Migrants in a Neoliberal World
The Tragedy of the Market
As war raged in Iraq in the summer of 2004, the headlines flashed the latest
deadly tactic to emerge out of the conflict: Diplomats, politicians, aid workers,
contract workers, and labor migrants had become targets of abduction and
kidnapping. For the last groups—contract workers and labor migrants—this
proved particularly harrowing. Drawn from the transnational working classes
of India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka and attracted by wages that provide
temporary financial relief in their home countries, these subcontracted workers
found themselves at the center of a strategic battle between occupiers and
occupied in a web of violence wrought by a war led by the United States.
Amjad Hafeez, the first Pakistani to be abducted, worked as a truck driver for
an American food-service company. His capture, which was announced in a
widely circulated video, highlighted the importance of visual media as a form of
technological warfare in circulating the e√ects of this strategy. Major television
and other news-media outlets throughout the Middle East and South Asia con-
stantly updated the story. Out of the many targeted for kidnapping, some were
more vulnerable than others. In particular, truck drivers who navigate public
roads based on set routes that make them easy to follow and intercept with little
protection or security. Pakistani workers, a prominent part of this workforce,
were some of the first people abducted when convoys delivering goods, prod-
ucts, and equipment required by the American military were attacked.
The lives of foreign migrant workers hired by subcontractors to service the
U.S. military occupation were thus endangered by a scheme to create instability
in the occupying forces’ infrastructure and, ultimately, to expose the imperial
hubris of the United States. Evidence of this intention circulated in the video-
tapes sent to media outlets, which were often shot in a simple documentary
style. These videos, played relentlessly on Pakistani satellite news programs,
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