Surveillance, Authoritarianism and ‘Imperial Effects’ in Pakistan

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Mahvish Ahmad
Rabia Mehmood


To speak of ‘Surveillance and the Global Turn to Authoritarianism’ presupposes a moment with little connection to that which has gone before, or places outside of North America and Europe. While Trump and Brexit inaugurate a consequential shift, even rupture, in the political terrain, we must not lose sight of places and peoples where American Wars – with European support – were overtly and covertly waged in the decades preceding this ‘global turn’, nor the fate of these places today. We argue that the sustained transfer of sophisticated surveillance technologies, as part and parcel of both direct military assault and more expansive support for security states, has had lasting imperial effects outside imperial centres that reverberate today. We take our point of departure in Pakistan – the site of hundreds of drone bombardments under Obama, one of the top recipients of US military aid, and the largest known recipient of funding from the National Security Agency (NSA) – to argue that ’global turns’ must not forget the rest of the world, and Surveillance Studies may have far to go before it fully addresses its Eurocentrism.

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Author Biographies

Mahvish Ahmad, University of Cambridge

Mahvish Ahmad is a doctoral student at the University of Cambridge, carrying out an ethnographic and historical study of the state violence and the Pakistani security state. Alongside her research, Mahvish Ahmad is an independent journalist, political organizer, and university lecturer. In 2012, she co-founded Tanqeed | a magazine of politics and culture with Madiha Tahir (Columbia). Prior to joining Cambridge, she reported for CS Monitor (US), BBC/PRI The World, Danish Broadcasting Corporation (Denmark), TV2 (Denmark), The Independent, Dawn (Pakistan), The Herald (Pakistan), Caravan (India), CBC (Canada) and others. She has organized with the Awami Workers Party and other movements for social justice around housing, resources, and popular assembly in Pakistan and remains involved in similar movements in Cambridge. Mahvish also taught at the Lahore University of Mangement Sciences (Pakistan) and Quaid-e-Azam University (Pakistan). Earlier she worked in consulting, international development, and the non-profit sector in Copenhagen, New York, Washington DC, London, and Islamabad.

Rabia Mehmood, Independent Researcher & Journalist

Rabia Mehmood is a multimedia journalist and researcher from Pakistan. Mehmood has reported and researched on urban militancy, human rights, political unrest, gender and religious extremist outfits. Her work has appeared in Al Jazeera English, Al Jazeera America, PBS, The New York Times, AFP, France 24, Channel News Asia, Headlines Today, Dawn, The News, Daily Times and The Friday Times. She was the 2010 IWMF Elizabeth Neuffer Fellow at the Center for International Studies of MIT, and is International Reporting Project’s religion fellow. She has produced two short documentaries on faith based persecution of minorities in Pakistan and researches online expression of sectarian extremists.