Armed Politics and the State in Post-Colonial Asia

Paul Staniland, Political Science, University of Chicago

Research Grant, 2013 & 2014

The political relationships between governments and armed groups differ dramatically. Sometimes they are locked in intense conflict, in other contexts they cut live-and-let-live deals, and in yet others they cooperate closely or even become merged together. My ongoing book project, using fieldwork and archival research funded by the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, seeks to explain how these different armed orders emerge and change. It uses detailed data from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Burma/Myanmar to establish patterns of armed order across space and time within these countries. Research in New Delhi, Kashmir, northern Thailand, Myanmar, and Nagaland is complemented with extensive archival and secondary source research to systematically measure peace deals, ceasefires, combat operations, and informal cooperative. These allow me to identify armed orders of alliance, limited cooperation, and military hostilities, as well as the collapse or incorporation of groups.

Tactical calculations and the agency of the armed groups themselves help explain more fine-grained patterns of armed order.

I argue theoretically that the threat perceptions of central governments are deeply conditioned by their ideological projects: the definitions and boundaries of the nation and the role of the state within it that key elites seek to construct and defend. Ideas about politics help leaders and their security services decide which armed groups are deeply threatening, which are politically unproblematic, and which are unsavory or tolerable. These political foundations of state and regime form the basis of state strategy, but tactical calculations and the agency of the armed groups themselves help explain more fine-grained patterns of armed order. This argument helps us understand why governments often devote massive repression toward groups that are militarily weak or disorganized, while cooperating with or ignoring much more powerful groups. These complex interactions between states and armed actors create diverse forms of political order in the contemporary world.

  1. "Politics and Threat Perception: Explaining Pakistani Military Strategy on the North West Frontier." With Asfandyar Mir and Sameer Lalwani. Security Studies (forthcoming).

  2. "Armed Politics and the Study of Intrastate Conflict." Journal of Peace Research Vol. 54, No. 4 (July 2017).

  3. "Armed Groups and Militarized Elections." International Studies Quarterly Vol. 59, No. 4 (December 2015), pp. 694-705. 

  4. "Militias, Ideology, and the State." Journal of Conflict Resolution Vol. 59, No. 5 (August 2015), pp. 770-793.

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