Tracking the Wild West in Pakistan

I had the pleasure of sharing a panel with Sinan Antoon last Saturday at the Page Turner literary festival. Sinan noted at that panel the dense, suffocating weight of western constructions of other places and peoples so much so that it begins to seep into our sense of ourselves so that it now, for instance, not uncommon to find casual reference to Pakistan’s Tribal Areas as a kind of “wild west” frontier  (or, alternatively, to hear about groupthink by classes of people as “tribalism”). The extension of that imagination –and therefore, implicitly of a network of related ideas: civilization, manifest destiny, noble savage– is both prelude and effect of the terror wars. I have been working on an article that touches on some of this.

Examples, in no particular order, of the use of the “wild west” trope in journalism writing and media about Pakistan:

The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) is Pakistan’s impoverished, wild west region, bordering Afghanistan, where the Taliban and al Qaeda have established a stronghold to plan their attacks on Kabul, Islamabad, and New York City. —Foreign Policy, Nov 04, 2009

Dara, a dusty, Wild West-type town, crawls with intelligence agencies, drug smugglers and gun-toting Pathan tribesmen. —The Telegraph, Dec 02, 2005

Dealing with Pakistan’s Wild West —The Globalist, Jan 24, 2008

“It’s the wild west of the 18th century,” says Imtiaz Gul, Pakistani journalist and author of “The Most Dangerous Place: Pakistan’s Lawless Frontier.”

“People are like the old time Wild West, adventurous creatures who grew up with guns, who grew up with a lot of adventurism and who are pretty partially alien to the culture of United States, or for that matter even the culture of Islamabad. —PBS NewsHour Jun 15, 2010

Darra Adam Khel, a small burg in Pakistan’s tribal areas, is the quintessential frontier town. Picture Wyatt Earp sashaying down the streets of Tombstone in a turban, and you begin to get the idea. —Washington Post, Mar 30, 2008

Pakistan’s Wild West – A Photo Essay —TIME

Waziristan -Pakistan’s Wild West (Video) —FORA.TV on Dailymotion

There are more guns for him to choose from in Darra Adam Khel, the nearest thing Pakistan has to a Wild West town.

In fact, guns are about the only things made and sold in this dusty one-street town near Peshawar, capital of the country’s unruly Northwest Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan. —LA Times, Sept 27, 1987

A Wild Frontier – It will take more than American missiles to bring order to Pakistan’s north-western border region —The Economist, Sept 18, 2008

If Peshawar is the Wild West with electricity, then Lahore is Southern California in the 1950s without the beaches. —Rug Review, Feb 1989

Rudyard Kipling described this dusty frontier capital near the Khyber Pass as a “city of evil countenances.” Other cities lived, Peshawar lurked. Even the shadows here had shadows. —LATimes May 12, 1986

Pathans Rule the Wild West —The Independent, Jun 03, 1999

Wild West Pakistan —The Age, Jan 29, 1980

It is an economy and society evoking an image of the American Wild West —Christian Science Monitor, Dec 06, 1982

Wild West Alive, Well in Pakistan (also on Darra Adam Khel) —The Lewiston Daily Sun, Nov 21, 1973

These two provinces, called the “wild west” of Pakigtan (sic) —NYT, Mar 29, 1973

Asked why many of his opponents suddenly find themselves up for murder, Bhutto said it was all part of the “Wild West” atmosphere of Pakistan politics —Lewiston Evening Journal, Mar 12, 1973

“Shooting started last Thursday,” he continued, “and all hell let loose Friday. It was just like the Wild West.” East Pakistan Refugees Tell of Mass Executions, The Milwaukee Sentinel, Apr 07, 1971


Warrior Poets: Guns, Movie-Making and the Wild West of Pakistan 2008

Among the wild tribes of the Afghan frontier: A record of sixteen years close intercourse with the natives of the Indian marches 1912

I had ventured into Pakistan’s wild west and I had the scars to prove it. Muslim Cleavage 2011

Peshawar is the capital of Pakistan’s “wild west” Three Cups of Tea 2009

Peshawar Pakistan is the archetypal wild-west frontier town Force Valor – Revenge (Vol 1) 2013

For Special Forces, Afghanistan was the wild wild West, and the new Ranchers reveled in it. —The Hunt for Bin Laden: Task Force Dagger 2003

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