Warriors of self-reliance: the instrumentalization of Afghan refugees in Pakistan
In striking contrast to most other refugee groups, Afghan refugees in Pakistan during the 1980s have primarily been understood as a successfully self-reliant population. However, little work has hitherto focused on the international assistance programmes that sought to support their everyday self-reliance. Drawing on extensive archival research, this article presents four phases of self-reliance assistance for Afghan refugees in Pakistan between 1979 and 1995, which correspond to shifts in broader economic trends from Keynesian economics to neoliberalism. At different times the practice of self-reliance assistance promoted large-scale collective employment, individual income-generation, protection for vulnerable populations unable to succeed in the market-based economy, and finally morphed into a form of self-governance through the ‘Afghanization’ of NGOs after the Cold War. These stages of self-reliance assistance encompass periods of humanitarian focus on so-called ‘refugee dependency syndrome’ and self-reliance as psycho-social support, holding parallels to the practice and discourse of contemporaneous Anglophone Western welfare systems. This article illuminates another chapter in the history of refugee self-reliance, and demonstrates the dynamism of self-reliance as both a concept and a practice.