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The Indus River  

David Gilmartin

The Indus is the westernmost of the great arc of rivers across southern and eastern Asia flowing from the Tibetan plateau, and its watershed today includes parts of China, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. Flowing through a predominantly arid region, it was the site of South Asia’s earliest urban civilization in the 3rd millennium bce. Today, it features some of the most highly developed irrigation works in the world, supporting large agricultural populations on the plains of Pakistan and in northwestern India. Its history has been defined not only by the dynamics of the Indus river system, with its highly seasonal, monsoon-fed flows descending from the mountains, but also by its critical role in defining a transitional zone of migration and mobility situated between central Asia and the Iranian plateau, on the one hand, and the wetter parts of the Indian subcontinent, on the other. Within this context, it played a critical role in the coming of Islam to the subcontinent from the west. Since the late 19th century it has been the site of one of the modern world’s most dramatic irrigation-based transformations, rooted in British colonial canal-building and the opening of large canal colonies for agricultural settlement. What was already the world’s largest, integrated irrigation system was divided between India and Pakistan in 1947 (with the larger part going to Pakistan). The subsequent Indus Waters Treaty of 1960, which was intended to facilitate the continuing management of the river basin, accomplished this only through the intensification of irrigation investment and the maximization of the available water’s “use,” with all the difficult environmental and political challenges that has brought.

Article

Wa Communities in the China-Myanmar Borderlands  

Magnus Fiskesjö

The Wa is an ethnicity in the borderlands of China and Myanmar (Burma). In the 1950s and 1960s, their ancient land was divided for the first time by these two modern states. Before this watershed moment in Wa history, the Wa were famous as independent, practically invincible warrior-farmers, much feared in their region despite having no kings and no regular army. These Wa farmer-warriors were deeply engaged in their regional economy through trade in mining products, as well as in opium, and, as a result, the British colonial officers who tried but failed to incorporate them into their empire could not but marvel at the wealth of the Wa. Since the division, the formerly independent Wa communities have been transformed on both sides of the border: on the Chinese side, into drastically impoverished regular peasants under Chinese rule; and, on Burmese territory, since 1989, into peasants under a new type of Wa elite in the Wa state—a semi-state governed by the United Wa State Army (UWSA). Both in China and in Myanmar, the Wa are officially listed as an indigenous ethnic minority. In China, there is local autonomy in name only. In Myanmar, the UWSA is an ethnonationalistic Wa elite with an army of considerable power and occupies a fraught position in the geopolitics of the fragmented state of Myanmar, which the UWSA recognizes even as it seeks even greater autonomy. Both contemporary Wa societies are dramatically different from the past, although many cultural traditions continue.

Article

Bukharan Trade Networks in Eurasia  

Erika Monahan

Bukharan trade networks functioned as significant conduits to the movement of goods and people throughout Eurasia. Evidence of trade activities of Bukharans in the early modern period extends from the northern shores of Russia, east to China, and south to the Caspian, Iran, and the Indian subcontinent. In the Russian Empire Bukharan merchants became a privileged diaspora community that played a significant role in commercial life of Siberia. In Siberia theyoften maintained commercial and religious ties with their Central Asian communities; they seemed in some cases to established close ties with the Siberian Tatar community as well. Bukharan merchants were not necessarily from the city of Bukhara per se, but rather, probably due to the prestige of Bukhara, the Russian imperial state applied the moniker Bukharan (Bukharetin–singular; Bukhartsy–plural) to merchants that hailed from a variety of Central Asian cities and towns. In Siberia, some Bukharans served the Russian imperial state not only as merchants but also in the service of Russian imperial commercial and diplomatic administration. They served the Russian imperial state in various roles, includingin the customs administration and diplomacy. Commercial and spiritual reasons brought this diaspora community to Siberia. While the Russian state courted Bukharan immigration to Siberia for the economic benefits they could bring, Bukharan immigration to Siberia predated the Russian conquest. Bukharans came as proselytizers to Islam at the behest of Siberian Khan Kuchum, if not earlier. State policy toward them reflected a larger state economic strategy of building and maintaining an expanding empire and the army necessary to the project through activist commercial policies. Bukharans played integral roles in Siberian life yet maintained a distinct Bukharan identity. While their integrated economic life resembled that of Russians enough to elicit strong pressures to rescind their tax advantages, Bukharans defended their rights before the state and before their neighbors with savvy and enjoyed various tax privileges into the early 19th century. Although Bukharans lost market share to the Armenians in Astrakhan and the establishment of direct Russian involvement in theRusso–China trade undermined their role in that trade, Bukharan trade networks continued to be an important part of Eurasian commerce. Bukharans may have increased the share of European wares in their trade portfolios, for example. . Meanwhile, Siberian and transit Bukharans continued to cooperate generations after Siberian Bukharans had been settled in the Russian Empire. In short, Bukharans provided simultaneously adaptive to their new homeland and changing market conditions while, at the same time, maintaining the mercurial distinctness of a mercantile diasporic community. Despite their long-standing roots and presence in the Russian Empire, the imperial state counted them as a distinct population as late as the empire-wide census of 1897. That Bukharans were only subsumed into the category of Tatars by the Soviet state testifies to their enduring presence as a distinct group in the Russian Empire.

