Theses Doctoral

Grounding Drone Warfare: Imperial Entanglements, Technopolitics, and Ghostly States in the Tribal Areas, Pakistan

Tahir, Madiha

How does a view from the ground reshape the analytics of US drone warfare? Through an ethnographic exploration of drone warfare from one of its sites of destruction—Pakistan and its borderlands known as the Tribal Areas—this dissertation troubles the notion of war-at-a-distance. Far from being at a remove, the war for many Pakistanis is in their neighborhoods, their fields, and their homes. Especially for ethnic Pashtuns who live amidst the drone war in the borderlands, attack drones are one element among a violent network—from Pakistani military helicopters to ground operations to armed guerrilla movements—that create radical disruptions. It is this dialectic between U.S. attacks and Pakistani state machinations that both produces ‘drone warfare’ and informs the analytics of Pashtuns and Pakistanis more generally vis-à-vis drone bombardment. By interrogating the relationship between drone attacks and the pluriverse of differentially distributed violence in the border zone, this dissertation traces the multi-scalar entanglements of the US imperial formation and the Pakistani state through which drone warfare and the ‘war on terror’ take shape in the Tribal Areas. Through an ethnographically situated account of the material, embodied geographies and conditions of the war zone, I show how these entanglements shape the geopolitics of the Pakistani state and position ethnic Pashtuns as multiply inflected: tribal-ized marginals, ethnic-ized citizens, and racialized transnational-ized targets of the ‘war on terror.’ In so doing, Grounding Drone Warfare shows that the remoteness of drone warfare is less an empirical reality than an authorizing self-narration of an imperial formation that prefers to frame itself as temporary and limited.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Povinelli, Elizabeth A.
Stark, David C.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 5, 2020