How the “Forever Wars” Reshape Himalayan Villages" />
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© 2021 Oriental Institute, The Czech Academy of Sciences, Kevin L. Schwartz, and Ameem Lutfi
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On a hillside about an hour outside of Kathmandu sits a collection of well-built, freshly painted houses. The development is not in a particularly wealthy area, but houses men who have made their money by spending years — in some cases more than fifteen years — fighting America’s wars in Afghanistan and beyond. As America’s involvement in the so-called “Forever War” in Afghanistan comes to an end, almost exactly twenty years after the attacks of September 2001, it is remarkable the extent to which the Global War on Terror has become truly global, extending far beyond the reach of the U.S. military presence to unpredictable places, like rural Nepal. For instance, the U.S. Department of Labor tracks where reported injuries to Department of Defense contractors have occurred during the war. The 65,000   claims   come   from   137 different   countries , with Iraq and Afghanistan at the top, and Portugal, Morocco, and Gabon at the bottom. The placement of Nepal on the list is a product of a long history of colonial labor that has been sped up in recent years by globalization. In 2000, according to The Kathmandu Post, 55,000   Nepalis   went   abroad   looking   for   work . By 2021 the number skyrocketed to three million. The legacy of British recruitment of so-called Nepali Gurkhas into the British military, begun in 1815, and the resulting association of Nepalis with martial prowess, meant that tens of thousands of these Nepalis have become a part of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere. They work as guards protecting fuel convoys and dignitaries, but also do much of the other labor of war: cooking food for the troops, building bases. Since publishing my book Under   Contract:   The   Invisible   Workers   of   America’s   Global   Wars , which focused heavily on the plight of Nepali security contractors in Afghanistan, I have continued to track many of the workers in the book who returned to the war-torn country. During the course of my research, I spoke with contractors who had been imprisoned, kidnapped, stranded without passports, and subjected to an array of greater and lesser abuses. In recent years, the situation has only worsened. With the drawdown of U.S. troops, contractors find themselves more likely to be abused by negligent bosses and taken advantage of by brokers. As the involvement of the U.S. war in Afghanistan ends, many of these Nepalis have begun to look for work elsewhere. Listening to them discuss job opportunities is to map out the future of global conflicts: some are looking for work in ongoing conflict zones in Iraq and Yemen, others are looking to protect business assets, like oil rigs off the west coast of Africa, while still others are considering serving as bodyguards for billionaires in Russia and China. Two weeks after the Taliban retook Kabul, according   to   The   New   York   Times , several hundred Nepalis remained in the country. Many went looking for work in Afghanistan, but had not found it. Now they are trying to navigate their way out of the Taliban controlled country. Those that do manage to escape Afghanistan are unlikely to head immediately home. Most Nepalis who came to Afghanistan arrived in debt, owing money for plane tickets and for the bribes to secure contracts and visas. So those still in Afghanistan are likely to be looking for the next war, whether it is in Syria, Yemen or someplace else. And thus, America’s forever wars spread farther out into far flung corners of the globe.
September 8, 2021 How the “Forever Wars” Reshape Himalayan Villages
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On a hillside about an hour outside of Kathmandu sits a collection of well-built, freshly painted houses. The development is not in a particularly wealthy area, but houses men who have made their money by spending years in some cases more than fifteen years fighting America’s wars in Afghanistan and beyond. As America’s involvement in the so-called “Forever War” in Afghanistan comes to an end, almost exactly twenty years after the attacks of September 2001, it is remarkable the extent to which the Global War on Terror has become truly global, extending far beyond the reach of the U.S. military presence to unpredictable places, like rural Nepal. For instance, the U.S. Department of Labor tracks where reported injuries to Department of Defense contractors have occurred during the war. The 65,000   claims   come   from   137   different countries , with Iraq and Afghanistan at the top, and Portugal, Morocco, and Gabon at the bottom. The placement of Nepal on the list is a product of a long history of colonial labor that has been sped up in recent years by globalization. In 2000, according to The Kathmandu Post, 55,000    Nepalis    went    abroad    looking    for    work . By 2021 the number skyrocketed to three million. The legacy of British recruitment of so- called Nepali Gurkhas into the British military, begun in 1815, and the resulting association of Nepalis with martial prowess, meant that tens of thousands of these Nepalis have become a part of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere. They work as guards protecting fuel convoys and dignitaries, but also do much of the other labor of war: cooking food for the troops, building bases. Since publishing my book Under    Contract:    The Invisible   Workers   of   America’s   Global   Wars , which focused heavily on the plight of Nepali security contractors in Afghanistan, I have continued to track many of the workers in the book who returned to the war-torn country. During the course of my research, I spoke with contractors who had been imprisoned, kidnapped, stranded without passports, and subjected to an array of greater and lesser abuses. In recent years, the situation has only worsened. With the drawdown of U.S. troops, contractors find themselves more likely to be abused by negligent bosses and taken advantage of by brokers. As the involvement of the U.S. war in Afghanistan ends, many of these Nepalis have begun to look for work elsewhere. Listening to them discuss job opportunities is to map out the future of global conflicts: some are looking for work in ongoing conflict zones in Iraq and Yemen, others are looking to protect business assets, like oil rigs off the west coast of Africa, while still others are considering serving as bodyguards for billionaires in Russia and China. Two weeks after the Taliban retook Kabul, according     to     The     New     York     Times , several hundred Nepalis remained in the country. Many went looking for work in Afghanistan, but had not found it. Now they are trying to navigate their way out of the Taliban controlled country. Those that do manage to escape Afghanistan are unlikely to head immediately home. Most Nepalis who came to Afghanistan arrived in debt, owing money for plane tickets and for the bribes to secure contracts and visas. So those still in Afghanistan are likely to be looking for the next war, whether it is in Syria, Yemen or someplace else. And thus, America’s forever wars spread farther out into far flung corners of the globe.
© 2021 Oriental Institute, The Czech Academy of Sciences, Kevin L. Schwartz, and Ameem Lutfi
© 2021 Oriental Institute, The Czech Academy of Sciences, Kevin L. Schwartz, and Ameem Lutfi
How the “Forever Wars” Reshape Himalayan Villages
Written by
Political anthropologist at Bennington College in Vermont.
If you are interested in contributing an article for the project, please send a short summary of the proposed topic (no more than 200 words) and brief bio to submissions@911legacies.com. For all other matters, please contact inquiry@911legacies.com.
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