Article

Kachin Communities in Myanmar  

Mandy Sadan

The term “Kachin” is an exonym that references several subcommunities, all of which have traditionally resided in the northernmost region of Burma (modern Myanmar). The name “Kachin State” for this region evidences this historical connection. Kachin communities are identified as comprising six main subgroups, but the boundaries of these are often contested. Identity politics in Myanmar is complex and highly sensitive, given the ongoing conflicts in which many communities, including those identified as Kachin, have been involved for many decades; it is also ongoing. Kachin communities also have strong cross-border relations with cognate groups of people residing in northeast India, Yunnan, and Thailand, as well as a globally dispersed diaspora, which is particularly large in the United States, Japan, and Thailand. Kachin communities were impacted directly by the experience of British colonial rule from its beginnings in Burma in 1824, even though they were not brought under any administrative system until after full British control over the Burmese kingdom was established after 1885. However, neither British nor Burmese (later, Myanmar) administrations have been able to bring the Kachin region fully under their control. At independence from British rule in 1948, many Kachin elites hoped that there would be a federal system, but as hopes for this diminished with the emergence of a military dictatorship, the movement for resistance gained ground. As many other parts of the country fell into civil war, so too did the new Kachin State. The Kachin Independence Army was founded in the early 1960s and by 1963 had declared open conflict with the Burmese military regime. A ceasefire was signed in 1994 and provided some respite, but as the situation again deteriorated through exploitative resource extraction, environmental degradation, and the social harms caused by the widespread availability of narcotics and opiates, considerable popular support for a return to war was felt. The ceasefire collapsed in 2011 leading to more active conflict. This social and political upheaval over many decades has resulted in dramatic changes to Kachin communities and has impacted their tangible and intangible heritage irreparably. There is a great deal still to learn about the histories of Kachin communities in Myanmar, but to do so will require creativity and long-term support for and engagement with local scholars and researchers.

Article

The Line of Control in Kashmir  

Mato Bouzas

The ceasefire line that has divided the disputed formerly princely state of Jammu and Kashmir (1846–1947) since 1949, following the involvement of the United Nations (UN) to end the first India–Pakistan war for the control of that state, was renamed in 1972 the Line of Control (LoC). The LoC is the result of the Simla Agreement that ended the 1971 war between India and Pakistan and marked the diminishing role of the UN in the conflict. Although the LoC is formally referred to as a border, it is very much contested, not only by the states of India, Pakistan, and the wide spectrum of Kashmiri nationalism but also, more broadly, by those living in the nearby areas on both sides who have been affected by this construct in multiple ways. As an ambivalent border, the LoC not only divides people, land, and resources—separates several political-administrative spatial units—but is also on its own a producer of a space, the symbolic and material meaning of which varies over time. From an initial (thin) line formed to delineate an end of hostilities as part of the Karachi Agreement of 1949, and, presumably, invite further negotiation, the LoC has turned in the two first decades of the 21st century into a (thick) fortress due to technological and military advances that allow a more effective control of territory. India’s fencing of the side it controls after the 2000s, initially to stop cross-border terrorism, re-creates an illusion of state spatiality that also justifies further compartmentalization and incorporation of the space under its control, as has been exemplified in the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019. The limited cross-LoC mobility for people and goods established after 2005, following the India–Pakistan dialogue, is a highly bureaucratized process. As a result of this monitoring of mobility, the LoC is becoming more border-like.

Article

The Wakhan Quadrangle  

Hermann Kreutzmann

The Wakhan Quadrangle emerged as a geopolitical constellation and situation in which a less important area—in terms of demographic size, political power, and economic wealth—can be perceived as a central arena for the ambitions of imperial powers. Since the second half of the 19th century, four major players participated in the competition as actors with competing stakes. Afghanistan, China, Great Britain, and Tsarist Russia turned to each other with spatial interests of expansion. The immediate protagonists were involved with or influencing one of the regional actors: Badakhshan, Xinjiang, Kashmir, and the Emirate of Bokhara are four representatives closing in on Wakhan, which still had maintained its autonomy as a quasi-independent principality in an economically marginal and remote high-mountain location with non-demarcated and shifting limits of authority. Overall political tensions grew during the hot phase of the Great Game. Upon the precautionary move into exile by its last ruler, Mir Ali Mardan Shah, Wakhan became an object of bargaining in the imperial endgame before international boundaries were delineated by the supreme powers. Wakhan ended up as a divided territory between Afghanistan and tsarist Russia, functioned as a spatial buffer between British India and its successors against Central Asian neighbors since, and its limits became a hermetic boundary between Afghanistan and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Since delineating the boundaries, only the Afghan section is easily visible on maps and commonly perceived as the Wakhan strip.

