanned.

There are many causes and conditions for this ghost-nation phenomenon, as one can intuit from Nils Gilman's May 2010 The Meaning of Deviant Globalization, June 2010 The Collapse of Communism and the Rise of Deviant Globalization, and his link to a video of Riz Khan's really fun talk [Trench Humor Alert] on Black Market Sanctions Busting and his own speech this year on deviant globalization, which I've linked to before on this blog.

No small part of the phenomenon is the lid coming off when authoritarian regimes go broke. Mr Gurdjieff said about 80 years ago that there were tribes in Central Asia that the West had never heard of. I recalled that remark a few years ago while I was plowing through posts at the Ghosts of Alexander: Conflict and Society in Central Asia.

I snapped, "Yes, and we're having to learn about every one those tribes now, aren't we?"

With al Qaeda as our travel guide to quaint locations around the world, those of us who closely follow the war (and have developed an envious resentment of those who don't bother) must know where to find Tajikistan on a map. Only those of us who suffer as we do can understand what was so funny about Christian's title for one GOA post, Is Tajikistan the next Tajikistan?

At least he's getting a vacation from the doings in glorious downtown Dushanbe because he's grading papers.

Where was I?

Oh yes. The collapse of the Soviet Empire. With hindsight, why did we let that happen? We should have rushed in during 1985 with the standard World Bank-IMF packages and kept the Kremlin afloat. Instead, we have tribes nobody ever heard of running around in their Land Rovers with their satphones, setting up ghost nations wherever the state is not looking, collecting taxes at gunpoint from the villagers, and making bombs that they ship to us via FedEx.

Happy Halloween.

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