Remote areas in Asia’s highlands are of great geopolitical concern. What happens at the Afghan-Tajik border, in Kashmir, Tibet, or in the Yunnan-Myanmar borderlands has a global impact. Crisscrossed by the fragile borders of rising powers and rich in natural resources, a multitude of stakes and analytic positions are attached to these frontiers; they figure as sanctuaries for insurgents, as realms of authentic tribal culture, as trafficking routes for drugs and wildlife parts, or simply as rural peripheries in need of development. Policy makers struggle to comprehend the dynamics involved, local communities continue to feel misunderstood, and public imaginaries oscillate between these simplistic assessments.
In these assessments, undergirded by many classical studies in anthropology, remoteness is generally assumed to be the defining condition: the rugged highlands of Asia are considered backward, authentic, or unruly because – for better or worse – they are isolated and far away from developed, urban centres and state control. However, seemingly remote areas frequently find themselves at the crossroads of intensive exchange of natural resources, labour, capital and manufactured goods. Migrants, smugglers, and saints pass through. Geologists, tourists, NGOs, reporters and missionaries come here to look for resources, opportunities, and target groups. Highland Asian livelihoods are shaped as much by connectivity as by remoteness.
Starting from this observation, my hypothesis is simple: remoteness and connectivity are not two independent features. They constitute each other in particular ways. My aim is to explore this nexus of remoteness and connectivity and thereby lay the groundwork for a new apprehension of the role and position of remote areas in general.