Article

Trade, Buddhism, and the Kushan Connection: Exchange across the Pamir Knot and the Making of the Silk Roads, 2nd Century bce to 5th Century CE  

Tomas Larson Høisæter

The history of contact and exchange across the mountain ranges radiating out from the Pamir knot, separating the three regions of Central Asia, Inner Asia, and Northwestern India, can be traced far back into prehistory, seen in the movements of languages, crops, and animals. From around the 2nd century bce onward, however, these connections steadily grew in intensity. New political connections were drawn across the mountains by the rise of the Kushan Empire in Central Asia, as they came to control much of Northwestern India and exert a significant influence in Inner Asia. Around the same time, Buddhism was spreading northward from Northwestern India into both Central and Inner Asia, bringing with it several innovations and practices that would come to shape these two regions for almost a millennium. Finally, paralleling these political and cultural developments, economic interaction between the three regions steadily grew, with both merchants and large quantities of goods moving between them. These developments feed into one another as local communities grew more and more enmeshed into the growing networks, serving to lay the foundation upon which the fabled Silk Roads could operate.

Article

The Sino-Tibetan Borderlands  

Stéphane Gros

The Sino-Tibetan borderlands cover a vast mountainous expanse inhabited by agricultural and pastoral communities of various ethnicities, predominantly Tibetan-speaking groups. An area of mutual interest, rivalry, and conflict, it has been the scene of lively religious and commercial exchanges, remarkable cultural flows, and circulations, which have involved many diverse peoples who were part of varying motley sociopolitical entities (kingdoms, estates, tribal federations, etc.) on various scales. Central Tibet, Mongolia, and China have historically exerted a strong political influence that has greatly contributed to shaping local political formations, religious landscapes, and cultural identities. For a proper understanding of this diversity, an anthropological history of this area cannot be limited to Sino- or Tibeto-centric narratives but needs to take into account multipolar perspectives. However, very few sources provide a borderland-centered history and, where written sources do exist, they generally portray the view held by the centers of power. A more kaleidoscopic view of this mountainous area can complement a social history of Sino-Tibetan relations and of the associated processes that have contributed to shaping the region into a borderland by restoring the multiplicity of historical experiences of the communities in between.

Article

Rajput Kingship  

Arik Moran

The term Rajput kingship designates the sociocultural ideals and practices that inform sovereignty among the erstwhile kingdoms of northern India. Originating from the mixture of South Asian peasant societies and Central Asian invaders in the second half of the 1st millennium ce, the Rajputs (literally, “sons of kings”) propagated a composite image of sovereignty that conjoined the autochthonous beliefs of agro-pastoralists with Brahmanical (Sanskritic) mores. By the early modern era, Rajput kingship came to be embodied in the image of the heroic warrior-king. This ideal manifested in martial valor, attachment to territory, fidelity to kin and allies, and was epitomized through the notion of self-sacrifice. Having played an integral part in the administration of the Mughal Empire, Rajput rulers adopted additional tastes and customs from the Persian cosmopolis. The consolidation of Rajput kingship in the modern era saw the assimilation of local rulers into the framework of the British Indian Empire as autonomous subjects, becoming the emblematic icons of Indian kingship familiar today.

Article

Indigenous Religions in the Asian Uplands: Perspectives on Landscape in Northeast India  

Claire Scheid

Indigenous religions in the Asian uplands comprise a broad spectrum that includes a variety of unique site-specific practices, rituals, and beliefs. Just as the Asian uplands are a vast territory home to multiple cultures, they are also home to multiple indigenous religions. It is important not to conceptualize indigenous religions as homogeneous or static; rather, they are specific, organic systems particular to a given community that may vary even from household to household in design, praxis, and content. Similarly, it is tempting to presume that all indigenous religions in the Asian uplands must integrate the hilly or mountainous terrain around them into their cosmologies, ontologies, or eschatologies; this is also a fallacy. While some indigenous religions do worship or deify the topography that surrounds them—such as the Lepcha and Lhopo (Bhutia) of Sikkim, India, whose veneration of Mount Khangchendzonga is central to their understandings of the cosmos—others—such as the Adi of Arunachal Pradesh, India, and the Khasi of Meghalaya, India—consider certain upland sites in nature as sacred but do not incorporate them into the framework of their religious conceptualizations or practices in a primary way. To illustrate the variety of indigenous religions found in the Asian uplands, and their independent relationships with, and conceptions of, nature and landscape—and to highlight the diversity extant even between those in close proximity to each other—examples can be found in four ethnic communities (the Adi, the Khasi, the Lepcha, and the Lhopo [Bhutia]), all classified as “scheduled tribes” under the Constitution of the Indian Republic and located in Northeast India. Through a survey of these four groups, it becomes apparent that “indigenous religions” vary greatly in upland (and other) areas—and practically, and ethically, cannot be effectively generalized. It is easiest to glean a working comprehension of the characteristics of indigenous religions in the Asian uplands through recognizing the distinctive qualities of a sampling of individual ethnic communities that reveal great differences despite their geographical similarity. Indigenous religions do not exist in sterile isolation from other “mainstream” religions; boundaries between indigenous religions can be permeable, even if the religions themselves are very different; globalization is changing how indigenous religions are articulated, as they take on new structures for the sake of preservation; and while a mountain may be the center of an upland Northeast Indian religion, equally, it may not be.